METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton didn’t play coy when asked about one of the New Orleans Saints’ most glaring needs — a pass-rusher.
Payton was asked in a Q&A with the team’s website whether he considers a pass-rusher as a “need” or a “want.”
Payton replied, “It’s a must.”
“We’ve got to find a pass-rusher,” Payton continued. “Now, whether that comes from free agency or that comes from the draft, we have to be better at affecting the quarterback.
“Last year if you took hurries, sacks, pressures — a study of all three things that can happen with a rush — we were in the bottom third of the league and that has to get better.”
Payton didn’t specify “edge rusher” in that Q&A but it seems pretty apparent that’s what the Saints need most.
They already have a stellar defensive end on the strong side in veteran Cameron Jordan, who ranked among the NFL’s elite last year in all of those disruption categories that Payton mentioned. And the Saints beefed up their interior pass rush last year by drafting tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round and signing veteran tackle Nick Fairley in free agency.
Fairley is once again a free agent this year — and should be pretty expensive to retain after he had a career-high 6.5 sacks last year. But even if the Saints do bring back Fairley, they will likely try to add an edge-rushing DE in free agency or the draft. Or both.
It will be interesting to see just how much the Saints are willing to spend to fill that “must.” There are some elite pass-rushers scheduled to hit the free-agent market, including the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, the Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (though that could change if they are franchised or sign long-term deals before the start of free agency next month).
The first round of the draft should offer some good options, as well. Among edge rushers who could possibly be deemed worthy of the No. 11 pick are Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley and Alabama’s Tim Williams.