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Saints Mailbag: Who could break out this year?

The Saints begin the third phase of their offseason program today, which is widely known as organized team activities.

All the sessions are closed to the public and the media will not get a look at the proceedings until Thursday. So, for at least a few more days, we’re left to speculate over what’s happening with the team.

And before reports start emerging from OTAs, take everything that comes out of those sessions with a grain of salt. Players are getting used to the system and depth chart battles are just beginning.

There have been many early summer stars who go up in smoke come fall. And just because someone is working with the starters in one of the three practices open to the media, it doesn’t mean he’s currently viewed as a starter. Maybe he’s just getting extended work that day.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to some reader questions.

I’m going to split the difference and go with neither.

I think the defense has too much talent to struggle like it did last year. I’m also going to opt on the side of caution and refrain from making any bold proclamations. Too many people were burned by expectations last year.

I think the secondary is going to be much improved. Brandon Browner, Keenan Lewis, and whoever wins the battle for the star cornerback position will be big improvements over whoever was capable of lining up next to Lewis last year. I also still think Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro could make a great duo at safety.

The defense will improve greatly if the secondary comes together as hoped. Top five would be great, but it isn’t necessary. If this group can be right around the league average in points allowed, the offense will do enough to get the Saints into the playoffs.

A lot of people have said this at various points over the years, but I expect good things from Nick Toon.

With the depth at receiver being pretty thin, he’s going to be given every opportunity to step up. I think he showed real potential late in the season last year, even if his numbers (17 catches, 215 yards, one touchdown) don’t pop from the page.

Thought it was a small sample, he showed that he can hit every route on the tree last year, which is something New Orleans will need from their third receiver. I’ve shared these numbers before, but here they are again:

Slants: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards
Out routes: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 63 yards
In routes: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 37 yards
Comebacks: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 27 yards
Hitches: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 42 yards
Go routes: 2 targets, 1 reception, 24 yards
Crossing routes: 1 target, 1 reception, 6 yards

The competition at cornerback is going to be tough. I think Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner and P.J. Williams are locks. I would consider Damian Swann and Stanley Jean-Baptiste near locks.

I would guess five players make the roster, but wouldn’t be shocked with six. That means Delvin Breaux, Brian Dixon, Kyle Wilson and Terrence Frederick will be fighting for the last spot or two. It’s too soon to handicap that battle.

As far as Jean-Baptiste goes, I would be really surprised if the Saints give up on him already. He was drafted as a project. Projects take time. He would have to take a step back to get clipped.

I’m going back to Toon. That’s not a knock on anyone else. We just haven’t seen guys like Seantavius Jones or Brandon Coleman on the field since training camp.

But I think he could move into the X receiver spot when Colston moves inside. Brandin Cooks would be at Z.

I received another question about which receivers will make the roster. It’s way too soon to answer something like that. We need to see how everyone looks. There aren’t many locks at that position.

I haven’t seen any of the movies. But with a nickname like “Stretch,” you have to go with Seantavius Jones. Seems like a usable skill for a superhero.

Honestly, I don’t concern myself with that too much. I’ve struggled with how much the base defense is talked about since I began covering the team last season. Thinking about this defense in strict 3-4 terms doesn’t make sense when you see how the defense operates.

Sean Payton also attempted to kill that talk last week by pointing out how much the team plays out of nickel packages.

You can call Junior Galette a Jack linebacker. Really, though, most of the time when you turn on film, he’s lined up as a defensive end. And you can call Akiem Hicks a defensive end, but he spent more snaps playing defensive tackle last season.

Payton said he views Kikaha as a strongside linebacker in base. That’s fine, but I expect he’ll make most of his contributions with his hand in the dirt, rushing the passer as a defensive end.

Let’s move beyond the rigid thinking of base defense. It’s antiquated.

Former Saints WR Joe Horn doesn’t like when rookies hug Roger Goodell: ‘The man they’re hugging will rip their throat apart’

Joe Horn feels uncomfortable when he’s watching the draft.

The former New Orleans Saints wide receiver cringes a little bit when he watches new players walk to the stage and hug commissioner Roger Goodell. He doesn’t believe the rookies know who, exactly, they’re embracing.

“I don’t like that on draft day these kids don’t know that they’re hugging the devil,” Horn told TheFootballGirl.com. “I hate to see kids that are lost and then happy but they really don’t know that the man they’re hugging will rip their throat apart.

“If he has an opportunity to take money from them, or there’s a situation where they’re guilty before they go to court, he’ll rip them apart,” Horn said. “And there’s nothing no one can do about it. If the owners are happy with Roger Goodell, the fans, the media, no one can take his job from him. I hate it.”

Horn says he doesn’t like that Goodell has so much power and that he operates unchecked. He also didn’t like that Goodell decided to punish Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his part in Deflategate but let coach Bill Belichick skate free.

