The New Orleans Saints' 2012 season was more like an NBC primetime drama than an actual campaign for the Lombardi Trophy.
The ultra-talented gang from the Bayou suffered some drastic consequences this past offseason, stemming from the now notorious "Bountygate Scandal." The Saints lost their defensive coordinator and head coach for the duration of the season, handicapping them for 16 games.
Drew Brees threw for over 5,000 yards for the third time in his career, but it just wasn't enough. The porous play by the Saints defense was insurmountable. They couldn't stop the run or the pass, and struggled to consistently get pressure on the opposing quarterback.
The Saints should be in the midst of a total makeover on defense. Canal Street Chronicles had this to say on the topic:
Heading over to the defensive side, there are not enough words in the world to describe how bad the Saints were. Firing Steve Spagnuolo and replacing him with Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense is a move in the right direction, if you ask me. (I'll elaborate on that in another article later).
The argument that, "The Saints can't get any worse on defense" is valid if you are looking at rankings, but if New Orleans can't get playmakers on defense then the numbers that compile those rankings will get worse and harder to overcome for the Saints offense.
And that leads us to the state of the Saints' offseason:
Biggest Need: Defensive line
This offseason, the Saints hired Rob Ryan to be their defensive coordinator. The expectation is that New Orleans will transition to a 3-4 defense this coming season, and as a result there should be some personnel change-up in the front seven.
The Saints will need a big-bodied defensive lineman to anchor the front and help control the line of scrimmage. They have to insert someone that can absorb multiple blocks and allow the linebackers to run free. With their previously installed 4-3 scheme, size was less of an issue.
As they look to rebuild their defense, a top-tier defensive lineman will be key.
Other Needs: CB, LB, WR
Outside of their biggest need, the Saints need to stay the course and continue to revamp this defense. Their biggest task should be to add as much talent to that side of the ball as financially and schematically possible. Remember, they are contending with Atlanta, which has a seemingly unlimited supply of firepower.
The Saints need to add to their pass rush and make sure they have corners that can stick with the play. They have to be able to keep teams from scoring. With Drew Brees and this dynamic set of playmakers, they can already score enough to beat most teams -- there just needs to be an emphasis on limiting the points against them.
Jonathan Vilma has a couple years left, so the team's biggest concern here should be to add a big, physical cornerback and a pass-rush specialist.
NFL Draft Outlook: Saints in the middle of the first round
The Saints finished near the middle of the NFL in 2012, but due to their high strength of schedule they were last in a five-way tie for the No. 11 pick and will instead select with the No. 15 pick in the first round. With a variety of needs on defense to address, SB Nation's Dan Kadar and Matthew Fairburn sent them a versatile player in their latest joint mock draft: Southern Mississippi's OLB/DE Jamie Collins.
Collins turned heads at the combine and was always wildly productive for Southern Mississippi. He may not be a pure pass rusher, but in this mock draft, he's the best outside linebacker available. Collins only got better each year with the Golden Eagles and will continue to do so in the NFL. He's a player that can get up the field but also cover tight ends by himself.
Salary Cap Situation: Working to get under the cap
After making some moves, the Saints are roughly $1 million over the cap. They'll need to make some difficult decisions prior to the deadline in order to reach their cap figure.
Among the players who will have the biggest cap hit for the Saints in 2013 are defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, each of whom have been discussed as possible cuts to free up space by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.