Only days before the big game, NFL Draft analyst and college football expert Mike Detillier fielded some questions about the prospect of a Black and Gold rebound in 2013, where the team needs to go in the draft, the sudden dismissal of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator and the chances of Ed Reed wearing a Saints uniform next season.
1. Did you think there was a chance that Sean Payton was going to talk to other teams or perhaps go to another team before re-signing with the Saints?
It’s part of the game agents play today. They tell their client to trust them and they leak out information to get the ball rolling. it’s business, sports style. Look what happened at LSU when the agent leaks out that Arkansas had an interest in Les Miles and he gets a new contract the next day. Same with Payton. He liked the set-up here, he likes making the personnel calls and being in charge of the team, and he works well with Mickey Loomis. All the agent did was maximize the deal. That is what they are paid to do. I never felt he was going anywhere.
2. How many more wins was Sean Payton worth to the 2012 Saints?
I think three wins. One, they don’t lose to Kansas City and they don’t lose the Thursday night game against Atlanta. That game showed how much Payton meant to this team. Short week, common opponent and he knows everything about them and despite playing so poorly in the first quarter they had a chance to win the game late. The Green Bay game is the third one. I really think him coaching that game and they end up with a ‘W”. Him being here wouldn’t have cured the bad defense, but those three games I think he puts in the “Win” column for the Saints.
3. Were you surprised by the quick dismissal of Steve Spagnuolo?
To an extent yes. but this is a production league and you expect results. Mike Nolan in his first year did a great job in Atlanta with a new defense. Jack Del Rio had great success in Denver in his first year and even with all the changes and distractions without their head coach out for a huge part of the year and Chuck Pagano was a defensive minded coach, Greg Manusky did a good job for the talent at hand. That had to be changes in New Orleans and there must be a new infusion of talent, but this team never bought into Spagnuolo’s scheme and it showed. You have to convince players what you are doing is going to give them the best chance to win and he never did that here, despite all the talk about how it had improved during the year. That just wasn’t the case.
4. Do you think Spagnuolo’s termination was the result of Payton’s decision to embrace the 3-4 defense scheme or the potentially awkward transition of coaching together in 2013 after Spags worked with two other head coaches?
The termination had all to do with giving up the most yardage in the history of the NFL and the second most points in the NFL this season. It was a combination of a lack of talent and the team not being able to adapt to a system the coach would not bend to the talent at hand. It was just a bad combination. Changes had to be made. This team really needs a big time pass rusher at outside linebacker, a playmaker at safety, and some quality depth at noseguard behind Brodrick Bunkley and another defensive end, with size.
Also you can hear it in Payton’s voice, but the “Future is Now” with this team. The window of opportunity is closing with Brees getting up in age. He still has 3 to 4 more good years, barring a major injury, so you have to do this fast and take full advantage of his skills at the highest level.
Right now this team does not have one player that gives offensive coaches sleepless nights. There are no really strong playmakers or difference makers. I really like what I have seen from Akiem Hicks and Cam Jordan and even the rookie cornerback Corey White, but people that can consistently put heat on the passer is the key for this defense to get better.
5. Do you agree with the shift to a 3-4 defense?
I like the move. it best suits this team and it really helps the skillset of Martez Wilson and Junior Galette, who are really 3-4 outside linebackers. I like what Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne will bring inside in the 3-4 at linebacker and the big question mark is how Brodrick Bunkley handles the noseguard spot. That is key.
Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan are good fits as 3-4 defensive ends. I like that duo.
6. Who do you believe is the leading contender for the defensive coordinator spot?
I have felt from the moment it was announced that they were going to a 3-4 alignment that Romeo Crennel was the right fit. He is experienced in this scheme, he is a lot like Wade Phillips and that he is a really good defensive coordinator, but struggled as a head coach.
Romeo also has close ties to Bill Parcells, who is Sean Payton’s closest friend in this business. Crennel coached under Parcells with the NY Giants and the New England Patriots and he has talked glowingly of Crennel and I am sure he has made that known to Payton.
7. With a historically terrible defense and underperforming starters in a tight salary cap situation, which players won’t return next season?
Because of age and the money he is owned Will Smith won’t be back unless he takes a big pay cut. The same thing with Jonathan Vilma. Sedrick Ellis has been in the witness protection program the past year and a half and he will not be back and neither will outside linebacker Scott Shanle. The key in free agency is to make sure they don’t lose left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He is one of the better left tackles in the NFC and he protects the backside of a 34-year old Drew Brees. They also need to get TE. Jimmy Graham signed to a new longterm deal. This is why the draft is so important in trying to rebuild this defense.
