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Saints reset 2015: Brees era may be near an end

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When the New Orleans Saints traded their great tight end, Jimmy Graham, to the Seattle Seahawks, cries of concern were heard about the direction of the team, especially the future of quarterback Drew Brees, who turned 36-years old in January.

Was the Graham trade a precursor to an overhaul that included moving away from the diminutive Brees? Would the Saints trade up in the draft to get a new quarterback? Would they at least find another great receiver to help the little guy find an easy target when in trouble?

The Saints may or may not have addressed those concerns in the draft.

They used their first draft pick, No. 13 overall, to seek protection for Brees with Stanford’s Andrus Peat, a 6-7, 317-pound tackle. More him later.

The Saints then added to their defense with Clemson inside linebacker Stephone Anthony (Rd. 1/No. 31 overall) with the pick they got back in the Graham deal, and Washington outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (2/44).

Then the team made an interesting move that neither confirmed nor denied that the Saints are concerned about the longevity, as well as health, of Brees.

They drafted gritty Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson (3/75), who many believed to be an overachiever in college, a reputation that was often hung on Brees, who was intended to be the odd-man out after the 2004 draft when San Diego more or less simultaneously juggled the fates of Brees, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning during a curious moment in NFL history.

Brees endured as the 2004 NFL Comeback Player of the Year in San Diego, which used the franchise tag to keep him in 2005. But the season ended with Brees undergoing shoulder surgery and, with Rivers on the roster, the Chargers were disinclined to out-bid the Saints, who also out-wrestled the Miami Dolphins to get him.

That was then and, although there were great years since, now he is 36 with two years left on his massive contract.

Disregarding the selection of Grayson for a moment here and at least a year on the field, that brings this back to the Saints drafting Peat to play tackle. Well that is where he played at Stanford, although not unanimously rated a first-round pick (see Rob Rang’s analysis below).

The Saints have two returning starters at the position in third-year pro Terron Armstead, who plays left tackle, with 10-year veteran Zach Strief on the right side, they hope to make sure Brees can stay healthy for another year or two.

“We viewed (tackle) as a position that wasn’t a high priority in the draft, but it was certainly a need position,” coach Sean Payton said. “Maybe not a must, but a need. Terron and Zach, shoot, one’s a veteran, experienced, tremendous leader for us at right tackle and the other one is a real sharp and talented left tackle,” he said. Andrus will come in and I’m sure we’ll give him reps at both positions.”

And as for Grayson, the Saints probably need an heir-apparent to Brees, who has made the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine seasons with the team.

Payton worked out several quarterbacks and put a second-round grade on Grayson, then hand-picked him as the only one of those players he wanted.

“Throw out the grade,” Payton said. “He was a player we wanted.”

“I’m just extremely excited to get behind him and learn as much as I can,” Grayson, who had 7,702 yards, 55 touchdowns and 18 interceptions the past two seasons, said of possibly playing behind Brees. “I’m going to come down there and compete like I’m the starter, like any position should.

“I’m just extremely excited to learn from him, and hopefully, I’ll learn as much as I can to prepare me through the next couple years.”

The Saints will take a closer look at their new player during next week’s rookie minicamp (May 15-17). Until then, here is a look at the Saints as they head into 2015.

