Inside The New Orleans Saints

Not only did the Saints have a disappointing season in 2004 but head coach Jim Haslett and general manager Mickey Loomis weren't on the same page on several subjects. The good news is that the two have mended fences and have put together a pretty good plan this off-season.

As the team headed in to free agency, they looked to improve in a few areas-mostly on defense. The big area they looked to improve in was their pass coverage and the addition of safety Dwight Smith should go a long way to helping in that area. Smith is coming off of a solid season and has established himself as one of the better cover safeties in the league. He did a tremendous job also against covering tight ends last season.

Offensively, the addition of former Titan tight end Shad Meier is a curious one. It has become increasingly obvious that the coaching staff is down on tight end Eddie "Boo" Williams and they're looking for Meier to replace him.

Another interesting addition was running back Antowain Smith. His signing has made it clear that they aren't happy with running back Aaron Stecker. Smith is expected to be the main backup for starting running back Deuce McAllister.

Despite these moves, the team still needs help on defense-especially at linebacker and cornerback. Look for the team to address these needs in the draft and in the rest of free agency.


WIDE RECEIVER: Other than veteran wide receiver Joe Horn, the Saints don't have much in the area of proven players at the position. Donte' Stallworth has shown flashes of brilliances but has yet to show any consistency. Horn has been wearing down in recent seasons and the 33-year old player may not have many seasons left. They'll need to look for at least one veteran in free agency and one decent young player that could be selected on the first day of the draft.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Veteran left tackle Wayne Gandy is 34 and should have a few decent years left in him. However, they need to develop his eventual replacement there. They also have to decide if free agent signee Jermane Mayberry is going to be their right tackle for years to come. If he's not, they'll need to find a viable candidate.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: While the team isn't ready just yet to write off former first-round pick Johnathan Sullivan as a bust, they can't count him for anything either. The only player that they can count on at defensive tackle is veteran Brian Young. The Saints will need to add at least two tackles who can challenge for serious playing time if they're going to improve that position this season.

LINEBACKER: Some would say that the Saints have the worst group of linebackers in the NFC. While that might be a little harsh, the numbers don't lie. Despite better play late last season, none of them are proven players and the team needs a major upgrade at both outside spots.

SAFETY: It seems every year that the pundits write off veteran safety Jay Bellamy but he keeps coming back and produces decent results. Bellamy isn't close to an All-Pro but he's more than serviceable. However, he turns 33 before training camp starts so they'll need to groom his eventual successor.

CORNERBACK: Even though the team re-signed veteran cornerback Jason Craft, they let go veteran Ashley Ambrose. The Saints really need someone to challenge Craft. They're at least hoping veteran cornerback Fred Thomas can challenge for the nickel position despite a disastrous 2004 season.

RB Antowain Smith: UFA Titans; TE Shad Meier: UFA Titans; LB Lavar Fisher: UFA Cardinals; S Dwight Smith: UFA Buccaneers.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Fred McAfee: UFA; TE Lamont Hall: UFA; DE Tony Bryant: UFA; OLB Sedrick Hodge; S Steve Gleason: UFA; S Mel Mitchell: RFA; Jason Craft: UFA.

KEY DEPARTURES: WR Jerome Pathon (Released); S Tebucy Jones (Released): Dolphins; DT Kenny Smith: UFA Raiders.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: DE Darren Howard (Re-signed).


UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Victor Riley; LB Darrin Smith; CB Monty Montgomery.


EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS: RB Joey Harris; FB Casey Cramer; DT Jordan Carstens; DT Omari Jordan; DT Cleveland Pinkney; LB Sean Tufts; MLB; Vinny Ciurciu; CB Eddie Jackson.

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