Rob Ryan's future still unclear

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have begun to make the offseason changes that coach Sean Payton promised earlier in the week as ESPN sources have confirmed that the team is parting ways with three assistants, including longtime tight ends coach Terry Malone.

NFL Network first reported that Malone, receivers coach Henry Ellard and assistant secondary coach Andre Curtis are on the way out.

There's still no word on defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's status, per a source. It's unclear if that's a positive sign for Ryan or not.

Ryan's future is the most pressing question for a Saints team that finished 7-9 and ranked 31st in the league in yards allowed -- one season after he helped them rank fourth in yards allowed.

Players passionately defended Ryan throughout the season, and Payton himself strongly denied there is any rift between the two last month while praising Ryan's passion and work ethic. But Payton also stressed Monday that the Saints will make significant changes to every element of the program -- something between an overhaul and just a few tweaks.

"We're not just gonna patch a few holes here and throw the ball out there next year," Payton said.

Malone's departure signals just how serious Payton is about those changes. Malone was a part of Payton's original staff when he arrived in New Orleans in 2006. Before that, Malone had been a longtime college assistant, including nine years at Michigan as an offensive coordinator, a tight ends coach and an offensive line coach.

It's unclear why Malone is being let go at this time. Obviously the most high-profile player at his position is Jimmy Graham, who had a down year compared to his lofty standards. However, Graham's rise also came under Malone's watch.

"My family and I have loved making New Orleans our home for past nine years," Malone said in a statement Saturday. "We have always felt like part of the family with the Saints, in the community, in the schools and in our Catholic Church. Never dreamed we would have all four of our kids graduate from high school here, two LSU grads and a Super Bowl experience ... The Malones are truly blessed! Now we start our next chapter, but will always consider Nola home. God Bless."

Ellard and Curtis both arrived in New Orleans in 2012. Ellard was a longtime standout receiver in the NFL, primarily with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins, before he dived into a coaching career with the Rams (from 2001 to '08), Jets (2009 to '11) and Saints.

The Saints' overall production at wide receiver has steadily declined in recent years, though young players Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks were among their brightest spots in 2014.

Curtis followed former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo from the St. Louis Rams in 2012 and stayed after Spagnuolo was fired after that season. The Saints' secondary had one of the most dramatic dips in production in 2014, with cornerback Keenan Lewis the only consistent producer.

There was a report early in the week by Football Scoop that the Saints' lead secondary coach, Wesley McGriff, was leaving to become defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt. But Payton said he was not aware of that as of Monday and described it as "one of the many reports out there."

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