“I’m not mad at Tom. He’s a great athlete and he does what he needs to do to win the football game,” Horn said. “If he deflated balls and the guys did for him, I’m not mad at Tom for that. Guys do things all the time to get ahead that the NFL doesn’t know about.

“Who I’m mad at, who I do disrespect and who should be suspended for a year, it should be his head coach because he knows what everyone is doing.”

Read the whole interview here. Horn shares some thoughts about his time in New Orleans, how he feels about the fans, and who he believes are the best receivers in the NFL today.

The Saints recently worked out WR Kris Durham

The Saints aren’t done looking at wide receivers.

During an appearance on Sirius XM Radio, former fourth-round pick Kris Durham said he recently worked out for New Orleans and the Dallas Cowboys.

The 6-foot-6, 216-pound receiver said he felt particularly good about his session with the Cowboys and is hoping for a call.

Durham, a product of Georgia, was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. He also spent time with the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans.

He appeared in four games for the Titans last season, catching six passes for 54 yards. His best season came in 2013 when he caught 38 passes for 490 yards with two touchdowns for Detroit.

The Saints could use additional depth at wide receiver after trading Kenny Stills this offseason and declining to re-sign Robert Meachem. The team also lost Andy Tanner last week due to injury.

Report: Andrus Peat’s Saints contract worth $11.39 million guaranteed

Peat-GoodellAndrus Peat’s rookie contract with the Saints is fully guaranteed for $11.39 million, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.

Peat, the 13th pick of the draft and the last of New Orleans’ nine picks to sign his contract, picked up a $6.55 million signing bonus.

Peat’s base salaries in his first four seasons, according to Wilson, will increase steadily over the life of the contract.

Base salaries
2015: $435,000
2016: $952,886
2017: $1,470,000
2018: $1,988,000

Peat’s deal includes a fifth-year option for the Saints, a standard option for all first-round picks that the team must exercise between his third and fourth season in the league.

If the Saints decide to pick up the option, Peat will pick up a salary in his fifth season that is the average of the third-through-25th highest salary at his position.

Andy Tanner returns to injured reserve

Andy Tanner is still a member of the New Orleans Saints — for now.

After being released Wednesday with an injury designation, the wide receiver cleared waivers and will now be placed on injured reserve.

The nature of Tanner’s injury is not yet known.

The transaction is the 55th one Tanner has been involved with since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010. Only 39 of the moves have been of significance.

Tanner spent last season on injured reserve after becoming injured in training camp.

Kaleb Eulls contract details

Here are undrafted defensive lineman Kaleb Eulls’ contract details, according to a source:

Base salaries
2015: $435,000
2016: $525,000
2017: $615,000

Signing bonus: $10,000
Total guarantee: $15,000 ($5,000 of his 2015 base is guaranteed)
Total: Three years, $1.585 million

Andrus Peat agrees to rookie deal

The Saints have locked up all the members of their rookie class.

Andrus Peat, the last remaining unsigned player, agreed to terms with the Saints on Thursday afternoon, the team announced.

Terms of the four-year deal were not disclosed.

Peat, an offensive tackle, was selected with the 13th overall pick. He worked primarily at right tackle during rookie minicamp and is expected to compete with Zach Strief and Terron Armstead for snaps.

Due to Stanford having a late graduation date, Peat will miss some of the team’s offseason program. Coach Sean Payton said efforts would be made to keep him up to speed by sending materials digitally and video chatting.

Peat started 27 games of the last two seasons and spent last year at left tackle. Stanford’s offense averaged 158.8 rushing yards per game last season.

The Associated Press named Peat a second-team All-American last season. He was also an All-Pac 12 first-team selection.

Former Saints safety Marcus Ball signs with Carolina Panthers

Marcus Ball, the CFL find who landed a spot with New Orleans last season, has found a new home.

A week after the Saints released him, Ball has signed with the Carolina Panthers, the team announced Thursday morning.

Ball, who made his mark in two seasons playing for the Toronto Argonauts, was signed by the Saints last year and played in 12 games, spending most of his time on special teams.

Due to injuries, Ball ended up playing 98 snaps on defense and made 16 tackles in his one season in New Orleans.

R.J. Harris contract details

Here are undrafted free agent wide receiver R.J. Harris’ contract details, according to a source:

Base salaries
2015: $435,000
2016: $525,000
2017: $615,000

Signing bonus: $5,400
Total guarantee: $5,400
Total: Three years, $1,580,400

Garrett Grayson contract details

Here are Garrett Grayson’s contract details, according to a source:

Base salaries
2015: $435,000
2016: 589,573
2017: $744,146
2018: $898,719

Singing bonus: $733,168
Total guarantee: $733,168
Total: Four years, $3,400,606