By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports
The rule change is for one year, but it’s hard to see the NFL going back after upgrading what can be reviewed in instant replay.
Saints head coach Sean Payton pushed for the change, one that would have allowed the obvious “no-call” on pass interference against the Rams in the NFC Championship Game to be reviewed and reversed.
Saints owner Gayle Benson also pushed for the change. All 32 head coaches in the NFL agreed.
Why? Simple. If it happened to the Saints, it could happen to them.
The replay change is part of what appears to be a very solid offseason by the Saints. New Orleans addressed two need areas – defensive tackle and tight end.
Jared Cook had career bests last season with 68 catches and six touchdowns for Oakland. Defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, who became a free agent after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year option, fills a huge void in the middle left by the Achilles injury to defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
At some point in the 2019 season, Rankins figures to be back after suffering the major injury in the playoff win over the Eagles.
So, now comes the Saints’ biggest offseason test. New Orleans has aced the draft in two of the last three seasons.
2018’s top two selections – defensive end Marcus Davenport and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith – get incomplete grades after their rookie seasons.
The Saints do not have a selection, currently, until the second round, No. 62 overall. But there’s no reason why they cannot grab an impact player there.
In 2016, the second round netted the Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell. Former LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry was the 63rd selection overall in the 2014 draft. Five years later, for the Dolphins and Browns, Landry has 481 career receptions, 26 for touchdowns.
What the Saints must do is continue to build their team from the inside out. That is, draft the players who rush the passer and the ones who block for the passer, in the early rounds.
Defensive end Cam Jordan has 71.5 career QB sacks, 25 in the last two seasons. Rankins went from two sacks in 2017 to eight last season. Both were first-round picks.
A trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots in March 2017 netted a first-round pick, one the Saints used to take one of the NFL’s best young offensive linemen, tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
Drafting an offensive lineman isn’t sexy, but it has paid off for the Saints. Last season, the Saints’ offensive line allowed 20 sacks. The rest of the NFC South wasn’t nearly as productive. The Panthers allowed 32 sacks, the Bucs 41 and the Falcons 42.
Over the past two regular seasons, the Saints have gone 24-8. The club has won back-to-back NFC South titles. And, there’s a formula to such consistency: Build your team around a franchise quarterback and high draft picks who can win the battle where it counts, up front.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at email@example.com.