Five & Out

Has the window closed on a second Saints Super Bowl?

Five years ago, the New Orleans Saints were in the improbable position of being Super Bowl Champions, and the Crescent City reveled in a way it hadn’t before. For the first time in its then 42-year history, the long downtrodden Saints were on top, a feat many thought they would never see. At the time, “Two Dat” became the popular phrase across the region, as it seemed the team was destined for a number of championships.

But five years later, and in the midst of a family feud among the team’s ownership, one is left to wonder if the window for another Saints Super Bowl appearance, much less a win, has closed.

The Saints made the playoffs three out of the last five years, going 2-3 in the postseason in that span. In 2010, they were bounced in the Wild Card round by a 7-9 Seattle team. In 2011 the team had a ton of talent and its best chance to win another championship, but lost to the 49ers in the Divisional round. Seattle again knocked the Saints out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round in 2013.

The Saints didn’t make the playoffs in 2012, going 7-9 the year Head Coach Sean Payton was exiled by the NFL for his “participation” in the team’s alleged bounty scandal. In 2014, the team again went 7-9 after many prognosticators had the Saints headed to Super Bowl XLIX. Many, Archie Manning included, said the 2014 team on paper was the best squad that the franchise had ever assembled.

We know now that many issues lead to the putrid season, including a power struggle between team owner Tom Benson’s wife of 10 years, Gayle, and his daughter and grandchildren who had been designated as the team’s owners before being dumped earlier this month.    

As battle lines were drawn in the ownership issue off the field, it seemed the locker room crumbled with on the field issues – namely lack of leadership from players who were expected to be emergent.

The vast majority of the players in the Saints locker room do not have a Super Bowl win on their resume. In fact, there are only eight players on the current roster from Saints’ Super Bowl winning team – Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Goodwin, Robert Meachem, Thomas Morstead, Zach Strief and Pierre Thomas. With the exception of Evans and Morstead, it seems the other six are not the players they were in 2009.

            That’s not entirely surprising as five years can be a lifetime in the NFL. According to the NFL Players Association the average player’s career length is about 3.3 years. While the league claims that the average career is about 6.0 years. The discrepancy is caused because the NFLPA includes all players, while the NFL’s figure is based on players who make a club's opening day roster in their rookie season.

            But looking forward, the Saints’ front office has a lot of heavy lifting to do to make the team competitive. The Saints will enter the 2015 league year in March with more than $160 million counted toward the season’s salary cap, which the NFL has not released but is expected to be as low as $140 million. That would mean the Saints are as much as $20 million over budget. Additionally, 22 players currently on the roster will be free agents and aren’t counted against the cap figure. That’s a lot of salary to cut, negotiate or renegotiate.

The Saints were $10 million over coming into 2014 and saw about $17 million in cap savings with the exodus of veterans Darren Sproles, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Lance Moore. The loss of talent and leadership from those players was extremely evident this past season.

For the next few years the Saints will have to rely more on the draft, journeymen players, backups and undrafted free agents to fill the roster, as they cannot afford to replace the players that are leaving with better or equal talent.

While many of us still have faith, the future may be bleak. Fans will have to get used to that.

Put simply, right now the Saints do not appear to have the stability that other teams can currently provide. There is not a clear picture of who is calling the shots at 5800 Airline Drive. That may lead to an exodus of current players and staffers who don’t have the emotional ties to the team that its fans do.

With so much discord, one would be right to ask if New Orleans is the place where the league’s established or rising players, coaches and front office personnel will want to come to advance their careers? Or will the team be forced to take whomever they can get?

What will that mean for the club’s profitability? If it sinks will the Bensons or possibly a new owner look to squeeze more out of the state’s taxpayers so that they may remain “competitive” with other NFL franchises?

This is certain, right now the talk isn’t about the Saints getting to Super Bowl 50 (the NFL isn’t using Roman numerals for next year’s championship). Everything worth talking about right now won’t help the team one iota in raising another Lombardi Trophy. And that’s not where any of us want to be.



Categories: The Pennant Chase