Saints Sinking Like A Chinese Balloon As They Hire Cleveland Reject DC Joe Woods, Lose O-Line Assistant

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The New Orleans Saints continue to plummet like the Chinese balloon shot down by the U.S. Air Force off the South Carolina coast on Saturday.

The Saints hired Joe Woods, the fired Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator, on Monday, according to ESPN. Woods’ defense finished 25th in the NFL against the run in 2022 with 135 yards allowed a game in a 7-10 season.

Woods, 52, did have the No. 5 overall defense in 2021 with 311 yards allowed a game, but the Browns still let him go shortly after last season. Woods coordinated Cleveland’s defenses from 2020-22.

The Saints also lost assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief on Monday to the Denver Broncos and new coach Sean Payton. Strief played for and coached under Payton when Payton was a vastly successful Saints coach from 2006-21. Strief helped with the offensive line the last two seasons.

Woods replaces the rising defensive mind of Ryan Nielsen, who left the Saints after the 2022 season to become the rival and hated Atlanta Falcons’ defensive coordinator. The Saints finished 7-10 in coach Dennis Allen’s first season in 2022. The Falcons also finished 7-10 last season for their fifth straight losing season. Allen will remain in charge of the defense with Woods on board.

Former Saints head coach Sean Payton (left) looks at a play with then-defensive coordinator Dennis Allen in the 2016 season. Allen replaced Payton following the 2021 season after Payton retired for a year before becoming Denver’s coach last week. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Saints Hired Todd Grantham Away From Alabama DC Offer

Woods joins new Saints’ defensive assistant coach Todd Grantham, who is expected to be the defensive line coach. Grantham, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State and Florida, worked as a defensive analyst at Alabama last season.


Grantham recently turned down the defensive coordinator post at Alabama because of the Saints’ offer, and Alabama coach Nick Saban hired Kevin Steele on Sunday.

The newly hired Payton “retired” for a year after his fifth straight winning season as Saints’ head coach in 2021 at 9-8 despite a slew of injuries. He won four NFC South titles from 2017-20 in New Orleans at 11-5, 13-3, 13-3 and 12-4 with four playoff appearances. The Saints advanced in the playoffs in three of those years and were about to reach the Super Bowl in the 2018 season before the worst postseason no-call in NFL history. Payton and the Saints won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season in the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance.

Saints Struggling To Recover From Sean Payton’s Departure

Denver apparently bamboozled Saints general manager Mickey Loomis in the compensation deal for Payton to become the Broncos’ coach. The Saints received only a very low first round pick at No. 29 in the upcoming draft and a second round selection in 2024 for easily the hottest available NFL head coach in recent years. Loomis also gave up a third round pick in 2024.

Nielsen coached the Saints’ defensive line under Payton from 2017-20. He became assistant head coach in addition to defensive line coach for the 2021 season after then-LSU coach Ed Orgeron offered him the Tigers’ defensive coordinator post.

Allen promoted Nielsen to co-defensive coordinator for the 2022 season while Allen still ran the defense. Allen served as Payton’s defensive coordinator from 2016-21. The Saints finished No. 5 in the NFL in total defense in 2022 with 314 yards allowed a game. The Browns finished No. 14 with 331 yards allowed a game last season.

Woods, 52, coached defensive backs at Oakland in 2014 when Allen was fired as head coach after an 0-4 start. Allen finished 8-28 as the Raiders coach from 2012-14. Woods coached defensive backs for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006-13 and at Denver in 2015 and ’16. He was Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2017 and ’18 and coached San Francisco’s secondary in 2019.

Strief, 39, played offensive tackle with the Saints from 2006 through his retirement after the 2017 season. Payton drafted him in the seventh round in 2006 out of Northwestern.

Strief worked as the play-by-play man on the Saints broadcasts in 2018 and ’19 with mixed results before Payton hired him as a coach before the 2021 season. Strief also has been an owner of Port City Brewery in New Orleans since 2017.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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