2014 RECORD: 7-9, 2nd in NFC South

COACH: Sean Payton

9th season as Saints/NFL head coach

86-52 overall; 6-4 postseason

2015 CAMP SCHEDULE

Rookie Camp: May 15-17

OTA Workouts: May 26-28, June 2-4, June 8-11

Mandatory Minicamp: June 16-18

GRADING THE DRAFT — C-

Per Rob Rang, NFLDraftScpout.com

The Saints addressed big concerns along the offensive line and middle linebacker with their two first round picks in Andrus Peat and Stephone Anthony, but frankly, I’m considerably lower on both of them than many, including (obviously) Mickey Loomis and his staff. I will acknowledge that Peat’s lack of a mean streak isn’t as important in New Orleans’ pass-happy attack and that his length and balance will be accentuated in this scheme. The hard-charging Anthony fits coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme well, but he isn’t the dominant defender that his workouts would indicate. Edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha was certainly productive at Washington and has the heavy hands and motor to star off the edge but (like Anthony) he’s isn’t the most disciplined or fluid changing directions, leaving him vulnerable to play-action. Cornerback P.J. Williams has the instincts and physicality to be successful in the NFL but must clean up his tackling, as too often he’ll lower his shoulder but fail to wrap up sufficiently. I’m a fan of investing middle- and late-round picks in quarterbacks and see potential in Garrett Grayson, but given the puzzling trades of some of New Orleans’ top targets, Drew Brees might be less than thrilled that a pick was invested in his potential replacement rather than helping the Saints win now. With nine picks (including five among the top 78), frankly, I expected more.

SCOUTING ALL DRAFT PICKS

–Round 1/13 — Andrus Peat, T, 6-7, 316, Stanford

The Saints wanted extra protection for Drew Brees, which came in the form of Peat, an All-America selection that started his last 27 games at left tackle.

–Round 1/31 — Stephone Anthony, ILB, 6-3, 243, Clemson

Excelled against the run and the pass at Clemson with 34.5 tackles behind the line, 9.5 sacks and three interceptions in starting 35 games.

–Round 2/44 — Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB, 6-2, 253, Washington

Certainly fills the need of a pass rusher for the Saints who led the nation with 19 sacks last season after coming back from two ACL surgeries.

–Round 3/75 — Garrett Grayson, QB, 6-2, 213, Colorado State

Could this productive passer, the Mountain West Conference player of the year, be the heir-apparent to Drew Brees in a couple years?

–Round 3/78 — P.J. Williams, CB, 6-0, 194, Florida State

Well-known for his leaping ability, the Saints are hoping he can add some depth behind starters Keenan Lewis and Brandon Browner.

–Round 5/148 — Davis Tull, OLB, 6-2, 246, Tennessee-Chattanooga

The Saints like the pass-rushing ability of Tull, whose rare combination of size, speed and strength helped him collect 10 sacks last season.

–Round 5/154 — Tyeler Davison, DT, 6-2, 316, Fresno State

Big player in the middle can also pressure the quarterback with 14.5 sacks the last two seasons, but could be asked to play outside as well in 3-4.

–Round 5/167 — Damian Swann, CB, 6-0, 189, Georgia

Saints had to trade up to get a shot at Swann, whose forte is in bump-and-run coverage like their two current starters — Lewis and Browner.

–Round 7/230 — Marcus Murphy, RB/KR, 5-9, 198, Missouri

The Saints were in need of an all-purpose threat like Murphy, who also returned seven kicks for touchdowns while at Missouri.

NOTABLE VETERANS ACQUIRED:

–CB Brandon Browner: UFA Patriots; $15M/3 yrs, $3.9M SB/$7.75M guaranteed.

–LB Dannell Ellerbe (trade Dolphins).

–WR Joe Morgan: FA; $600,000/1 yr, $15,000 SB.

–DE Anthony Spencer: UFA Cowboys; $950,000/1 yr, $80,000 SB/$230,000 guaranteed.

–RB C.J. Spiller: UFA Bills; $16M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$9M guaranteed.

–C Max Unger (trade Seahawks).

–CB Kyle Wilson: UFA Jets; $825,000/1 yr, $80,000 SB.

NOTABLE PLAYERS LOST:

–RB Travaris Cadet: Not tendered as RFA/Patriots; $1.75M/2 yrs, $65,000 SB.

–TE Jimmy Graham (traded Seahawks).

–G Ben Grubbs (traded Chiefs).

–LB Curtis Lofton (released/failed physical).

–CB Patrick Robinson: UFA Chargers; $2M/1 yr, $1M SB/$1.25M guaranteed.

–WR Kenny Stills (traded Dolphins).

–RB Pierre Thomas (released).

–DT Tyrunn Walker: Not tendered as RFA/Lions; $1.75M/1 yr.

–CB Corey White (released).

PRE-SEASON PEEK — Mark that calendar

All times Central

Aug. 13: at Baltimore (Thu.), 6:30

Aug. 22: NEW ENGLAND (Sat.), TBD

Aug. 30: HOUSTON (Sun.), 3:00

Sept. 3: at Green Bay (Thu.), 6:00


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