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What Might Have Been For Saints Now Turns To What Must Be Done

Jim Mora summed today's feelings up for Saints fans a long time ago...


NEW ORLEANS -- As a member of Who Dat Nation, you are probably thinking ...

That could be us.

That should be us.

It would be us representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis if only we'd have taken care of business.

In the immortal words of Jim Mora ... coulda, woulda, shoulda!

The New Orleans Saints are not in the BIG GAME because their offense, defense and special teams collectively failed to beat the gritty San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs at Candlestick Park.

The scoreboard doesn't lie.

36 for them, 32 for the Black and Gold.

The fallout from that disappointing defeat has already begun.

Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams's contract was not renewed and he now is toiling in a similar capacity for longtime friend Jeff Fisher, the new coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Williams is replaced by the Rams' former head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, who was fired after a 2-14 campaign this season, Ironically, one of Spag's two wins came against the Saints and ultimately cost them a chance to claim the No. 2 seed in the NFC and homefield against the 49ers.

And, as fate would have it, a chance to host the NFC championship game against the Super Bowl-bound New York Giants.

C'est la vis.

It's onward and upward.

So how do the Saints become the first NFL team to participate in a Super Bowl that is played at its home venue? Remember, Super Bowl XLVII will be played on Feb. 3, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Let me begin by saying it won't happen unless the Saints retain the services of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, whose agent, Tom Condon, is expected to resume contract negotiations with GM Mickey Loomis in the coming weeks.

That is step No. 1.

The subsequent steps are up for debate.

I think it is imperative to re-sign two more unrestricted free agents on offense -- LG Carl Nicks and WR Marques Colston.

Another FA who has caught my fancy is LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who proved his value as a capable starter/backup and special teams player this past season. I would make it worth his while _ but not overpay him -- to remain a Saint.

Truthfully, outside of those four, I would make a competitive offer to retain four other free agents, most notably WR Robert Meachem, CB Tracy Porter, CB Leigh Torrence, DE Jeff Charleston and say adios to all the rest.

That includes DTs Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers, two veteran longshots who did not play to their potential in 2011.

But other than Brees, Nicks and Colston, the rest are merely interchangeable parts and can be replaced through free agency or the draft. Nothing personal against the others but this is a business and I'm paid to make tough decisions for SportsNOLA.com.

That said, the necessary parts to win Super Bowl XLVII are there on offense and special teams. It is the defense that needs fixing. And don't believe for one moment that all the answers on defense are currently on the roster because, in my humble opinion, they aren't.

Here is my blueprint for defensive success:

-- Sign a quality pass rusher at defensive end or scheme to create one already in-house (Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette come to mind). The key word here is "quality.''

-- Move DE Will Smith inside and make him part of the interior rotation.

-- Get a good interior run defender in free agency.

-- Bring in real competition at linebacker, not the Will Herrings of the world. I mean "real'' competition. I think LBs Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle are declining players.

-- In the back end, I might even try SS Roman Harper as a roving LB. He is much better against the run and rushing the passer than trying to cover a receiver in space.

-- Lest we forget the secondary. No interceptions by either FS Malcolm Jenkins or Harper is unfathomable, not to mention unacceptable.

In fact, my only untouchable player on defense is CB Jabari Greer and he was a free agent coming out of college in 2004.

-- But most of all find some playmakers on defense.

Somebody.

Anybody.

If the Black and Gold had just made one defensive play against the 49ers near the bitter end to their game, the Saints likely are preparing for Super Bowl XLVI as your read this post.

If the Saints follow this guideline in the postseason, success is sure to follow.

It all begins on defense, much like it did back in January 2009 when Payton replaced reactive/passive defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs with proactive/blitz-happy Gregg Williams. The result: an historic Super Bowl win and league-high 39 takeaways.

Out with the old (Williams), in with the new (Spagnuolo).

Good luck, Spags.

You will need it.

 

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