Malcolm Butler or Not, Saints Must Go Defense in Round One

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For the past several seasons, there have been two constants for the New Orleans Saints. The first: a dynamic, high-powered offense that clicks on all cylinders – especially in the Superdome. The other? A leaky, inexperienced defense that struggles to tackle and cover. Ever since winning Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints have ranked 24th or below in team defense five of seven times.

Defensive Rank
Year Yards Allowed Points
2016 27 31
2015 31 32
2014 31 28
2013 4 4
2012 32 31
2011 24 13
2010 4 7

Malcolm Butler or Not, Saints Must Go Defense in Round One

Drew Brees gives the Saints their best shot at winning another title, but there is just one problem. He is 38 and not getting any younger.

It is important for the front office to surround Brees with the necessary talent to contend for a title while Brees is still playing at a high-level. Brees has proven that he can channel his inner Rumpelstiltskin and spin straw into gold on the offensive end. He has lost some of his most valuable weapons — Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Kenny Stills — and still managed to conduct one of the NFL’s most electrifying offenses. He should be able to keep it up, even after New Orleans dealt yet another one of Brees’s toys, Brandin Cooks. Michael Thomas’s incredible rookie season deemed Cooks expendable while the Saints signed speedster Ted Ginn Jr. to replace him. They also have the reliable hands of Willie Snead IV on the roster.

New Orleans’ defense has been historically bad, but that is not for a lack of trying on account of the front office in free agency. Jairus Byrd and Brandon Browner were inked to sizable deals, but because of injuries, regression, or both, they didn’t live up to those contracts.

The front office has done an admirable job in filling holes in free agency this offseason. They re-signed Nick Fairley to a four-year deal to solidify the interior line. They brought in linebackers Alex Okafor and A.J. Klein and they are also close to finalizing a deal with former Notre Dame standout Manti Te’o.

These moves give New Orleans depth at linebacker, but none of the players brought in are difference makers.

That brings us to Malcolm Butler. The Saints have been in discussions with the Patriots cornerback for nearly two weeks now, but Butler’s first-round tender is holding the deal up. As a restricted free agent, if Butler signs with the Saints, they’d be forced to give up their first round draft pick (#11 overall) if the Patriots do not match it. That is something the Saints are unwilling to do. However, they can negotiate different compensation with the Patriots and are currently working hard to get Butler in black and gold.

While they have tried to make splashes on the free agent market, the front office’s draft strategy has to be called into question. In the past few drafts, the general notion surrounding the Saints was that the defense needed to be improved. However, in two of the past three drafts, they’ve opted to choose an offensive player with their first pick. Andrus Peat was selected in 2015 and Cooks was selected in 2014. Their 2016 selection, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, missed the first six games due to a leg injury, but played well upon his return. The Saints need to repeat what they did last season and draft defensive players in round one of the draft.

There are three glaring holes on the defensive side of the ball that need to be filled: edge rusher, cornerback, and linebacker.

Cameron Jordan was sensational this past season, but another edge rusher would take some pressure off of him because he would see less double teams. Delvin Breaux battled injuries all season, but when he is healthy, he is someone who can slow down bigger receivers like the NFC South’s Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Kelvin Benjamin. Even if the Saints acquire Butler, cornerback should be in play with questions about Breaux’s health.

Luckily for the Saints, this draft is brimming with defensive talent. They should have a quantity of options when they come on the clock with the eleventh pick.

These are some names to look for:

Defensive Ends Cornerbacks Linebackers
Taco Charlton – Michigan Marshon Lattimore – Ohio State Reuben Foster – Alabama
Derek Barnett – Tennessee Tre’Davious White – LSU Jarrad Davis – Florida
Solomon Thomas – Stanford Quincy Wilson – Florida

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