Brian Allee-Walsh

Do the Saints still have a shot at providing a big bang in the NFL Draft or free agency?

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018. AP

There may be a hidden gem still out there but unless something good and affordable shakes free in the coming weeks, the New Orleans Saints have pretty much tweaked their roster after the initial wave of free agency.

Now comes the 83rd annual NFL draft April 26-28 from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

With the recent signing of 37-year-old tight end Benjamin Watson, the Saints addressed one critical off-season need, leaving holes to fill at edge rusher and wide receiver.

Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton considered shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue for high-priced free agents at all three positions (TE Jimmy Graham, DLs Muhammad Wilkerson and Ndamukong Suh, WR Jordy Nelson) since the start of free agency March 14 but thought better and have opted instead to browse the aisles at Dollar General.

Nothing wrong with fiscal responsibility, though one gets what one generally pays for.

It appears team officials learned a valuable lesson after acquiring fool's gold in free agency at top dollar the past few years. Does the name Jairus Byrd ring a bell? In March 2014, this alleged marquee safety signed a six-year, $54 million contract with New Orleans that included $28 million in guaranteed money and he turned out to be a bust with a capital B!

Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me!

Payton isn't pushing the panic button just yet, saying there is still time to address specific needs on offense (WR) and defense (DE) before the draft.

But those needs are likely to be better addressed in the college crapshoot, where the Saints will have eight picks -- one each in rounds 1 (No. 27), 3 (No. 91), 4 (No. 127) and 7 (No. 245). They will have two picks in rounds 5 (Nos. 147 and 164) and 6 (Nos. 189 and 201).

They have no pick in the second round after dealing it to the San Francisco 49ers in order to virtually "steal'' versatile running back Alvin Kamara in the 67th slot of the third round.

Kamara easily justified that trade in one sensational rookie season, winning AP "Rookie of the Year'' honors after teaming with Mark Ingram to form one of the most exciting and productive running back tandems in NFL history.

The 2017 draft also produced other gems, most notably shutdown cornerback Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and linebacker Alex Anzalone.

The question is can the Saints personnel department/football operations find lightning in a bottle two years in a row? Furthermore, is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson or another quarterback on their radar?

Answers are forthcoming.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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