The Saints’ search for their new defensive coordinator is reportedly set to come to an end. New Orleans is expected to hire Joe Woods to lead the unit, replacing the departed co-DCs in place in 2022 (Twitter link via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler).
The Saints had both Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard in place last season, but neither will be returning in 2023. Nielsen has been hired by the Falcons in an intra-divisional move, while Richard has yet to land his next NFL opportunity. That vacancy has very quickly been filled by the Saints.
Woods interviewed with New Orleans last week, and was the only known candidate for the position in the wake of Nielsen’s and Richard’s departures. It comes as little surprise that he was the team’s ultimate choice, and the Saints can now move forward in the offseason with an experienced staffer at the helm. Woods most recently served as Cleveland’s DC.
That three-year tenure came to an end after the 2022 season, as the Browns fired the 52-year-old. Cleveland had a strong showing in terms of total defense in 2021, but otherwise put up middling numbers with Woods at the helm. He was increasingly thought to be on the hot seat as this past season progressed, though his unit did show signs of improvement down the stretch.
Eyeing a turnaround in front seven play in particular, Cleveland has turned to Jim Schwartz to guide their defense. That move left Woods free to explore other vacancies, including the one in New Orleans which will allow him to reunite with head coach Dennis Allen. The pair briefly worked together with the Raiders in 2014, the time which immediately proceeded Woods’ four-year stay in Denver.
That tenure saw him play a notable role in the Broncos’ suffocating defense during their Super Bowl season, coaching the team’s defensive backs. His time after being promoted to Denver’s DC did not go according to plan, but this New Orleans position will allow him to return to his coaching roots in terms of positional expertise. Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football tweets that Allen will call plays on defense, allowing Woods to primarily focus on the Saints’ defensive backs.
As a result, assistant Cory Robinson – whose contract with New Orleans has expired – is likely headed elsewhere, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). Woods will provide the team with an experienced voice on the back end, as he looks to help the Saints build off of their success in a number of categories from 2022 (including ranking top-10 in both total and scoring defense) while taking a step forward in others (including interceptions, in which the team finished 30th with only seven).