Saints report: Strategy and personnel
There is little doubt what the improvement plans will center on in the offseason: Defense. The Saints gave up 20 or more points in all by the final games of the season, avoiding a franchise mark previously set in the abysmal 1-15 1980 season when they did it in all 16 games.
Even with one of the most explosive offenses in the league -- at least through the first three 12 games or so -- that's not good enough to get the job done. The middle of the defense figures to be gutted as they rebuild through free agency and the draft.
FREE-AGENT UPDATE: K John Carney (expect to be re-signed after ranking third among kickers in scoring and making 88.6 percent of his attempts), P Toby Gowin (team has flirted with replacing him for the last two seasons but could return), QB Jake Delhomme (among most interesting decisions for Saints, he's likely to be courted by other teams but could give home-state team a hometown discount), RB Fred McAfee (leader of one of top special teams units will be back), CB Ken Irvin (Saints want him back after filling No. 3 and occasionally No. 2 roles), S Sammy Knight (will be too expensive to pursue, especially after speed liabilities have been thoroughly exposed), CB Fakhir Brown (Saints could bring him back as special teams and role player), MLB Bryan Cox (he's contemplating retirement and his limitations on the field affect his leadership potential), MLB Charlie Clemons (precipitous drop-off in production means he's not likely to return; his poor instincts hinder his performance in the middle), C Jerry Fontenot (wants to return and the Saints will probably bring him back), G Wally Williams (still a quality backup, but four-game substance abuse suspension was troubling; could return), C/G Bubba Miller (basically spent the season rehabilitating ankle/foot injury and Saints would like him to return), T Scott Sanderson (valuable backup capable of playing guard, too; likely to return), TE Lamont Hall (limited as a receiver, but Haslett loves his blocking and special teams contributions), WR Jake Reed (stumbled in the season finale; team may look to upgrade No. 4 spot with someone younger at risk of losing leadership), DE Willie Whitehead (one of Saints most reliable defensive lineman and they'd like him back).
FEELING A DRAFT
The Saints will pick in the 17th position but also have the 18th pick in the first round from the Dolphins from the Ricky Williams trade. Additionally, the Saints will get the Chiefs' third-round pick from the Willie Roaf trade, giving them five picks in the first 80 of the draft.
The Saints will be looking for help up the middle of the defense (defensive tackle, middle linebacker, strong and free safeties) at cornerback and possibly at tight end.
CB Dale Carter had surgery to repair his broken left forearm immediately following the season finale and will be out for two months.
DE Darren Howard may need surgery to repair ankle problems. WLB Darrin Smith ankle will probably also need cleanup work, too.
TE David Sloan will have surgery to repair his right knee, although it's expected to be minor.
QB Aaron Brooks has begun rehabilitation at the Saints' facility.
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