Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness Sports
With the Super Bowl set for Sunday, we thought it'd be a good time to look at the roster the Saints ended the season with and give our two cents into what players should stick around and which players should go.
You know, because this is the end of the NFL season. Also, fans continue to clamor for information and opinion on the Saints.
So, this week, we'll go by position groups (secondary, linebackers, defensive line, offensive line and skill players) daily and give our beliefs on who should return and who shouldn't.
It should be noted that this is all with the assumption that A) the collective bargaining agreement, or lack thereof, doesn't kill the 2011 season and B) a new CBA doesn't drastically alter roster or free agency rules
Strong side: Danny Clark, Jo-Lonn Dunbar
Middle: Jonathan Vilma, Marvin Mitchell, Anthony Waters
Weak side: Scott Shanle, Kawika Mitchell, Ramon Humber
Vilma, the heart and soul of the defense, isn't going anywhere. He's signed through the 2013 season before becoming a free agent in 2014. As long as Drew Brees is the Saints quarterback and as long as Gregg Williams is the defensive coordinator, Vilma has no reason to leave (unless some team throws a Federal Bank at him). He led the team in tackles and has to be dragged off the field to leave the game.
Shanle gets the brunt of the attack by Saints fans. While we say it's quite undeserved, there's no doubt that he began to show wear and tear on his body by the latter half of the season. The Saints could be looking for a younger, cheaper, more athletic guy to play the position in the coming seasons, but as I'll allude to shortly, the answer may already be on the roster. He's a free agent, though, and will test the market. It might be just like Scott Fujita last year; Saints will keep him for the right price but will let other teams over pay for his fantastic locker room leadership and on-field knowledge. We think Shanle is around next season.
Clark was a fill-in this past season and at 31, showed his age. He had troubles in coverage and had a hard time changing directions on the fly. You got the impression later in the season when the team used Jo-Lonn Dunbar against Atlanta that Clark's time as a starter with the Saints might be growing short. He was inactive for the playoff game at Seattle, a nod to the fact the Saints were expecting lots of passing from the Seahawks and that's the one area Clark had trouble with. He's a free agent and we don't see him sticking to the roster in the fall.
Dunbar is a guy who is taking the long road to success. He was an undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Saints in 2008. He's designated a restricted free agent this offseason, but that's under the old CBA (though the free agent rules are expected to remain the same). Still, Williams likes his athleticism. In the aforementioned Atlanta game, Williams put Dunbar in the game instead of Clark, who had been starting for much of the second half of the stadium. We expect him back.
M. Mitchell, like Dunbar, has done his part when thrown into the game. He's no Vilma, but he's a solid backup middle linebacker that the coaching staff trusts. He played in every game and picked up a start in the playoffs. He's an important player on special teams. He's also a player we see back in the black and gold.
K. Mitchell was a late-season addition when injuries forced the team to continue making roster moves. He came in and some believed he could be the answer at weak side linebacker. But he never quite got into the rotation, whether it was because he wasn't what the staff thought he'd be or that he wasn't 100 percent from an injury that ended his time in Buffalo. Regardless, he was inactive for three of his five games with the Saints. At this point, I don't see him returning with the Saints.
Waters is a guy who seemingly slipped through the cracks and found a way onto the roster. He was inactive in six of the 16 regular season games with various injuries and played primarily on special teams when he was in the game. He has worked hard to get where he is, but he just has the feel of a guy who won't be on the roster much longer.
Humber is an interesting case. Like Waters and Kawika Mitchell, he was a special teams guy. He's not loud, he's not about face time but he is about doing his job. He's a guy who knows his job. He's an exclusive rights free agent (again, under the old CBA rules). I see him back as a special teamer.
The IR Crew: Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux
Casillas was heralded as the answer to the Saints needs at weak side linebacker. He was expected to play there, shifting Shanle over to strong side. But Casillas was injured in the final preseason game, going on IR with a Lisfranc injury to his foot. Gregg Williams is super high on this guy and wonders only if he can stay healthy. There's no doubt that Casillas will be back in '11.
Arnoux is another guy that Williams really thinks has a lot of upside. But in his first two seasons in the NFL, he has missed time because of blown out Achilles' tendons. That's the bad news. The good news is it hasn't been the same one. If Arnoux can find a way to stay healthy, he could have a good career with the Saints. He'll be back in 2011.