The breaking news of Sean Payton’s one-year suspension has already sunk in around New Orleans and with Saints fans abroad. As a team, the Saints must draw upon their veteran leadership and the fans’ unrelenting support in order to overcome this dilemma.
There has been a healthy mix of anger, disbelief and forced optimism. There are those who are already writing off the season, as well as fans who are downplaying the real importance of having Payton on the sidelines. The one positive, however, is that there are very few people who believe the Saints did not deserve to be punished. The big controversy has revolved around the severity of commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot for this Saints team is that they still possess incredible talent and should once again be considered favorites to capture the NFC South. Their record-setting offense, besides the departures of Robert Meachem and Carl Nicks, remains in tact.
They have lost a couple players on defense, most notably Tracy Porter. Their defensive players may also face further suspensions and penalties from the league before this bounty scandal is all said and done. However, their defense was unstable to begin with. For a team that came within minutes of hosting the NFC Championship game last season, they are still in much better shape heading into next year than many teams.
The first issue that the Saints will need to deal with is agreeing to a long-term contract with Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees. It is clear he is unhappy with being given the franchise tag, and for this organization to begin recovery, they must open their wallet wide for Brees. This will be the first step in calming the storm.
The second key issue is who will take on the head coaching role next season in the Big Easy. The initial opinion seems to point to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. taking the reigns. He has done a spectacular job with the offense, and did take on a larger role last season. It would certainly be a big step up for Carmichael, but the reality is many people within the organization will need to assume more responsibility than usual.
Steve Spagnuolo, former head coach of the St. Louis Rams, was brought in immediately after the playoff loss in January to help patch up the inconsistent defense. It is safe to say he did not want to be dealing with this controversy, but there is certainly a lot of added pressure on Spagnuolo to organize and motivate his defense through this process.
The New Orleans Saints have approximately six months to prepare themselves for next season and the media circus that will inevitably persist. They must accept their punishment and focus purely on football and recreating the positive image that the league and its fans once held of them.
During the summer of uncertainly in 2011, Drew Brees exhibited his invaluable leadership qualities and led a series of voluntary workouts to get his team to mesh and prepare for the possibility of a lockout-ending agreement. It will once again require this effort and dedication from all corners of the organization to get the team focused heading in to opening week.
The media spotlight will be focused on the Saints through the draft, training camp and well into the 2012 season. It will be a very different type of attention than this franchise is used to. Instead of an atmosphere of sympathy, it will be one of judgment. It is up to the veterans and coaching staff both on and off the field to make the right decisions and display the correct attitude going forward.
If the Saints are able to come together, as they have done in the past, it will once again be an exciting season of football inside the Superdome.