Welcome to another offseason, bitches. You thought the last one was crazy? Just wait until this one gets rolling, whenever that might be. Nobody's really sure, and nobody has the slightest clue what the rules are gonna be when it does.

Then again, on some level it kinda feels like old times. Message Board Guy is back to being pretty sure that half the roster sucks and needs to be replaced. So it's pretty convenient that half the roster is probably gonna end up hitting free agency under the new CBA, don't you think? MBG's gonna be really pissed though when the Saints end up bringing back all but a handful of them, rather than "upgrading" all but a handful of them like MBG would. Loomis!!!

I mean, it's not like these guys won 11 games this season, and 27 games and a championship (high five!) over the last two seasons, and made the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in almost two decades or anything. Don't let that top-10 offense and defense for the first time in a decade and the second time in franchise history fool ya. Clearly they suck.

On the other hand, half the fun of the offseason (and, yes, it can be big fun) is ditching half the guys on the roster in favor of other guys whose hips are more fluid and/or are stronger at the point of attack. Trading our spare parts for pro bowlers to fill the myriad holes on the roster. Signing a shitload of big name free agents (without overpaying!!!) And then of course drafting the BEST AVAILABLE PLAYER (at a position of need) while getting tremendous value with each pick and never reaching. The other half of the fun, of course, is pitching a fit over Loomis' repeated failure to do any of that.

But before you can do any of that, you've gotta self-scout. Watch a bunch of YouTube highlight reels gamefilm and whatnot. Check the stat sheets, and then completely disregard them. Because stats are at best largely irrelevant. And at worst, they're lying whores. Or something.

At any rate, the bottom line is that first you've gotta identify all the areas in which the Saints suck. Fortunately, that part is easy. Everywhere but quarterback, middle linebacker and punter, right? But being as I'm sure there are a handful of us Saints fans who are at least willing to grudgingly acknowledge that it's unlikely Mickey Loomis will be able to upgrade 50 roster spots this offseason, let's narrow it down juuust a bit, shall we?

So where to begin? Seems just about everyone agrees that the areas most in need of improvement are the pass rush, the run defense and the rushing offense.

Some people would also argue strong safety, but those people are full of shit. Sure, Roman Harper had a couple bad games toward the end of the year, and one especially nightmarish performance in the playoffs. But most of the time, he kicks ass. They shouldn't give more than a passing thought to replacing him, and they almost certainly won't.

Others will argue offensive tackle (either side, or both) and surely Charles Brown and Zach Strief will be given opportunities to compete for those spots. But you can't have pro bowlers at all 22 positions, and all things considered, the Saints are solidly two-deep at both tackle spots already. Sure, the Saints don't have any "elite" tackles right now, and potentially both Bushrod and Strief will be free agents. But there's very little chance that next year's tackles won't be Bushrod and Stinchcomb, with Brown and Strief backing them up. And that'll do just fine, thank you very much.

But for the most part, we all agree that the focus should be on the defensive line, the outside linebackers and the tailbacks. Most of the debate is just about the order of priority. We'll get to the defense in future posts, but let's start with the tailbacks. Because I'm going to attempt to make what's sure to be a wildly unpopular argument: that the tailback situation right now is the single most pressing issue facing the Saints this offseason. (And I'm gonna be really, really long-winded about it.)

"You're full of shit, Wang. The Saints are loaded with good, young tailbacks. Reggie's gonna restructure, Pierre's gonna get a decent little raise, Ivory's gonna be healthy, and between Lynell Hamilton, PJ Hill, Julius Jones and Joique Bell, there's a 4th in there somewhere. We're fine at tailback. Hell, Sean Payton barely uses the tailbacks anyway. And we're in desperate need of help in the defensive front 7."

I disagree. A lot. Well, not about that last thing. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I have no doubt that that'll be addressed too. But there are a few myths in need of busting here.

Myth #1: The defense still blows, and is in need of sweeping changes
Look, I understand that a 41-36 playoff loss will leave a bad taste in your mouth that'll linger for quite a while, but let's not let that obscure the fact that the Saints had a legit top-10 defense in 2010. With the exception of interceptions (not takeaways in general, but interceptions specifically) and sacks (just barely, 33 in 2010 vs. 35 in 2009) the defense was better across the board in 2010 vs. 2009. Pass defense, run defense, scoring defense, 3rd down defense, red zone defense, punts forced, and on and on. You name it, the Saints defense was better at it in 2010 than 2009. By a lot. And "top-10" doesn't mean "#10 just barely." They were 4th in total defense, 4th in pass defense, and 7th in scoring defense. They were a solidly top-10 defense, and for a good chunk of the season, the defense actually carried the team. In many ways, the defense was better than the offense in 2010.

