Expectations couldn't have been any higher in the Crescent City last year, however, the New Orleans Saints still could only manage to post a 7-9 record by season's end in 2015. Amid somewhat of a youth movement transition, there was also the distraction of what eventually turned out to be the death throws of Rob Ryan's tenure as Defensive Coordinator.
But following the bye week replacement of Ryan with Dennis Allen, there were certainly what seemed to be a bit positive momentum as the team managed to finish out the year with a 3-3 split over the last six games.
Moving forward, what should the point(s) of emphasis be for this team? Well, step one is going to have to be some hard decision facing GM Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton. I've isolated four of those that could have a direct bearing on the free agent/draft strategy for the coming offseason.
1. DEFENSIVE LINE/EDGE RUSHER
For whatever the reason last season, the Saints defense struggled through a historically bad season. But a few rookies made their impact felt, spawning hope for what will be the building blocks for the future.
I am a firm believer that winning football games begins in the trenches. And defensively speaking, if you can't pressure the opposing QB, it doesn't matter who you have as DBs, you'll get picked apart.
This year's draft class looks to be loaded with very talented edge-rushing specialist, so this could be a draft day project.
2. OFFENSIVE LINE
With the release of guard Jahri Evans this week, and Strief's future somewhat in doubt, there will be at least one hole to fill to protect Brees.
And while I don't think that it's as pressing a need as perhaps a bookend for Cam Jordan, it could be addressed through free agency, prior to the draft.
Offensive linemen usually face the most difficult transition going from the college game to this level, and with free agency, you get more of a proven commodity at these positions.
3. DEFENSIVE BACK
Last year the Saints discovered a diamond in the rough in cornerback Delvin Breaux. Hopes are high that Keenan Lewis will soon be able to put this injury-plagued season behind him and return to form. But with the expected impending departure of Brandon Browner, and the unknown status of Damian Swann, depth at the corners, as well as behind safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd is an ongoing concern.
Once again, this will likely be more of a draft day project. But if a talented free agent should suddenly become available, he could be targeted as well.
WHAT ARE THE IMMEDIATE PLANS FOR TE BENJAMIN WATSON? For the Sean Payton/Drew Brees offense of the Saints, few positions have been more crucial than that of the tight end. First was Jimmy Graham, and last season Ben Watson was finally fully integrated into the scheme. The result was a career year for Watson.
But Watson is set to become a free agent if the Saints do not resign him. And with the window of opportunity for this team's success behind Brees slowly disappearing, look for retaining Watson to be a priority.
WHAT WILL MARQUES COLSTON'S FUTURE WITH THIS TEAM BE? The franchise record-holder among receivers, Colston took a pay cut last season to stay with the team. But will there be a place for him on this season's roster?
DOES ZACH STRIEF HAVE ANYTHING LEFT? A mainstay at RT for the past decade, last year Strief struggled through what was perhaps his most difficult and frustrating season yet. Is his experience valuable enough to retain him?
WILL DAMIAN SWANN BE ABLE TO GET BEYOND THIS SEASON'S THREE CONCUSSIONS? Swann was one of the more promising players from last year's draft class. But with 3 documented concussions in his rookie season, will he be able to stay healthy enough to make the team?
As I alluded to earlier, these four questions have a direct bearing on the offseason strategy. And based on how I believe these answers will play out, as well as the present roster, here are the three positions that the Saints most need to address in this impending offseason. For the most part, the Saints offensive unit was able to perform well this season. Conversely, when the defense was tasked with getting a stop, or closing out the game, it struggled. For that reason, I do anticipate this to be another defense-heavy draft class for the Saints.
Sean Williams is a New Orleans Saints Analyst for Profootballspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter @drewsdad3721, on Facebook on the WHODAT NATION:REDEMPTION facebook group, or on the New Orleans Saints Forum on PFS. #PFSstrong