METAIRIE, La. -- I believe in the idea of staying true to your draft board.
I appreciate the wisdom in not overpaying for free agents.
And I totally get the idea that a right tackle can be more valuable to a team than the guy he’s blocking.
But I also feel the exasperation of the Who Dat Nation.
This is two straight years now where the New Orleans Saints have stated the obvious -- that an edge rusher ranked as a “must” for their struggling defense heading into the offseason. And this is two straight years when the Saints have failed to satisfy that need.
The Saints didn’t draft an edge rusher until they snagged Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson at the end of the third round. And the only one they signed in free agency was former Arizona Cardinals rotational backup Alex Okafor.
I actually like both of those moves because they have strong upside potential and came at a discounted rate. But at some point, the Saints might need to at least try and convince themselves to have some conviction on a pass-rusher.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis laughed when I asked him if they’re too hard to please at that position.
“We’ve talked about it, and there are guys (we like), and that’s just the way it fell,” Loomis said. “It’s not that we’re not looking. It’s not that we don’t evaluate the players for what they can provide us. We do. And there’s been a lot of good ones. It just hasn’t fallen to the point that we feel really good about taking a particular player at a particular spot.
"You can't force those things. So that’s just the outcome. We only have seven picks in a given draft, and you kind of have to take it the way it comes sometimes. Look, we’ve tried to make trades before. We’ve tried to trade up at times, but it just hasn’t worked out.”
I am willing to let Loomis off the hook a bit because I can’t suggest a single great alternative.
Should the Saints have drafted Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett ahead of Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore at No. 11? No way. Lattimore was a steal at that spot by most accounts, and cornerback was just as big a need as edge rusher.
Should they have reached for Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis or Houston outside linebacker Tyus Bowser at No. 32 instead of Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk? Maybe, but that would have meant totally betraying their board, since they said Ramczyk was rated among their top 15 players. And the rest of the league seemed to agree, since no edge rusher went in Round 2 until Bowser at No. 46.
Should they have traded up earlier in Round 1 for one that they liked, such as UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, who went to the rival Atlanta Falcons at No. 26? Perhaps. But the Saints made it clear that they did not want to part with any mid-round picks this year since they felt Day 2 was the strength of this draft.
Should they have reached for an edge rusher instead of safety Marcus Williams at 42 or running back Alvin Kamara at 67? Maybe, but I liked both of those picks -- and the Saints really seemed to like the Kamara pick, which is why they couldn’t resist trading away a second-round pick in 2018 to move up and get him.
Should they have spent $8.5 million per year on new Indianapolis Colts defensive end Jabaal Sheard instead of $8 million per year on new Saints right guard Larry Warford? Perhaps, as that was one of my most recommended moves in free agency. And last year, I thought they should consider signing veteran pass-rusher Robert Ayers, who played pretty well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at $7 million per year. But I won’t pretend that either of those guys is a sure thing.
Should they have tried to trade away a first-round pick and paid mega-millions for franchise-tagged pass-rushers such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones? Maybe, but that would have cost a mint -- and who knows if they would have found a willing trade partner.
The bottom line is that it’s not as easy as it sounds to just say, “We need a pass-rusher, let’s go get one.”
But I can say all of this without hesitation:
The Saints had a good, solid free agency with some nice value signings and a lot of depth. They had a good, solid draft with one terrific value pick and a lot of depth. They’ll be a better team on May 1 than they were on March 1. But I would’ve liked their offseason a whole lot better if they would have figured out a way to land a top edge rusher.