Correcting the 5 Biggest Misconceptions About the New Orleans Saints
Now that the NFL has suspended Sean Payton for a year, Gregg Williams indefinitely and two other key Saints administrators for half a season, most of the media has concluded that the New Orleans Saints are a dirty team with zero respect for the game.
It's easy to understand why some would say that. But the Saints organization would disagree, and they have a legitimate reason to say that.
The misconceptions currently surrounding the franchise are multiple in number and nature, but they are misconceptions. The Saints cannot disprove the majority of these misconceptions right now in the offseason.
But many of them can be explained here in writing.
1. Sean Payton Should Be Fired; No He Shouldn't
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When news broke last week of Sean Payton's one-year suspension, there were some commentators who wanted Tom Benson to simply let Payton go, to kick him to the curb. Of course those "experts" know nothing about or care little about the culture of the Saints' organization.
They forget Sean Payton brought a respectability to an organization that previously had none. They forget that Sean Payton always spoke of bringing in character players. They forget he brought Gregg Williams to New Orleans because he felt Williams would improve the Saints' defense enough to win a championship.
Sure Payton overlooked a serious issue in not stopping Williams' bounty system, but he placed his assistant head coach, Joe Vitt, on that task. Assistant head coaches in the NFL carry a great deal of responsibility for what happens in the locker room and meeting rooms. Vitt should bare equal responsibility for not stopping Williams.
They also forget that it took something near an act of God for Penn State to eliminate Joe Paterno this fall after almost 50 seasons as head coach. Paterno was a living legend at his university.
And you likely remember the enormity of the allegations brought against Jerry Sandusky. As bad as a bounty program is, it doesn't come anywhere near the molestation upwards of 20 children.
If Paterno's firing was controversial, there's zero chance that Payton should even be suspended half a season, much less shown the door.
2. Jonathan Vilma Is the Devil; That's Only True If He Was a Devil All Along
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When the NFL first announced their findings of an alleged "Bounty Fund" the Saints were holding, one of the primary pieces of evidence condemning Saints' players was that Jonathan Vilma put up $10,000 to a player who took another player out.
In other words, Vilma was acting as an extension of Gregg Williams and the bounty system constructed by the long-time defensive coordinator. At least that's how the media immediately imagined it and portrayed it.
But the media knew not the truth. Vilma has long been one of the finest leaders the league has in the middle of a defense. If you look back to 2008 when the Saints' defense was two degrees beyond terrible, Vilma was quite the aggressor and an incredible linebacker.
Gregg Williams wasn't the defensive coordinator then. Instead it was Gary Gibbs, who though not a saint, was almost assuredly not the type to place any kind of bounty on opposing players. Clearly Vilma played just as then as he did in 2009-2011. And he was the same kind of leader as well.
The only difference was some extra money offered up by an outside source. But Vilma's competitive effort did not change, nor his leadership abilities. He was the same guy the whole time.
3. Saints Are Incapable of Winning This Year's Super Bowl
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The common thought following the announcement of the Sean Payton suspension is that next year's team is incapable of going all the way. Be it due to a lack of man games from the regular starters on defense to an overall lack of leadership, the idea has become a popular one.
But that misses a larger point. Sean Payton isn't a great coach because of his presence in the locker room, but primarily because of the program and paradigm that he's initiated. Whoever takes his spot—be it Pete Carmichael, Steve Spagnuolo or some other coach, that person is going to have a much easier job than if he were starting over from scratch.
All that coach has to do is keep things going in the same direction they've been going the past six years. He doesn't have to reinvent the wheel, he only has to right the ship and keep it going in the same direction it currently is.
He has Drew Brees, an amazing offense which needs not to be tinkered with and a defense loaded with talent.
And one other amazing achievement to this end. The Saints have managed to sign three marquee free agents in Curtis Lofton, Ben Grubbs and Broderick Bunkley. No one said they could do this given their salary cap and the elephant in the room seemingly hanging over their heads.
If they could do that, why can't they win the Super Bowl this year?
4. The Saints Are a Dirty Team in General; Huh, Come Again?
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In 2011 the New Orleans were the 10th least penalized team in the NFL, registering just 5.7 penalties per game and 48.3 yards per game. And of course a part of that yardage was accrued by the offense on holding and false start penalties.
It is going much too far to assume the New Orleans Saints are a dirty team on defense or otherwise. And though it is much more difficult to count the number of players taken off on a cart or out of the game, most estimate the Saints are far from the top of that list in the past three seasons.
If the Saints were really a dirty team, wouldn't they be at or near the top in the latter statistic? And wouldn't they be close to the Raiders' level in penalties? I would assume they would.
All penalty statistics are taken from teamrankings.com/nfl/stat
5. Drew Brees Wants to Leave; Actually He Still Wants to Win Super Bowl in NOLA
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Of course Drew Brees was upset when the Saints placed the exclusive rights franchise tag on him before he hit free agency.
He was upset for two primary reasons. First, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, it is known that Brees was commanding a salary in the $23 million per year range. Second, he was upset that the Saints were unable to offer him a long-term deal both sides could agree upon.
His long-term future is looking awfully similar to the time he had in San Diego. And that's a scary thing. But as much as that is true, Brees would immediately sign a deal if the Saints offered him what he believes he is worth.
Think about it this way, the Saints have an opportunity to make history this season by being the first team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. They could do it without their head coach. It would be the ultimate against-all-odds stories.
That's what Brees' career represents: it is against all odds that he has done what he's done. He's ready to do incredible things in 2012-13 and beyond. The Saints must simply give him that chance.
Not a bounty fund, suspensions or negative press can stop Drew Brees. The man is on a mission to prove the naysayers wrong. And so are the rest of the New Orleans Saints.