NFL New Orleans Saints

5 New Orleans Saints Who Mean the Most To The Team’s Future

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5 New Orleans Saints Who Mean the Most To The Team’s Future

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

After failing to advance past the Divisional Playoff Round for a fourth straight season, many people began to question whether or not the New Orleans Saints' window was beginning to close. Those people are failing to see the bigger picture as 2013 was a transition season for the entire defensive unit that switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. Based on his past with the Saints, there is no reason to believe the general manager Mickey Loomis won’t thrive in his second offseason in finding talent to fit the defensive scheme. Drew Brees has proven in the past that he can win a Super Bowl without the most elite talent around him at the skill positions, but there is one skill position player who certainly makes my list.

The salary cap purge has already begun. Last week, the Saints released several veterans and major contributors during their Super Bowl season—Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper. The moves save the Saints $16.905 million in cap room for 2014, bringing them from $13.5 million over the cap to $3.35 million under the cap. It seems as if Loomis already has a strategy that involves getting younger and building around a specific core.

There are several players who will be quite possibly more important for the Saints for the 2014 and maybe even the 2015 season. You could argue that both guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, should easily make the Saints’ top five most important players for 2014. However, this is not a list of the most important Saints right now. Instead, this list sets out to determine which pieces the Saints can build their roster around several seasons down the line.

If Loomis can add the right role players around the following five players, he will put the Saints in a position to get back to the Super Bowl. He has to act fast, though, because Brees is not getting any younger.

Dan Schneier is a New York Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter @pff_dansc, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network through Google.

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5. Terron Armstead

Terron Armstead Saints
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

You might be surprised to see 2013 rookie Terron Armstead on this list after he started just two regular season games and two playoff games in 2013. However, as the future at left tackle and protector of Brees’ blindside, Armstead plays a huge role in the Saints' plans going forward. Armstead entered the draft very raw after playing college football at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but he possesses top-tier athletic ability for an offensive tackle. He ran the fastest 40 time of any tackle in the history of the NFL Combine when he clocked in at 4.71 last February. Armstead struggled in the first half of his first career start, but after that he performed admirably in the remaining games including both playoff contests. The arrow is clearly pointing up.

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4. Kenny Vaccaro

Kenny Vaccaro Saints
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints couldn’t ask for much more from Kenny Vaccaro in his rookie season. Vaccaro quickly acclimated himself to Rob Ryan's 3-4 defensive scheme and became a starter from day one. He played free safety for the majority of the snaps, but also showed his versatility by playing slot cornerback as well. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription based), Vaccaro graded out as a top-26 safety in the entire league, finding success against the run and in coverage. Unfortunately, he fractured his ankle just a few weeks before the NFL Playoffs and was placed on injured reserve. However, the break was clean and Vacarro should be back in time for the offseason program.

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3. Cameron Jordan

Cameron Jordan Saints
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After two seasons with varying production, third-year defensive end Cameron Jordan burst out onto the scene in 2013 after the Saints changed defensive schemes. In Ryan’s new scheme, Jordan tallied a career-high 12 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription based), Jordan racked up 50 quarterback pressures which was good for second-best among all defensive ends and was more than any other 3-4 defensive end. This breakout season did not come out of nowhere. Jordan tallied eight sacks the year before this one. Ryan’s scheme has brought out the best in Jordan, and now that he is finally in a position that suits his skill-set perfectly, he is ready to become one of the elite defensive ends in the NFL.

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2. Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham Saints
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Another dominant season for Jimmy Graham went down in the books in 2013. Graham racked up 1,215 yards on 86 catches and tallied a career-high 16 touchdowns and 14.1 yards-per-catch. The most amazing aspect of Graham’s season was the fact that he played over half of it while dealing with a nagging foot injury to which the extent was never fully revealed. Before the injury, Graham caught 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns in just five games. Graham is just 27 and he still poses the biggest mismatch for any defense in the entire league. If you want to call him the best weapon in the league, you wouldn’t find many people who would argue against it.

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1. Drew Brees

Drew Brees Saints
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Having just turned 35 this January, Drew Brees has showed no signs of slowing down at all. Last season, with a less effective Marques Colston and injuries plus inconsistent play at wide receiver, Brees still managed to throw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns. Brees has at least three more seasons in him, and based on his dedication and physical condition, no one should be surprised if he plays a couple more after that. As the leader of the Saints, Brees doesn’t require much. When the Saints won their Super Bowl under Brees, his best weapons were Colston, Pierre Thomas and Robert Meachem. Next season he will likely have all three of those players again in addition to Graham, Darren Sproles, any other weapons they add around him and a much better defense.