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2010 NFL Free Agency Preview: New Orleans Saints

It has been awhile since the last installment in this series, but now we are moving on to the NFC South and what better place to start than New Orleans?

It wasn't that long ago when the Saints and the 49ers were in the same division but at opposite ends of the talent spectrum. Now it's 2010 and our old divisional door mat is all grown up and they're Super Bowl champions to boot.

Most of the headlines concerning New Orleans have focused on Reggie Bush, and whether or not he will be back with the team next season. While it is true that $8 million is a big number for a player of his ilk, Sean Payton values his contributions to the offense too much for Bush to simply be cut or traded. Eventually, this will be recognized for the non-issue that it really is.

The Saints should instead be focusing on adding to their depth on offense, and improving their inconsistent defense. Let's take a look at who the team could potentially lose via free agency.

See all of the New Orleans free agents after the jump...

Free Agents

DL Remi Ayodele (RFA) - Ayodele took over as the starting nose during the season. New Orleans' run defense improved when he teamed up with Sedrick Ellis on the interior of their line.

RB Mike Bell (UFA) - He competed with Pierre Thomas for carries during the first part of the season, but his strong start to the season stalled down the stretch when he aggravated a knee injury.

T Jammal Brown (RFA) - Brown was placed on IR after undergoing hip and sports hernia surgery. According to Rotoworld he is still one of New Orleans' top linemen and they expect him to resign with the team.

T Jermon Bushrod (RFA) - Bushrod did a good job filling in for the injured Jammal Brown at left tackle. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Saints bring one or both of these guys back.

DL Jeff Charleston (UFA)

TE Darnell Dinkins (UFA) - Listed as New Orleans' third tight end, he only caught one pass in 2009.

G Jahri Evans (RFA) - Evans is regarded as one of the league's best young guards, and he could have had a chance for a big payday if a collective bargaining agreement had been hammered out. As it is now, he will most likely end up back with the Saints on a relatively cheap contract.

LB Scott Fujita (UFA) - Fujita is 31 and not known for his playmaking ability. Still, he has been solid for the Saints and it's possible that they will bring him back. However, it seems more likely that they'll try to upgrade the outside linebacker position.

DL Anthony Hargrove (RFA) - Hargrove is a talented lineman and he was solid in the middle for New Orleans, racking up five sacks and 42 tackles.

DB Roman Harper (UFA) - Harper excelled under Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams. With free safety Darren Sharper manning centerfield, Harper was asked to play in the box more. He was effective against the run and in blitz packages.

WR Courtney Roby (RFA) - Roby returned kick-offs, but was not involved on the offensive side of the ball.

DB Darren Sharper (UFA) - Sharper is the active interceptions leader, but he is 34 years of age. New Orleans is expected to approach the free agent about a 2-3 year contract, and if they can't get a deal done look for the Saints to place the franchise tag on him.

TE David Thomas (UFA) - Thomas showed some promise in 2009, and he may get some more opportunities next season.

RB Pierre Thomas (RFA) - Pierre had a career year with 793 rushing yards. Although New Orleans should look at upgrading their backfield, Thomas seems like a logical choice to resign with the team.

DB Leigh Torrence (RFA) - Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams likes Leigh Torrence, but the Saints are deep at cornerback so if Torrence is even brought back he will be on the roster bubble.

DB Usama Young (RFA) - Was the backup free safety before going on IR following a sports hernia.

Needs

Outside Linebacker - The Saints have some dependable veterans at outside linebacker, but they could use a more athletic playmaker to pair alongside Jonathan Vilma.

Nose Tackle - New Orleans struggled to stop the run at times, and adding depth at the nose tackle position would improve that weakness. Look for them to add a big body to go with Anthony Hargrove and Sedrick Ellis.

Defensive End - The Saints already have two talented defensive ends in Will Smith and Charles Grant, but they would do well to acquire another pass rush specialist to bring off the bench and give their veterans a break.

Center - Jonathan Goodwin has been average at center. They will likely try to look for an upgrade, or at least bring someone in to compete with Goodwin.

Offensive Tackle - They already have some good athletic tackles, but New Orleans could use some added depth at the position.

Tight End - Shockey is not getting any younger, and he is not as explosive as he once was. Head coach Sean Payton loves to have options on offense, and he does not have many at the tight end position. Look for the Saints to bring in a young pass catching threat to add to their depth.

Summary

As you would expect from a Super Bowl champion, the Saints do not have many huge holes to fill this offseason. Mostly they will be adding depth and attempting to shore up their defense.

The question everybody seems to be asking is, "What will New Orleans due with Reggie Bush?" He is due $8 Million in 2010, and that is a lot of money to be shelling out for a guy who's only getting 10-15 touches a game. Still, Head Coach Sean Payton values Bush's versatility and playmaking ability so I don't expect him to be cut. It seems likely that the Saints will approach Bush about restructuring his contract, but look for Reggie to say in New Orleans even if the two sides cannot work out a new contract.

Aside from dealing with Bush's contract situation, it is vitally important that the Saints find a way to get more consistent on defense. They were able to make up for their shortcomings in 2009 by finding a way to create turnovers, but that may not be enough to sustain success in the upcoming season. I expect that they will bring back both of their starting safeties, Darren Sharper and Roman Harper. Also they should look to get younger and more athletic both on the defensive line and at the outside linebacker position.

Having accomplished so much in 2009, the Saints franchise is now in the very unfamiliar position of Super Bowl champions. The biggest changes this offseason will come on the defensive side of the ball as Greg Williams continues to mold that unit in his image.

What would you do about Reggie Bush's contract situation? Which New Orleans free agents would you want on the 49ers?