Sure, they had a nightmare game against Seattle. Sure, they broke down from time to time during the season. Hey, it happens. It happened in 2009 too. Sure, they weren't the "opportunistic" "big play" defense they were in 2009. But there was a whole lot of smoke and mirrors going on with the 2009 defense. As we've talked about before on numerous occasions, turnovers aren't reliable. What's reliable is consistently minimizing your opponents' ability to move the ball and score. And the 2010 defense did that a lot better than the 2009 defense.

The 2009 defense was just good enough to let the offense carry the team to wins. The 2010 defense, on several occasions (by my count, at least 6) was good enough to carry the team to wins themselves, despite the offense.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to tell you that the defense is fine and the Saints shouldn't spend the bulk of their offseason resources on that side of the ball. They should. All I'm saying is that the defense improved significantly in 2010, while the offense regressed. The defense didn't let the team down in 2010, the offense did.

Myth #2: Sean Payton won't run the ball anyway, so why invest heavily in the tailback position?
I'm sure you're all long past sick and tired of me calling bullshit on this, but… bullshit. Look, if you're still waiting on 3 yards and a cloud of dust little pieces of ground up tires from Sean Payton, you're an idiot. It's just never gonna happen. Nor should it. Sean Payton is a passing kinda guy, Drew Brees is a top-3 quarterback who's eventually gonna end up in Canton and for now is still at least on the front end of the back end of his prime, and, this just in: the NFL is a passing league. Deal with it already. It's not like it hasn't been working out pretty damn well so far. Like, better than anything else the Saints have ever tried. Ever. By a lot.

But the notion that Sean Payton doesn't understand the value of the rushing game, refuses to run the ball "enough" and doesn't value the tailback's role in the offense is patently absurd. I know you're probably sick and tired of me saying this too, but it's never been about "won't." It's always been about "can't."

I'm not gonna sit here and insist that Sean Payton doesn't occasionally fall victim to "the disease" as Parcells put it. He does. But overall, on the rare occasion that the Saints are able to run the ball consistently and effectively, Sean Payton will run the ball. The problem has always been that those occasions are few, far between, and short lived. For the most part, it's been a revolving door at the tailback position ever since Sean Payton has been here, despite the Saints' best efforts to remedy that situation. Seriously, they've tried and tried.

When Sean Payton arrived in 2006, he inherited Dulymus coming off knee surgery, and Anto-wayne Smith, Anthony Thomas and Aaron Stecker. Guh. They immediately set out to remedy that situation. Oh sure, lots of people will assert that they couldn't do anything but draft Reggie, and I'd be one of those people. But lots of people forget that they tried to address the tailback situation before the draft by signing Michael Bennett in free agency. So it's not like they fell ass-backwards into addressing the tailback situation despite Sean Payton. It was one of their first orders of business, even before Reggie.

And they ran the shit out of the ball that fall. 44% of the time, in fact. Poorly, for the most part. (3.7 yards per carry overall, 19th in the league in rushing yards) But they did run the ball. (12th in rushing attempts) Dulymus posted 1075 rushing yards at 4.3 yards per carry. The main problem was that they hadn't yet figured out that Reggie Bush blows. 155 carries for the Reg at 3.6 yards per carry. But 44% is hardly "unbalanced" and certainly doesn't indicate a "refusal" to run the ball.

In 2007 they invested in the tailback position again. Twice. They drafted Antonio Pittman and brought in Pierre Thomas. They didn't run the ball nearly as much that fall (37%) but that's because Dulymus was injured again (3 games, 24 carries) and Pierre was an undrafted rookie who hadn't yet earned it. And once again they did it poorly (3.7 yards per carry again, 28th in the league this time) mainly because they still hadn't figured out that Reggie Bush blows. Aaron Stecker did his best to pick up the slack, but he was a 32 year old journeyman. In retrospect, maybe Sean Payton should have given Pierre and his team-leading 4.8 yards per carry in 2007 more of a shot earlier in the season. But it was "Reggie's time" and it's hard to blame Payton for going with a seasoned veteran over an undrafted rookie as the other tailback.