8. The Saints have not enjoyed much of a return on their first round draft picks in the Sean Payton era, with few exceptions. Which players do you think the Saints’ front office should have taken a pass on for a different player?
That is all 20/20 hindsight but the one move they would love to do over is in 2009. They picked Malcolm Jenkins at the 14th spot in Round One and they passed on (linebacker) Brian Cushing, who went 15th to the Texans. Joe Vitt really loved Cushing. We were in the media room right before we left to go to WWL coverage and Vitt was really talking up Brian. I asked him if he was pushing for him and he laughingly said, “I am the linebackers coach.”
They picked Jenkins because he was the highest rated player and the Saints wanted and needed a big cornerback and that is what they thought they were getting. If healthy, Cushing has been one of the top linebackers in the game, inside or out.
The Saints also liked Clay Matthews and he went 26th overall to the Packers. As a “do over, either Cushing or Matthews would have really worked out great for the team.
9. Back to the 3-4 alignment, will Martez Wilson shift back to the linebacker position in the new scheme?
He is a natural at OLB. In a 3-4 defense he can get up the field in a flash and he played great in that role in the playoff game against San Francisco. The perfect fit for him as an OLB is in a 3-4 alignment. He has told me numerous times that is the best spot for him and he can utilize his great speed coming off the edge. He needs to learn how to get a few more countermoves to his game to get off of blockers quicker when engaged, but it is a good fit.
10. Which position is of the greatest need for the Saints to upgrade in the draft and in free agency?
If you are convinced that Brodrick Bunkley is the fit at noseguard then it is at outside linebacker and at strong safety. They need a top pass rush outside linebacker like a Barkevious Mingo-LSU, Dion Jordan-Oregon, Ezekiel Ansah-BYU or Sam Montgomery-LSU to be there in Round One and any of those would fit the mold.
Also this team needs to take a long look at what they are paying Roman Harper and either redo his contract or go another direction. Harper is a good blitzer and tough against the run, but he struggles in pass coverage sets. They need to find someone with better pass coverage skills at strong safety. Roman was tailor-made for Gregg Williams’s defense and he used him well, but he struggles when lined up against a tight end or running back downfield.
11. With the Saints salary cap bursting at the seams, is there a chance that Drew Brees will walk some of his $100,000,000 contract back?
I doubt that. Drew and his agent fought a little too hard for that contract.
12. Some Saints fans have felt that due to his lack of interceptions and his proven ability to rack up sacks on quarterbacks, strong safety Roman Harper ought to play linebacker instead of strong safety. Do you agree with that view?
I disagree. Roman is a strong safety. He can’t play linebacker fulltime and especially in a 3-4 alignment. In “special” sets it would work, but not fulltime. Teams would run the ball right at him time after time if you put him at outside linebacker fulltime.
13. Why did the Saints defense collapse so badly in 2012? Was it due to coaching or personnel?
A combination of both. Just think about this. If you were the 49ers or Ravens how many defensive starters would you trade one on one for a Saints defensive player? Not many, maybe two or three at best. It’s a combination of talent and scheme, but you just can’t blow up an entire defense, so you will have to work with some of the talent on hand.
14. No team has repeated as NFC South Division champions since the league adopted its current divisional format, can the Saints compete with Atlanta and a very young Tampa Bay team in 2013?
As long as Drew Brees stays healthy and Sean Payton is coach, you are a playoff type team. To take the next step you need to get better on defense, and that is the bottom line. When you look at the upper-tier teams like the 49ers and Seattle they are really good on defense. You can see teams like New Orleans, Tampa, Atlanta, Green Bay, Dallas and Carolina, it is about getting better on defense. Tampa is a scary team. They have a lot of pieces in place on offense, but they need another pass rusher and they have to rebuild their secondary.
Bottom line is that with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and a much improved secondary than they had in 2011, the Falcons are the team to beat in the division and it has been a division of worst to first. This division is really tough. But I really think the NFC West may turn out to be the toughest if Arizona can solve their quarterback problem and the Rams can get better offensive weapons for Sam Bradford offensively. Having Seattle and S.F. makes it really tough to begin with.
15. When will the 2013 edition of the Mike Detilliler NFL Draft Guide be available?
It will be out in late March and early April, though people can pre-order it now at www.MikeDetillier.com.
16. Final question, it appears Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed will play his final game in a Ravens uniform in the Super Bowl. Do you think the Saints have a chance of signing him?
I spoke to Ed this summer at his camp and he told me he would like to play two more years, if his body holds up., He has property here and loves Drew Brees, so it is an option, but New England is the front runner for him. Bill Belichick loves him and they have a mutual admiration for one another.. He would be a great pickup and be like what Darren Sharper was for the team.
It’s going to be a money issue and I just believe his close ties to Belichick brings him to New England.