This week should see the Saints move towards getting their defensive coordinator set before moving into the NFL offseason schedule. The Saints are reportedly going to interview University of Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, both practitioners of the 3-4 scheme.
Hiring Grantham from the college ranks would get head coach Sean Payton back to his early Saints roots - Payton's initial Saints staff in 2006 was made up almost entirely of coaches from the college ranks. Grantham, with Georgia since 2010 and nearly complete this week with his schools 2013 recruiting class, has coached defensive line with the Cowboys and was the defensive coordinator of the Browns from 2005-2007.
Ryan has been in the NFL as a defensive coordinator since 2004, serving with the Raiders, Browns and Cowboys. Prior to that, he was a linebackers coach with the Patriots for four years and was the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, where he coached with current LSU head coach Les Miles in 1997, then the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Ryan reportedly had taken the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator job in January, but one party backed away from the other and he remains available.
After completing their coaching staff, the Saints front office and coaches will head to the Scouting Combine on February 20 in Indianapolis.
On March 9, the league's new offseason free agent negotiation period opens for three days. The negotiation window is new - enacted to reduce tampering with free agents before the free agent market opens. Teams are allowed to begin signing free agents on March 12 at 4pm ET, which is also when teams must be under the salary cap. That means the Saints will be releasing a host of defensive veterans before then.
The Saints' unrestricted free agents at this time will be: starting LT Jermon Bushrod, starting DT Sedrick Ellis, OLB Jonathan Casillas, QB Chase Daniel, WR Devery Henderson, OLB Ramon Humber, CB Elbert Mack, DE Turk McBride, OT William Robinson, WR/KR Courtney Roby and OLB Scott Shanle.
Before free agency opens, the Saints must extend offers to their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, or they will also become unrestricted free agents. Starting C Brian de la Puente, LS Justin Drescher, RB Chris Ivory, DE/LB Junior Galette are restricted free agents. S Rafael Bush, TE Michael Higgins, and G Eric Olsen are exclusive rights free agents and will be Saints in 2013 unless the Saints remove their tender offer.
Should the Saints decide to place the franchise tag on one of their unrestricted free agents, such as Bushrod, they must do so between February 18 and March 4, and then would have until July 15 to negotiate with the player.
To help fill their offseason roster, in January the Saints signed street free agents LB Austin Johnson, CB Dion Turner, DE Jay Richardson, WR Preston Parker, DE Braylon Broughton, WR Jarred Fayson, G Ryan Lee, DB Ryan Steed and WR Andy Tanner.
The NFL offseason hits a high point on April 25 with the start of the three day NFL Draft. Read NOPF's second Saints 2013 mock draft here.