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2014 49ers' Opponents Review and Preview: New Orleans Saints

We take a look at our newest annual opponent, the New Orleans Saints, in anticipation of playing them once again this season.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Because apparently the world's safety hinges upon us playing the Saints every year, the 49ers are travelling to New Orleans this upcoming season to take on a familiar foe.

It's a bit enlightening to be writing about the Saints' 2013 season while there is so much hoopla surrounding Jim Harbaugh's "status" as the 49ers' head coach. After an underwhelming year in 2012 without Sean Payton, the Saints returned to their former selves with Payton in 2013, finishing the season at 11-5. This rebound speaks not only to how good of a coach Payton is (very good) not to how well he works in conjunction with Drew Brees (very well), but it also indicates how vital a good head coach is in the modern NFL. Given all this rabbling about Harbaugh, I think the 49ers' front office should treat the last couple of Saints' seasons as exempla when moving forward.

But, it isn't truly accurate to say that the Saints returned to their former selves, since they did not win another Super Bowl ring after losing an utterly embarrassing game to the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. The game seemed to cement the overriding narrative that has plagued the Saints for a while now: they can't play on the road. What should normally be an explosive offense, for example, could not score to save their playoff lives. And though I wonder if this narrative is a bit overblown (there are so many other reasons why they may have lost to Seattle - that defense is good, nobody plays all that well in Seattle, etc.), I still worry about that fact that the 49ers have to go to New Orleans yet again. The place hasn't been killer for us; but, when one is playing Drew Brees on his home turf, one might worry.

Free Agents: Chris Carr, CB; Luke McCown, QB; Robert Meachem, WR; Charles Brown, OL; Zach Strief, OL; Brian De La Puente, OL; Kenyon Coleman, DE; Keyunta Dawson, DE; Parys Haralson, LB; Will Herring, LB; Ramon Humber, LB; Will Smith, LB; Jonathan Vilma, LB; Jabari Greer, CB; Malcolm Jenkins, S; Roman Harper, S; Shayne Graham, K.

The big name not on this list? TE Jimmy Graham. He received a franchise tag as a tight end recently, which solved one of the biggest problems facing the Saints this offseason by, essentially, delaying it for a season. The two sides could end up in front of an arbitrator however, as Graham is looking to get tagged as a wide receiver instead of a tight end. There's a $5 million in pay, so that will be something to watch.

And, while this move was helpful for the Saints in the short-term, they still have quite a few problems to confront before the offseason is over. First off, a few positions on defense could use some upgrades. I doubt the Saints will bring back Jenkins at Safety, and given how well they drafted and plugged in a rookie at that position, I wonder if they will fill that slot with a free agent at all.

The other big problem is what to do with Brian De La Puente; while centers are not too difficult to replace, he is one of the best in the biz because of how familiar he is with Brees. Retaining him would be very nice, but currently the Saints are sitting at $1,567,990 in cap space. This is even after a recent round of cuts that saw CB Jabari Greer, S Roman Harper, DE Will Smith leave.

Draft Picks:

First round - own: 27th
Second round - own: 27th (59th overall)
Third round - own: 27th (91st overall)
Fourth round - own: 27th (123rd overall)
Fifth round - own: 27th (155th overall)
Sixth round - own: 27th (187th overall)