In 2008, the running game was in limbo. Pierre had earned it to the tune of a team-leading 129 carries at 4.8 yards per carry, and here's where I'm willing to give Sean Payton some shit for being too slow to go all-in with Pierre. Dulymus was back for one last run, but he was pretty much done. And while they were starting to realize that Reggie Bush blows, they weren't willing to concede it just yet. As a result, the carries were split pretty much evenly between the 3, and once again the overall results were pretty crappy. Still, they ran 38% of the time. Not ideal as far as that magical "balance" goes, but only about 4 rushing plays per game from 55/45.

In 2009, the Saints ran the shit out of the ball again, to the tune of 45%. Why? Because for the first time in 4 years, it was actually effective. 4.5 yards per carry overall. Mainly because Sean Payton finally went all-in with Pierre, and Pierre produced to the tune of 5.4 yards per carry. They also caught lightning in a bottle with Mike Bell, who managed to stay healthy while running into brick walls 172 times and falling forward for 3.8 yards per carry. And they finally resigned themselves to the fact that Reggie Bush blows. Oh, I know, I know, 5.6 yards per carry for the Reg! Led the team! Yeah, on 5 carries per game. And "his effectiveness increases the fewer times you actually give him the ball" is exactly what you're looking for in a tailback, right? High five?

And of course nobody needs to be reminded of what happened in 2010. Julius Jones? Ladell Betts? DeShawn Wynn? Joique Bell? Shit!

The Saints have tried and tried and tried to get the running game straightened out. Over and over again. (Hell, I haven't even mentioned Jamaal Branch, Lynell Hamilton, PJ Hill and Chris Ivory, among others.) And every now and then, they get pretty close. Or at least so it seems at the time. But something always fucks it up. Be it age (Dulymus) or injury (pretty much everybody) or general incompetence (Reggie) it's always something.

But one thing's for sure, it's not for lack of trying. And it's damn sure not because Sean Payton doesn't value the tailback position. For crying out loud, in Sean Payton's 5 years as the Saints' head coach, the ball has gone to a tailback 2378 times vs. 1010 to wideouts and 427 to tight ends. Or in other words, when you include both rushing and passing plays, the ball ends up in a tailback's hands 62.3% of the time.

Myth #3: The Saints have been doing just fine with tailbacks off the street
Bullshit. They've hit on precisely one. Jamaal Branch, Lynell Hamilton and PJ Hill haven't produced jack squat. Mike Bell and Julius Jones were fair to middling short-term fill-ins at best. Ladell Betts blew. DeShawn Wynn is a non-factor. Joique Bell hasn't taken a snap as a Saint. Chris Ivory kicked a whole lot of ass… for about 3 or 4 games.

Meanwhile, the Saints have sucked at rushing the ball for 4 of the last 5 years.

Hey, maybe eventually Chris Ivory becomes the Adrian Arrington to Pierre's Marques Colston. Fingers crossed. But for now, Chris Ivory remains the Adrian Arrington to Pierre's Marques Colston. See what I did there?

Pierre has been a bona fide success. But mostly, this so-called "strategy" of plucking dudes from obscurity has only resulted in an endless parade of temps who Sean Payton can barely even get to know, let alone trust. And there's always something wrong with them. Either they can't catch, or they fumble, or they can't stay healthy, or they suck at blitz pickups. And people wonder why he "refuses" to run the ball more.

Just because a guy comes in as a UDFA, makes a couple of decent runs in the preseason, gets hyped by Message Board Guy, and makes the roster (because somebody has to) that doesn't mean the "strategy" is working. Just because if worse comes to worst, the Saints can pluck from a big bin of unemployed has-beens at midseason and squeeze a couple hundred yards out of them, that doesn't mean they should.

"But Wang, aren't you the asshole who keeps insisting that Message Board Guy is wrong to clamor for more rushing?"

Guilty as charged, I am indeed that particular asshole. But that's only because the Saints suck at it. If they didn't suck at it, that would be a whole different thing. I don't have anything against running the ball, I have a problem with running the ball when we suck at it. Which is most of the time. I have a problem with running the ball just for the sake of running it. Because "you're supposed to." I reject the notion that "balance" is some kind of magical offensive panacea.

