“The Spirit of ’06”

Even after back-to-back 7-9 seasons, the Saints seem rejuvenated and excited heading into 2016
associated press

             They’ve only played one game in 2016, but the New Orleans Saints appear to be on a winning streak.

             The first win, of course, came Sunday in the Georgia Dome, when Kai Forbath's last second 30-yard field goal gave the Black & Gold a 20-17 victory over the archrival Atlanta Falcons. The second win came Tuesday, when quarterback Drew Brees said he would be willing to negotiate a contract extension so he may retire as Saint. The biggest victory followed on Wednesday when head coach Sean Payton emphatically said he’s going nowhere, ending weeks of speculation that he would leave New Orleans to accept a job with a new team.

             The relief felt throughout Who Dat Nation was palpable. Just think, at the beginning of the week, the Saints were looking at the very real prospect of losing Payton, possibly Brees, and the fan base shortly thereafter. Seriously, with so many questions facing the club, including issues with ownership, potential management and coaching changes, continued salary cap issues, questionable talent on the roster, and overall direction, this team would have been a complete mess, a dumpster fire from the top down had he left. Asking what kind of quality coach would come here and put their career on the line should Payton leave was enough to make even the most diehard shudder.

             Instead of facing a nightmare scenario, Payton provided stability. He spoke with media for longer than an hour Wednesday, where he said, “This is where I plan on coaching. I don't envision myself ever coaching for any other club. I plan on finishing my career here.”

             As a result, fans are feeling a bit more confident in their team entering the offseason and looking forward to free agency, the draft and the coming 2016 season.

             Although he said he has not agreed to an extension on two years remaining on his contract and that the matter would take care of itself, hefty financial compensation has to be in the works for Payton.

            Truth be told, I thought he was going to leave the Saints for one of the large market gigs in New York, San Francisco, Miami, or, Los Angeles, assuming it becomes an NFL city. Here’s why. His name was mentioned with nearly every job opening available. He’s a hot commodity, and his stock might not reach these heights again. Even though the Saints have had losing seasons three of the last four years, general manager Mickey Loomis is shouldering more blame than Payton. Considering the Saints’ ongoing salary cap, free agency and draft troubles, it begs the question if he would have had a better chance to win sooner with another club or if new ownership and management would give him a longer grace period to improve their team should building a roster and becoming a winner take time.

             Payton’s decision is not without risk. If the Saints don't get better, he will take on more responsibility for their failure. If they have a third 7-9 season, it could ultimately cost him his job and affect his future bargaining power. But he is loved in New Orleans. And he revealed his love for New Orleans this week. As Saints head coach, he has a 93-61 record, two NFC Championship appearances and a Super Bowl Championship.  His enthusiasm toward the city Wednesday when announcing he will stay in New Orleans will go a long way in helping to get players to buy in to his leadership and make his future here successful.

             A 7-9 season wasn't what fans hoped for in 2015, however it was within the scope of expectation. While it is ultimately disappointing, ending the season with a win to sweep the Falcons is somewhat satisfying.

             Brees’ decision was overshadowed by speculation over Payton’s future with the organization. Entering the last year of his current deal, Brees is scheduled to make $30 million in 2016, according to overthecap.com.

             Expect the Saints and Brees to negotiate a new deal that ensures he gets the salary he’s currently owed plus a bit more money spread over the next few years. He is still one of the NFL’s best five quarterbacks, and looks like he play among the league’s top signal callers for the next two to three years.

             Look for the team to offer $60 million to $80 million over three to four years. This will cause Brees’ cap hit for 2016 to go down to an average of $20 million annually, freeing up cash so the team can upgrade much-needed talent on both sides of the ball.

             “I think that honestly, more importantly, there's more moments, there's more wins, there's more playoffs,” Payton said. “I promise you there will be.”

            Let’s hope so. Sean Payton brought a Super Bowl to New Orleans. For that he’ll always be a Saint. Let’s just hope that as long as he’s pacing the sidelines, he’s sporting the fleur-de-lis.



Categories: The Pennant Chase