NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Metairie, Louisiana.
LAST YEAR: 13th season with QB Drew Brees running coach Sean Payton’s offense produced one of best in franchise history, albeit with bitter ending that spurred offseason rules changes. Saints’ 13-3 regular-season record tied for franchise best with 2009 and 2011. Saints also came painstakingly close to second Super Bowl, only to have effort to put NFC title game away hampered by officials’ non-call on pass interference or helmet-to-helmet contact on play that spurred league to allow coaches’ challenges on pass interference. Los Angeles Rams won in overtime.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jared Cook, RB Latavius Murray, OLs Erik McCoy and Nick Easton, DE Mario Edwards, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: C Max Unger, RB Mark Ingram, NT Tyeler Davison, DE Alex Okafor, TE Ben Watson.
CAMP NEEDS: Saints need to determine if top pick McCoy is ready to take over at center for Unger, or whether newly added veteran Easton is better option. Cook’s arrival adds new facet to passing game that Saints will look to refine during camp. Rookie Gardner-Johnson aiming for regular role at nickel cornerback or rotating in with veteran safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams. Saints also want progress from receivers other than Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, seeking more consistency from second-year deep threat Tre’Quan Smith and hoping Cameron Meredith can shake lingering effects of 2017 knee injury that slowed him last season.
EXPECTATIONS: Saints return hungry as ever from last season’s heartbreaking ending. With most key players back and some key additions, New Orleans opens as one of NFC’s top contenders.