The season's over.
Yeah, there's football yet to be played, and yeah, there'll be a family-and-food-and-fun Super Bowl party in a few weeks, but the events of the 2009 season cured me of emotional investment in playoff games and Super Bowls that don't involve the Saints.
It's much more interesting to think about the Saints' future. The success of that future depends on the oft-mentioned "title window" that Sean Payton said he'll keep slammed open.
Title windows are one of those common sportswriting cliches, but as with many of those cliches there's an element of truth to them: How many years are left in the careers of your team's irreplaceable parts? In the case of the Saints, the obvious demarcation will be the year Drew Brees retires.
But Drew Brees isn't the only factor. Even having him obviously doesn't ensure a title. There are other pieces, and it's those pieces at which we'll take a quick, season-ending look.
The Defensive Youth Movement
Others have talked about the Saints' youth movement. Particularly along the defensive front, the Saints suddenly seem set for the forseeable future. A collection of players—Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks, and John Jenkins chief among them—could mean a strong defense for the rest of Drew Brees' career.
Add to them the likes of Junior Galette and the still-relatively young Curtis Lofton, along with injured linebacker Victor Butler, who will effectively be a 2014 free agent addition to what is still a need spot, and there are many reasons to be optimistic.
So, oddly, the problem isn't on defense. It's on offense.
Is Help On the Way?
On offense, the Saints are aging. We saw it often in 2013, a once-dominant unit coughing and struggling in fits and starts. They are like the high-end gaming computer you bought five years ago—these days it can barely load Photoshop.
By next season, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem will all be thirty-something receivers, and all of them have shown signs of lost steps. Against tough NFL secondaries each of them, to one degree or another, has struggled to get open. At the same time, key cogs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are approached or have hit the 30 year mark. Their heirs are not obvious.
Kenny Stills, Mark Ingram, and Khiry Robinson may be a nucleus, but the Saints still lack their old speed and athleticism at most of their skill positions. It's far too easy for defenses to key on Jimmy Graham, taking their chances elsewhere. That means the Saints' priority this off-season has to be adding additional youth at receiver.
As with Victor Butler's activation from injured reserve, the return of Joe Morgan next season will effectively be a free agent addition, but the work of the front office shouldn't stop there. Via whatever means—draft, free agency, nefarious experiments with cloning—the Saints have to add youth and speed to their formerly-imposing slew of offensive weaponry.
A shakeup on offense this off-season could, combined with a more seasoned Rob Ryan defense, make 2014 another year to remember.
For more on the Saints, New Orleans, and everything in the margins, check out the Black & Gold Review.