Can a team in transition still compete for a Super Bowl championship?
The 2013 New Orleans Saints are about to answer that question.
As the Saints and head coach Sean Payton work feverishly to reverse last year's 7-9 slide, they do so with a ton of questions.
And this fact.
Not having a first round pick in 2012 and missing a pair of second round picks the past two seasons (part of the bounty penalty) has hurt the club's ability to replenish an aging roster.
The Saints still have a talented roster though.
After watching spring practices, Payton knows he needs youth and speed.
The change in defensive coordinators to Rob Ryan and the 3-4 scheme has grabbed much of the headlines. Yet the Saints have several questions on offense.
Running back Pierre Thomas turns 29 in December. Running back and pass catching specialist Darren Sproles celebrates his 30th birthday on June 20.
Wide receiver Lance Moore turns 30 on August 31st. With Devery Henderson's departure, the Saints have a void for a speed receiver. Draft choice Kenny Stills from Oklahoma will get a chance to earn that job.
At left tackle, Payton has a dilemma. Does he count on often injured Charles Brown? Or does Payton hand the job of protecting Drew Brees' blindside to rookie third round pick Terron Armstead?
The backup quarterback spot was solid with Chase Daniel. Now his departure in free agency leaves the job to either veteran Seneca Wallace, who was waived out of the league last September, or Luke McCown, who spent last season in Atlanta.
With so many holes to fill, the Saints did not have the luxury of spending a mid-round draft pick on a young quarterback to study behind Drew Brees.
When New Orleans went on their three year blitz of opposing defenses, they were terrific in the fourth quarter.
But in the 2012 season, the Saints averaged 5.8 points a game in the fourth quarter.
In 2011, the Saints were top ranked in the NFL, averaging 10.7 fourth quarter points.
One of Payton's strengths is ability to be brutally honest about the quality of the talent on his roster.
My guess is if you injected Payton with truth serum, he would tell you that his current team is solid, but it will take two more good drafts, and some luck in free agency to get the Saints back to the level they attained at the end of the 2011 season.
My guess is that one of the reasons that Payton is energized has nothing to do with his one year forced hiatus from the game.
Payton considers this quick rebuild a huge challenge. He knows that winning one Super Bowl equals temporary greatness.
But two Super Bowl titles is a far loftier perch.
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