A new direction

LSU has already made a change; now the Saints must
AP Images
Mickey Loomis, Saints GM

“That was embarrassing,” must have been the quote of the night in New Orleans on Monday. ESPN commentator John Gruden said it a few times during the broadcast of Monday Night Football. Saints free safety Jairus Byrd said it in the locker room after the game. And fans across the Who Dat Nation have been saying it for three weeks, with a peak as the archrival Atlanta Falcons exposed the Saints in a nationally televised 45-32 beatdown.

Last week I asked if an 0-2 Saints team had any chance of making the playoffs or if it was time to write off the 2016 season as a loss. This week Atlanta made New Orleans’ chance of postseason play a near statistical impossibility.

According to oddsshark.com – an online clearinghouse of information, trends, and odds, since 1980 – only five of the 164 NFL teams to start a season 0-3 made the playoffs. That’s a success rate of 3%. The 1998 Bills were the last team to do it, after a 5-0 run that found them two games above .500 midway through the season. I don’t know that these Saints have the ability to make a run like Buffalo.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees again put up super statistics on Monday, having completed 36 of 54 passes for 376 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Of course the pick was returned for a touchdown that sealed the Saints fate.

The loss can’t be pinned on one errant throw. The Saints defense allowed the Falcons to score on six of their first eight possessions, including a run of five straight touchdowns.

Atlanta QB Matt Ryan had solid, but not exciting, numbers – 20 of 30 for 240 passing yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, Falcon running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman led a 217-yard rushing attack, which saw the Dirty Birds average 7.0 yards per carry. Freeman ran for 152 yards on 14 attempts, almost 11 yards a carry, and a receiving touchdown, while Coleman added three rushing touchdowns.

“That was embarrassing,” Byrd said postgame. “We knew what they were going to do, and they just came out and did exactly what we expected.”

The defense’s performance was shocking considering the week before it didn’t allow the New York Giants an offensive touchdown.

The Saints now find themselves winless with three other teams – Chicago, Cleveland, and Jacksonville, and last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 149.3 yards per game.

In the division, New Orleans trails Atlanta (2-1), and Carolina and Tampa Bay (both 1-2).

After a short week, the Saints travel to San Diego (1-2) for a West Coast tilt on Sunday, followed by a bye on October 9. Then they face a 12-week scramble to close the season. Needless to say, going into a bye week at 1-3 would be much better than 0-4.

 “The bottom line is, there’s no magic formula, there's no magic offensive play or defensive scheme that’s going to win you a game,” Brees said Monday in the postgame press conference.

There may not be magic formulas or schemes, but there are winning philosophies in football – from ownership to management to coaching. The Saints had all three aligned at one point, but don’t anymore.

Since winning the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, the Saints have gambled their future on borrowed money, now dead money, that is now well past due. While the main individuals in the team’s current administration brought the Saints to the ultimate NFL pinnacle, reality is setting in that the Saints glory days are behind them.

Prior to 2014 the Saints were nearly unstoppable in the Superdome, once winning 11 straight games. Of the last 15 games they’ve played in the Dome, they’ve lost 11. Saints fans deserve better than four wins in the Superdome over the course of nearly two full seasons.

The Saints went 7-9 in 2014 and 2015. It looks as if this team will struggle to reach that mark this year. And, so what if they do? That’s not an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

On Sunday, citing the desire to compete for championships, LSU fired head coach Les Miles, who won a national championship for the Tigers in 2007, and replaced him with interim head coach Ed Orgeron. If winning championships – be it divisional, conference or league – is the goal for the New Orleans Saints, a change needs to be made.

For all intents and purposes, Brees has one more year with the Saints. He should be under center this year and next. He’ll be 39 in 2018, and the Saints will need to have a successor by then.

Sean Payton can argue for another year as head coach. First, he can say that he had to work with the players he was given. Second, he just signed a contract extension last year. And third, Brees has said he will be in New Orleans as long as Payton is. Would Brees retire or demand a trade if Payton is gone? I don’t think it comes to that point, yet. I think both will be here next year. What they do in 2017 will determine if Payton’s tenure with the team goes further.

At this point, I think general manager Mickey Loomis takes most of the blame for the team’s condition. He manipulated the salary cap to try to maintain the team’s edge by bringing in high profile and high salaried free agents with multiple-year contracts that ballooned in later years. He won for a while, but for the past few seasons the plan has gone bust. It’s caused a dramatic downgrade in talent throughout the roster, especially in regard to reserve players.

According to abovethecap.com, this year the team has $41.6 million in dead money, guaranteed salary going to players no longer on the team. That amount has reduced the Saints’ spending power from the league-mandated $155.7 million salary cap for each team to just $114.1 million, and limited their ability to compete head to head with other NFL teams.

It is estimated that the 2017 salary cap will be $166 million. The Saints currently have $142.7 million on the books for next year, plus $7.9 million in dead money, leaving roughly $23.2 million available to begin to build the roster.

That responsibility should go to a new general manger. With Payton and Brees in place for at least another year, a new GM can begin to rebuild the team for next year and the future.

Loomis has had a great run in his 15 years as Saints’ GM, including winning NFL Executive of the Year in 2006. He helped keep the team functioning during a chaotic 2015 season following Hurricane Katrina, and orchestrated the hiring of Payton and signing of Brees and several other players who built the foundation for the Saints best days, including winning a Super Bowl and selling out of season tickets for the past 11 straight years.

But Who Dat Nation is grumbling. Losing is grating on the fans, and questions about the teams’ current and future management and direction are being asked.

I feel the franchise is at a real crossroads in its 50th season. No one wants to see the Saints drift back to expectations of mediocrity or worse.

If the team starts 0-4, a change may need to come now. Jeff Ireland, who served as the Miami Dolphins' general manager from 2008 to January 2014, is on the Saints staff. He could be given the job on an interim basis through the end of the year. This would allow the Saints to audition Ireland and search for potential candidates. Sound familiar?

Another lost season of similar results without any sense of accountability will drive fans and their dollars to non-Saints related interests. If the goal is to keep fans’ attention and disposable income, the Saints must compete with the NFL’s elite. A change is desperately needed to do that.



Categories: The Pennant Chase