The New Orleans Saints approached this offseason with an eye on improving their anemic defense. And, with $30 million in salary cap space, they certainly could have improved their offense, too.
But, when the dust settled, the Saints added no outside offensive players. In fact, they went to great lengths to re-sign their own offensive free agents — wide receivers Devery Henderson, David Patten and Terrance Copper; running back Aaron Stecker; and tight ends Billy Miller and Eric Johnson.
Why? Well, Scout.com's Senior NFL Reporter, Adam Caplan, has a theory.
"They wanted to keep their offense together and re-signed many of their key offensive free agents at running back and wide receiver," Caplan said.
Despite their defensive shortcomings and McAllister's injury, the Saints were still fourth in the NFL in total offense, as they leaned heavily on the right arm of quarterback Drew Brees and his stable of receivers.
The Saints' passing game was ranked No. 3 in the NFL. Brees threw for 4,423 yards while completing nearly 68 percent of his passes. Much of that production was necessary as opposing defenses loaded up to stop Bush with McAllister now out of the picture.
But the Saints faced a decision about Brees' targets this offseason. Marques Colston (98 catches) and Bush (78 catches) were under contract. His next three targets — Patten (54 catches), Johnson (48 catches) and Stecker (36 catches) were all free agents.
All three were re-signed, though the Bucs tempted Stecker early in free agency. The Saints also reclaimed Henderson (20 catches) and Copper (15 catches). Caplan considered the Saints' re-signing of Henderson a minor surprise.
"He's been among the league leaders in dropped passes the past few seasons so it was a minor surprise that they re-signed him," Caplan said. "But also keep in mind he's one of the fastest receivers in the NFL and you can't teach speed."
In fact, Caplan sees the re-signing of Patten as one of the key moves of the offseason, and one that signals that at least one young receiver will have to step up to earn his playing time.
"He did very well for them in extended playing time last season and he still runs well," Caplan said. "It doesn't bode well for Robert Meachem that the team re-signed Patten, Henderson and Terrance Copper."
Meachem, of course, was a major disappointment last season. The first-round pick never made an impact on the team and made no receptions a year ago. He spent much of the season injured or inactive. While the Saints would love to see Meachem emerge as a legitimate threat, they had to protect themselves in the event that Meachem didn't progress.
The other key signing was Stecker, and his value will shoot up if the Saints choose to release McAllister in April instead of paying the veteran's $1 million signing bonus. Stecker gained nearly 4 yards per carry last season as Bush's backup and Caplan saw some good things when Stecker took over Bush's job last season after Bush hurt his knee.
"It's not a surprise they re-signed him," Caplan said. "Stecker is the kind of versatile back that fits in well for head coach Sean Payton's offensive scheme."
The Saints could pursue a wide receiver or a running back in this April's NFL Draft. But, if they do so, it will likely be for depth purposes only.
After a tumultuous, injury-riddled 2007 season, it's obvious the Saints chose chemistry over an offensive shakeup. And given that most of this group has been together for at least two seasons, the Saints may have needed to do nothing more than that.
Matthew Postins is the publisher of saintsinsider.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.