National Football Authority

With quarterback Drew Brees announcing he plans to hold off on retiring, one of the New Orleans Saints’ biggest offseason concerns has now been addressed. That, in turn, means it’s time for them to focus on their next biggest need: bolstering the cornerback rotation.

Last year’s Saints team, while a rock-solid 13th in points allowed per game, began showing signs of decline in the secondary. They were pretty good at limiting the average yards per passing attempt and forcing turnovers, but they finished 21st in passing touchdowns allowed.

New Orleans isn’t getting back to the Super Bowl level without making some changes. The NFC South Division remains theirs for the taking, with neither the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nor Atlanta Falcons nor Carolina Panthers poised to do any real damage. But if they want to do more than churning out regular-season victories, they need to playoff-proof their packages in the secondary.

The Saints are better off addressing their sluggish cornerback rotation in both the draft and free agency. They’re in need of that much more optionality.

Damon Arnette from Ohio State is an option that has been tossed around for the draft. He’s not the most well-known prospect, but he can turn on a dime to break up passes and has the physicality and speed to stack up at the line of scrimmage in ultra-aggressive blitz formations. His style would fit right in with how New Orleans prefers to defend.

Looking at the free-agent market, the Saints could stand to kick the tires on Jimmy Smith of the Baltimore Ravens. He’s not the splashiest addition, but he’s played well for the Ravens over the past nine seasons and shouldn’t cost too much money.

In theory, if the Saints wanted to, they could draft a corner like Arnette, pick up Smith and still have the financial flexibility necessary to keep Janoris Jenkins. His $11.3 million cap hit is an overpay given how poorly he finished last season after coming over from the New York Giants, but he still has the chance to be an above-average corner, and spending less money on the other two additions would free the team to spend a little more on him.

Perhaps that’s too much depth-chart equity at the cornerback spot alone. Then again, the Saints’ secondary only wore down as last year progressed. They need to prioritize impact and depth if they want to make the most of Brees’ remaining window.

March 21st, 2012

Posted In: NFL

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The Minnesota Vikings are among the flagship NFL teams that are most associated with gritty defense. There have been down years; there are always down years. For the most part, though, they’ve tended to lean on stingy defense as their identity.

Look across any draft or free-agency period, and you’ll see them investing heavily on that side of the ball. Whether it was their interest in cornerback Morris Claiborne ahead of the 2012 NFL draft, even though they were already set at that position or the money they’ve spent shoring up the defense in recent free-agency periods, they always seem to bring their existence back to the less glamorous end of the ball.

We should expect nothing different from them in the 2020 offseason. They finished fifth in points allowed per game during the 2019 regular season, but they started to show cracks as the year went on. They have needs on the defensive line and in the secondary, both at safety and at cornerback.

The latter figures to be their most pressing hole. They invested a bunch of money in Xavier Rhodes a few years back, but he’s regressed over the past three seasons. And while Mackensie Alexander has proven to be a great addition to the Vikings secondary for the last two years, he’s entering free agency himself and could end up securing a contract too rich for Minnesota’s wallet.

Most are looking for the Vikings to add more cornerback talent in the draft. Florida’s CJ Henderson is a name that keeps propping up. Scouts love him for both his athleticism and instincts, and Minnesota is going to need a playmaker in the secondary when they could, feasibly, enter the 2020 season without Alexander or Rhodes.

Targeting more corners in free agency is a possibility as well. It all depends on how much the Vikings are willing to spend. Odds are they won’t ante up unless they get rid of Rhodes’ $12.9 million cap hit, so they could be left to surf the bargain bin.

Two names that stand out for them there: Kendall Fuller of the Kansas City Chiefs and Byron Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. Neither of them comes close to matching Rhodes’ talent level at his peak, but they’re solid playmakers who can break up passes and complete the occasional big-time interception without leaving the safeties out to dry should they mess up. The Vikings should be looking at them both.

March 19th, 2012

Posted In: NFL

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Anyone familiar with the Cleveland Browns knows they haven’t enjoyed the best draft-day luck over the past…couple of decades.

Think about all of their draft picks during their incredibly long playoff drought. Who’s the best one? Braylon Edwards in 2005? Trent Richardson in 2012? Myles Garrett in 2017? Baker Mayfield in 2018? Another one?

Richardson has a case for the greatest what-if prospect in Browns history. He looked like he was on the fast track to stardom before injuries messed with his career. Then again, he cannot be much of a what if for the Browns when they sold high on him in 2013, trading him to the Indianapolis Colts.

Mayfield may honestly have the case for their most talented draft pick over the past 15 to 20 years, which isn’t really saying much. He’s still young, with time to come into his own. But after a promising rookie campaign, the Browns surrounded him with more offensive firepower, namely wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and the offense was still kind of blah.

Entering the 2020 NFL draft, the Browns will have yet another opportunity to improve upon their decision-making record. They have the 10th overall pick, which is probably their best bet at landing another stud.

Most expect them to go after someone who can help protect Mayfield. That’s a smart play. The Browns’ offensive line ranked middle of the road in sacks allowed and QB hits during the 2019 season, but that has more to do with Mayfield’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and more importantly, the volume with which they saddled their running backs.

Without a clear cut cornerstone up front, they need to target another one. Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs out of Iowa is considered their main target. He’s received cursory mention as someone who could go off the board in the top three, but many of the teams in front of the Browns have more pressing needs to address.

If he’s there, Cleveland needs to pounce. Offensive tackles are seldom touted as superstars, but they’re incredibly important to maximizing quarterback protection and rushing potential. Wirfs has the physical tools to play either right or left tackle, and many believe he can become an All-Pro at guard.

It seems counterintuitive to say Wirfs could be the Browns’ best draft pick in a while, particularly when Mayfield still has upside. And yet, given how high on him the NFL in general appears to be, and given how important it is for the Browns to protect their playmakers, scooping him up at No. 10 could become one of the biggest steals in franchise history.

March 18th, 2012

Posted In: Uncategorized

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