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Moving on best for Williams, Saints

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 16, 2012 @ 6:44 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

After three seasons at the helm of the Saints' defense, Gregg Williams is moving on to join an old friend in St. Louis.

Multiple reports say Williams, whose contract with the Saints is up this offseason, has agreed to become Jeff Fisher's defensive coordinator with the Rams. Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma already wished Williams well on Twitter, writing, "Gregg Williams is a great coach. I wish him luck in St. Louis."

Williams served as Fisher's D-coordinator with the Titans from 2001-03, and Williams called Fisher his best friend in the coaching profession just last week.

The news doesn't come as a surprise, and Saints head coach Sean Payton has likely already been considering the direction he would like to see the Saints' defense go in. Williams' departure will leave Payton looking for his third different defensive coordinator since he was hired in 2006.

Some of the coaches who could interest the Saints include Steve Spagnuolo and Mike Nolan. An intriguing bidding war could emerge between the Saints and their division rival, the Falcons, for their services, as both Spagnuolo and Nolan have been attached to the D-coordinator vacancy in Atlanta. If Spagnuolo, who was fired by the Rams with a year remaining on his contract, decides to sit out 2012 and collect his head-coaching salary, Nolan could be the candidate whom both teams battle for.

The PFW spin

Williams helped shape the identity of an aggressive, opportunistic defense in his first season with the Saints, and the team won the Super Bowl. He was an energetic and creative presence on the sideline, and the reporters in town flocked to him for a good quote. Yet the defense never was able to recapture the magic it had in 2009 in the two seasons since. The Saints' "D" took a step back in 2011 — it finished 13th in points allowed after ranking seventh in the category in 2010 — and gave up 36 points to a 49ers offense that ranked 26th in total yards and averaged 23.8 points per game in the regular season.

Williams is considered one of the league's better defensive coordinators, but Spagnuolo and Nolan are also highly respected, and either one could be very effective as Payton's top assistant on defense. Payton might also have to replace his top lieutenant on offense, though. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael interviewed for the Raiders' head-coaching job over the weekend and is reportedly also being considered by the Dolphins for their vacancy. Payton's WR coach, Curtis Johnson, is leaving to become the head coach at Tulane.

As for player personnel decisions this offseason, the biggest priorities to re-sign for the Saints are on offense. QB Drew Brees, OLG Carl Nicks and WR Marques Colston are all due to become free agents. Brees and Nicks will be looking for deals that make them among the highest-paid players at their positions, and Colston certainly won't be cheap, but there are some key Saints players on defense who could hit the open market, too.

Their top two nose tackles — Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin — have expiring contracts, as does starting CB Tracy Porter. LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who started a career-high 14 games this season, is set to hit the open market, along with backup DEs Jeff Charleston and Turk McBride.

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