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QBREES9 03-25-2010 09:47 PM

New Orleans Saints mailbag: Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins and more
New Orleans Saints mailbag: Darren Sharper, Malcolm Jenkins and more
By Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune
March 25, 2010,

Hey everyone. We're back with another installment of the New Orleans Saints mailbag, and I'll come back with another video edition either this afternoon or tomorrow. Keep the questions coming so we have plenty of material for next week and beyond. You can always submit your questions to

Q: Mike, Looks like if you are playing the role of the Saints GM, you would have to identify your risks and mitigate them. Seems the possibility of losing (Darren) Sharper to a team willing to give him a more lucrative contract than the Saints is such a risk. If this happens, do you feel like Usama Young can move into the starting safety position, move Malcolm Jenkins to the spot, hope Chip Vaughn can do the job, look for a free agent to do so, or look to the draft? Rhett Plash, FloridaLis (Panama City Beach, FL).

Q: We learned this season that there is big drop off at corner after Porter and Greer. With a year of experience, will Jenkins be ready to fill in when needed and play at a starter's level? James Richard, Shreveport, La.

A: Thanks guys. I combined these two questions together so I could talk about Malcolm Jenkins. Even if the Saints lose Sharper, I really don't think it's automatic that they would slide Jenkins over to free safety to fill in for him. It's much harder to find a top-tier cornerback in the NFL, so if Jenkins can develop into a reliable corner, that's where the Saints would like to keep him. Heading into his second year, I think he's already shown enough to prove he's a solid nickel cornerback with a lot of upside, and I think he'll be ready to step in as a replacement starter if the Saints have injuries again. Plus, once you get into nickel and dime defenses, the line between cornerback and safety really starts to blur anyway. ... Jenkins definitely has the skill set to become a free safety, so the Saints will always consider that idea, especially if they decide he can't excel as a starting cover corner on the outside. But for now, I think they'll keep trying him at corner to find out if he can fit there first.

As for who SHOULD be the free safety if the Saints let Sharper get away, that's a tough one. I don't know if Usama Young is ready to be a starter yet, and I definitely don't think Chip Vaughn is ready to be a starter, though he did show some nice things in training camp last year and could develop into a decent contributor. I don't see an obvious solution in free agency, though a one-year fill-in veteran might be the best solution. No matter what, it would be the most significant dropoff of any position for the Saints if they let Sharper go - bigger than the losses of Scott Fujita, Charles Grant and Mike Bell.
I still think Sharper is likely to stay in New Orleans, though, especially since no teams swooped in and offered a bundle right away to steal him away. But it's obviously still up in the air.

Q: Hey Mike, Why do you think the Saints were too slow to move on a veteran run-stuffing DT like (Jamal) Williams from the Chargers or Maake (Kemoeatu) from the Panthers. I was really excited when those players were planning a visit. Now that they have been signed by other teams, what do you think the strategy is for filling that void, ESPECIALLY if the Lions take Hargrove? George, Down the bayou-Cut Off, LA.

A: Well, first of all, I wouldn't say the Saints were "too slow to move" on those guys. Clearly they communicated to the players' agents what they were looking for and what they were looking to pay, and if the Saints wanted them badly enough they wouldn't have signed elsewhere. ... As you can obviously tell by now, the Saints aren't going to spend a lot of money in free agency. They're looking to make modest moves at reasonable values. And they don't feel like they've got any holes that MUST be filled at any cost.
Still, I like the idea of bringing in a veteran run stuffer over counting on a draft pick, even if they make the position a priority in Round 1. Defensive tackles - especially the big run stuffers - are even bigger crapshoots than the average rookie, because you don't know how motivated they'll be to stay in shape. I won't even bring up Johnathan Sullivan's name ... oops.
If you can find a solid, reliable veteran whom you can count on for about 20 snaps a game in obvious run downs, to rotate in with Ellis, Ayodele, Hargrove, etc., I think that would be a big help (literally). It worked with Hollis Thomas. It even worked with Kendrick Clancy, who was an underrated guy and could conceivably be the answer again if they choose to re-sign him.
As for Hargrove, the Detroit Lions are apparently still considering an offer to steal him away from the Saints as a restricted free agent, though no offer has been made yet. The Saints could either match that offer or receive the Lions' early third-round draft pick, which wouldn't be a bad consolation prize.

Q: I have noticed that the Saints aren't as explosive with Jeremy Shockey out of the lineup. Do you think the Saints should get a tight end with one of their top two picks? Chris Kees, Sr., Lake Charles, La.

A: Yes and no, Chris. I think if the Saints do draft a top tight end prospect in the first or second round, he would excel in their offense and develop into a regular Pro Bowler. This offense is made for tight ends, only they've never really had one consistent tight end stay healthy in the years that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been here. They've gone through Ernie Conwell, Mark Campbell, Billy Miller, Eric Johnson, Shockey and David Thomas, among others. And all of them have performed well when they're in the lineup. I think if the Saints had, for example, drafted Greg Olsen in Round 1 in 2007, he'd be an absolute star in this offense. ... And I think with Shockey's physical style and the fact that he's getting older, a young tight end would make a lot of sense in the draft. If the Saints go with an offensive player early, I think that would be the position to target.
But all of that being said, I don't think the Saints NEED a tight end in the draft. They've proven that all of those fill-in guys can work just fine, and David Thomas is still a young player with the potential to develop into a top tight end in this league. So it's a position where they can have success without making a real big investment.
Thanks for all the questions, everyone, and keep 'em coming at

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