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Saints can keep 'window' wide open with another strong offseason

Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro lived up to first round pick expectations to help bolster a much-improved New Orleans Saints defense in 2013 (Photo: Parker Waters).Rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro lived up to first round pick expectations to help bolster a much-improved New Orleans Saints defense in 2013 (Photo: Parker Waters).

It didn't take long.

Hours after the 23-15 playoff loss at Seattle, the march to free agency began for the New Orleans saints.

Will the Saints be able to re-sign Jimmy Graham? Of course.

If they can't, the Saints will do what they did when quarterback Drew Brees' contract expired. That is, use the franchise tag, then negotiate a long term deal.

New Orleans has solid veteran players who are headed for unrestricted free agency. In the worst case scenario, can the New Orleans Saints survive without right tackle Zach Strief and safety Malcolm Jenkins?

At the right price, both should be back. But if Jenkins walked, would you miss his 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles?

When the Saints drafted Kenny Vaccaro in the first round in 2013, they received an outstanding young player who with a year's experience could step in for Jenkins or Roman Harper.

The Saints will let some veterans walk and re-structure deals to get under the cap.

When asked if the window of opportunity was still open, Saints head coach Sean Payton seems to take umbrage at the thought.

"That window is all the way open, and I mean that," said Payton.

Now that Seattle and San Francisco have reached the NFC Championship Game, the notion of some is that those two teams have widened the gap between themselves and the Saints. The reality is something far different.

In 2013 thanks to an outstanding offseason, the Saints closed the gap considerably to improve from 7 wins to 11. The reasons why were several.

Payton hired Rob Ryan, who crafted a record turnaround for a defense in the NFL. Not since the merger in 1970 had any team made a 100 yard plus improvement in yards allowed. Ryan's defense did.

In free agency, the Saints signed cornerback Keenan Lewis, who quickly became their best defensive back. The draft provided Vaccaro, left tackle Terron Armstead, defensive tackle John Jenkins and wide receiver Kenny Stills.

Vaccaro started 14 games, Stills 10 and Jenkins five while Armstead stepped into the lineup for the final two regular season games before shining in the playoffs.

The rookie street free agent class included finds like defensive tackle Glenn Foster, tight end Josh Hill and running back Khiry Robinson.

The fact is, if the Saints have another offseason like the last, they will again be competing for an NFC South title, a first round bye and perhaps even homefield advantage.

To be fair, an outstanding offseason is no given. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis will again have to do some of their best work when free agency kicks off in March and during May's draft.

In Seattle Son aturday, the Seahawks were the better team, but not by that much. The Saints missed two field goals and gave Seattle a a gift touchdown on a two-play, 24 yard second quarter drive after a fumble by running back Mark Ingram.

The Saints also beat San Francisco, 23-20, during the regular season in a game in which New Orleans was the far better team that Sunday.

So, the black and gold sky isn't falling. In 2013, the Saints became younger and better. All they have to do is, do it again now.


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