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New Orleans Saints taking on new identity in 2015

The New Orleans Saints rang in the new league year with a pyrotechnic display rivaling that of the Philadelphia Eagles for seismic shock and awe.

The stupefying Jimmy Graham blockbuster sent shockwaves through the fan base. Has the Super Bowl window closed on the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era Saints? Has the organization lost its identity? Is there anyone on the roster that general manager Mickey Loomis is not shopping? How does Loomis figure to fix his tattered defense by trading for a center?

Now that the smoke is clearing, the Payton-Loomis plan has come into view.

After nine years with Brees' high-flying aerial attack as the face of the franchise, the Saints are trying on a new persona.

Robbing from the passing game to prop up a new ball-control ground attack, the Saints re-signed chin-checking breakout star Mark Ingram and traded for one of the league's premier run-blockers in Max Unger.

Wideout Kenny Stills, drafted in the fifth round and immediately inserted into the easily replaceable Devery Henderson-Robert Meachem role, drew a third-round pick and a linebacker in return from the Dolphins on Friday.

Moments later, the Saints had acquired C.J. Spiller, the most explosive talent in a long line of New Orleans "satellite" backs that have excelled under Payton.

The revamped backfield is reminiscent of Payton's 2006 offense, with Ingram playing the role of Deuce McAllister between the tackles and Spiller mirroring Bush's role on the edges and in the passing game.

By the end of the week, the Saints had compiled their most draft picks -- five of which are in the top 80 selections -- since 2002.

This might have been a team in search of an identity following a disheartening 7-9 season, but it's certainly not one waving a white flag among the rubble.

Armed with a blueprint similar to the one the Cowboys used to propel Tony Romo into the 2014 MVP discussion, the Saints are retooling for another run at the wide-open NFC South title.

Here's what else we learned on Friday:

  1. With Stills on board to fill the deep-threat role, Miami redoubled efforts to deal Mike Wallace, finding a taker hours later in the Vikings.

The trade is essentially a salary dump for the Dolphins, a franchise that has taken its fans on a fun ride this week. It will be interesting to see how the roster shakes out once the renovation is complete. They have done an impressive job of overhauling a pass-catching corps that was among the league's bleakest entering the month.

  1. One of Percy Harvin's 2015 priorities is reportedly to lose his reputation as a "gadget" player in favor of a more traditional wide receiver role. So why did he sign on to play with Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel, two scattershot quarterbacks unable to enhance his pass-catching abilities?

On a positive note, Harvin's reputation is finally trending in the right direction with a former Jets coaching staff endorsing him after an eight-game trial together last season. Two months into his Bills sojourn, Rex Ryan has the most loaded offensive skill-position talent of his coaching career.

  1. What Ryan has never had is a valid franchise quarterback. The Steelers recognized the disproportional NFL value of that rare species, signing Ben Roethlisberger to a new five-year contract on Friday. At the organization's insistence, Roethlisberger has successfully transitioned from physical wonder to cerebral passer over the past couple of seasons. He's never played better than he did in leading the NFL with 4,952 passing yards in 2014.
  1. For a few hours Friday morning, it appeared that the Tennessee Titans might spend an increasingly rare day basking in the NFL spotlight after re-signing Derrick Morgan and Karl Klug and importing three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Brian Orakpo. The front seven has the makings of the lone strength on Ken Whisenhunt's otherwise uninspiring roster.
  1. The Titans might grow up to be the Rams, an outfit that just added former Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley to an already frightening front seven. It's the offense that limits St. Louis' annual aspirations to a .500 record.
  1. The Redskins' suddenly sensible approach went a little sideways with a $32 million contract for former 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. The signing certainly addresses a desperate need, but Culliver has been anything but reliable, even if 2014 was easily his best season.
  1. After watching DeMarco Murray defect to a division rival, the Cowboys responded by adding unproductive Raiders castoffDarren McFadden. More of a wishcasting reclamation project than a solution, McFadden figures to give way to the next back acquired via free agency or the draft.
  1. McFadden wasn't the only former backfield star to find a new home. The Steelers signed DeAngelo Williamsto back upLe'Veon Bell after learning a painful lesson about depth in January.
  1. The Raidersfound an upgrade on Matt Schaub, reuniting former Vikings first-round quarterback Christian Ponder with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
  1. With passing-down specialist Shane Vereen now plying his trade in the Big Apple, the Patriots are bringing Reggie Bush in for a visit. It would be an ideal match for player and team.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down DeMarco Murray's move to the Eagles and breaks down which teams have been wise in free agency. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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