But running the ball worked great in 2009, and I supported it wholeheartedly. I'll support it wholeheartedly again in 2011, as long as it's effective. But that's gonna require a real investment in the position. They need to quit putting bandaids on it and achieve some semblance of stability at the position. It's too important to our offense to keep dicking around with it.

Apologies for repeating myself, but just in case you missed it: 62.3% of the time, the ball goes to a tailback in one way or another. And then there's the "respect" factor. Drawing a safety into the box to open things up deep over the middle, making chumps bite on the play-action and whatnot. The Saints had that in 2006 because teams respected Dulymus (and hadn't yet figured out that Reggie Bush blows.) They had it in 2009 because teams respected Pierre. They were learning to respect Chris Ivory with each successive punch to the face, but it's a process. A process he's probably gonna have to start all over in 2011. For the first few games at least, and maybe for the whole season actually, the reaction from opposing defenses was more along the lines of "Who the fuck is Chris Ivory?"

Which is another problem with lining up a bunch of no-names in the backfield. It takes time to establish the respect that compels opposing defenses to bring that safety into the box and bite on the play-action and such. And by the time that respect is established, chances are some dead guy's ACL already has your name on it. Bring on the next guy. Rinse and repeat.

The flip side of that, of course, is the Reg. Conventional wisdom suggests (yes, still) that opposing defenses "have to account for Reggie on every play!" Why is anyone's guess at this point. I'm not even so sure it's true anymore, and if it is, surely that fad's gonna go out of style any minute now. But for 5 years, we've been told over and over again how incredibly important that "respect" opposing defenses have for Reggie is to the offense. Imagine how nice it would be to have a guy in the backfield with that kind of reputation, who doesn't suck at rushing the ball. The possibilities are endless!

"Jesus Christ, Wang. You're 3000 words in. Would you get to the fucking point already? What's your brilliant plan, asshole?"

Fair enough. This will probably come as a shock to you, but my first order of business would be to part ways with Reggie Bush. Not because he's overpaid, but because he sucks at football. And while he (quite rightly) won't admit it publicly, Sean Payton knows it. There's a reason Reggie continues to get fewer and fewer touches with each passing season.

I don't care that he says he's "willing to restructure." It doesn't matter what he's being paid. There's no point in having a tailback on the roster whose "effectiveness" (in a manner of speaking) is inversely proportional to the number of times he actually touches the ball.

And while we're on the subject, let's all pause for a moment to scoff at the notion that whatever "restructuring" Reggie has in mind won't involve an eight-figure signing bonus and continuing to be the highest paid tailback on the roster. Ha!

The Reggie Bush Experience has run its course. End it. There's nothing left to gain.

The second order of business would be to get the fuck over it already and make nice with Pierre. Assuming that's still possible. At this point, he's all you've got. And you know it. Quit acting like he's the asshole for wanting to actually make a few bucks before you inevitably up and kick him to the curb, because he's not. Quit thinking you can just pluck another ten just like him from whoever shows up at open tryouts, because you can't.

I mean, it's like you won the fucking lottery, and now you're pitching a fit because the clerk says he undercharged you for the ticket. "What do you mean, it was a $5 ticket? I wanted a $1 ticket! Well fuck that. I'll give you your $5, but I want you to take this one back and give me five $1 tickets instead. Surely I'll end up on the better end of this deal."

Quit doing that. Quit acting like Reggie is one of a kind and Pierres are a dime a dozen. Nobody's buying that bullshit anymore. Finally.

And last but certainly not least, suck it up and make a real investment in a real tailback to work alongside Pierre. Not a "weapon." Not a "gadget." Not a walking, talking gimmick. Just an actual tailback who can line up in a goddamn I formation and make the run game work like it oughta. A guy who opposing defenses don't have to Google. (Hell, for that matter, how about a guy your own head coach doesn't have to Google?)

Maybe Chris Ivory is that guy. Maybe. But I'm beggin' ya (BEGGIN' YA!) not to count on it. If he becomes The Next Jim Brown, then great. Worst case, you end up with a first round tailback on the roster who's eating up a bunch of payroll while being outperformed by one or more undrafted free agents. Again.

Meantime, it's high time to quit dicking around with it and hoping to win the lottery a second time. Just fuckin' fix it already.

Please feel free to pimp us on your favorite social media service: