Trading the Saints
After this week neither side wants “empty cupboard” team
One of the strangest weeks in New Orleans Saints’ history has resulted in the unexpected resolution between Tom & Gayle Benson and his daughter and grandchildren over the future ownership of the NFL franchise. Forbes magazine recently valued the Saints worth at more than $1 billion, but for the second straight offseason, the team has continued to rid themselves of fan favorites in the name of cost cutting. Both parties formerly seeking ownership of the club threw up their hands and walked away saying the franchise was essentially worthless.
The blood letting of depth and productivity at a number of key positions continued this week as the team traded tight end Jimmy Graham and guard Ben Grubbs and cut running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton. The four stalwarts joined beloved players who were let go last offseason, including running back Darren Sproles, wide receiver Lance Moore and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.
After the Graham trade, rumors have run rampant that every player on the roster might be on the trade block, even quarterback Drew Brees, the face of the franchise and Saints’ all time greatest player.
So far this offseason, the team has re-signed running back Mark Ingram and received Pro Bowl caliber center Max Unger and a first-round pick in this year’s draft for Graham and a fifth-round pick for Grubbs.
That said, Saints fans are feeling like they’ve received the short end of the stick in all of these dealings. Since winning the Super Bowl in the 2009 season, the team has tried unsuccessfully to build another championship-caliber team while Brees is on the roster. In order to bring in the talent they thought they needed to get a second Lombardi Trophy, they mortgaged the future. They did it by back loading contracts, essentially paying lower amounts at the beginning of the deal with escalating salary every year going forward.
Now the bill is due, and the front office is doing everything it can to pay up on time. For the second year in a row, the Saints entered the beginning of the league year more than $100 million over the salary cap. In order to get under it, the team is steadily working to cut contracts or renegotiate deals, like they did with wide receiver Marques Colston. That means letting go difference makers and filling their roster spots with cheaper, often less talented, options. While the Saints did get to the 2006 NFC Championship with a roster of cast-offs and journeymen, it is readily being revealed how much luck is involved in a Super Bowl-winning run, as this year’s winner the New England Patriots can attest. A few years ago they were 19-0, yet lost the Super Bowl to the Giants after an amazingly improbable catch set them up for the game-winning touchdown. This year, they got an improbable interception at the goal line to save the victory from what appeared to be sure defeat.
I am an eternal optimist when it comes to the Saints and have supported the team in the lows as well as the highs. If things remain the same, the team has one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league; a player who makes every other player on his team better. But with Colston’s talent fading, Graham and Thomas gone and young players having yet to establish themselves consistently, will the Saints call on their quarterback to shoulder the load much like that old Looney Tunes episode where Bugs Bunny plays every position on his baseball team?
And where do we start on improving our defense?
Unfortunately, austerity measures appear as if they will continue for the Saints after this year. General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton will continue to be forced to cut big contracts in order to fill the roster.
The team is going through a major change, and although no one wants to admit it the Saints are rebuilding. We’ll again see a greater mix of unfamiliar journeyman players and undrafted free agents joining draft picks and the dwindling number of recognizable players on the roster. The glass half empty crowd will point to reduced talent, while the half-fullers will argue that the team will be hungry.
No one knows what the Saints are trying to do or where they’ll go. The loss of players who are Super Bowl winners and those who have developed a relationship with the community is always tough. It’s been a long offseason in New Orleans already, and there’s still weeks until the draft. It’s going to be a long spring and summer before play resumes. Hopefully Saints fans will have reason to cheer come September.