The Other 31: With Payton back, Saints seek return to prominence

June 20, 2013

Sean Payton (left, shown with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) is back with the Saints following his bounty-scandal suspension last season. (Jim Prisching/The Associated Press)

Background: Schedule | Depth chart | Draft | Team page | Previous teams

Last season’s record: 7-9

Key players released: TE David Thomas, CB Johnny Patrick

Key free agents lost: QB Chase Daniel, T Jermon Bushrod, LB Jonathan Casillas, DE Turk McBride, WR Devery Henderson

Key free agents re-signed: LB Ramon Humber, LB Will Herring, WR Courtney Roby

Key free agents added: CB Keenan Lewis, TE Benjamin Watson, LB Victor Butler, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Jim Leonhard, T Jason Smith, QB Seneca Wallace, QB Luke McCown

Key players traded: RB Chris Ivory

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 15 overall)… Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

3 (75)… Terron Armstead, T, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

3 (82)… John Jenkins, DT, Georgia

5 (144)… Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

6 (183)… Rufus Johnson, DE, Tarleton State

Analysis: Coach Sean Payton is back from his suspension and the bounty scandal is a fading memory. But can the New Orleans Saints recapture their pre-scandal level of success? It’s an interesting question.

Those who thought the Saints might simply march on last season without Payton, using the bounty penalties as a rallying point and staying organized behind the leadership of quarterback Drew Brees, were wrong. Payton’s value became more obvious than ever in his absence.

Many of the key pieces, including Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham, remain in place as Payton returns. The Saints do have an issue at left tackle after Jermon Bushrod exited in free agency, signing with the Chicago Bears. The Saints have some options after signing Jason Smith as a free agent and using a third-round draft choice on Terron Armstead. But it appears that Charles Brown is the favorite to emerge as the starter.

The defense, now overseen by Rob Ryan, got a significant boost on draft night when the Saints used the 15th overall pick on Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. Third-round defensive tackle John Jenkins also could be a nice addition. The Saints added cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jim Leonhard as free agents, along with two players who followed Ryan from Dallas to New Orleans, linebacker Victor Butler and defensive end Kenyon Coleman. Mere improvement on defense is not exactly a lofty goal. The Saints ranked 31st in the league last season against the pass, last against the run and last overall.

There is significant ground to be made up in the NFC South. The Saints finished six games behind the first-place Atlanta Falcons last season.  But with Payton back and Ryan on board, it does not seem unrealistic to believe the Saints will be back in contention for an NFC playoff spot.

Why Redskins fans should care: Both teams could be in the mix for an NFC playoff spot and, if they don’t win their divisions, could be competing for the same wild-card berths.

Conversation starter: Were the bounty suspensions justified?

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim (starting July 1) | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

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Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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Mark Maske · June 19, 2013

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