New Orleans Saints: 15 Things We've Learned This Offseason
The 2012 NFL offseason was hardly kind to the New Orleans Saints. Much could be said about the events, but much more than is necessary has already been said. Instead, let’s just say we learned 15 things about the Saints organization this offseason, and much of it was inherently bad.
However, it would be flat-out wrong to say there were no positive elements to the 2012 Saints offseason. Among the 15 things we learned, approximately five of them are either neutral or even good things.
Here they are.
1. Mickey Loomis Isn't Quite Who We Thought He Was
I’m not sure anyone thought Mickey Loomis was an actual Saint prior to this offseason. But the consensus was that he and Sean Payton felt great conviction in hiring and keeping high-character people within the organization—especially the on-field talent.
That reputation is all but gone now, due to Mickey Loomis’ role in the Bountygate scandal and a second controversy in which Loomis was thought to wiretap the opposing teams' coaches' communication system from 2002-04. For the former, Loomis was suspended for the first game of the 2012 season.
For the latter, little-to-no evidence has rose to the surface to support the claim. But the accusation itself has only added to the NFL’s disdain for Loomis and the Saints organization. And the fans of opposing teams undoubtedly feel the same way.
2. Neither Is Sean Payton
Sean Payton built his reputation in the NFL on two things primarily. One he was the ultimate tactician and motivator. And second, he had built his team on doing things the right way.
At least that’s what the media had always portrayed. In hindsight, questions permeate about the reality of that painted picture.
No one is ever going to question Payton’s Xs and Os ability. Everyone will remember he excels in that area. But his greatness as a coach has to be questioned primarily because of these newfound character questions.
It should be noted that since Bill Belichick was caught stealing opposing teams' signals in 2007, he has remained a good tactician but hasn’t gotten his team over the hump when it mattered most. Some may call that karma, others (like myself) would simply say the man himself lost a little part of himself when his true character was revealed.
Saints fans hope Payton does not meet the same fate. Perhaps, a year out of football will allow Payton to get his priorities back in order, to remember the importance he put on character and coach his team the right way from here on out.
That’s the positive element in play for Payton. He has a chance for redemption.
3. Joe Vitt Is Pretty Much Who We Thought He Was
It’s possible few Saints fans ever paid much attention to Joe Vitt prior to last season’s mini-interim stint during Sean Payton’s knee-injury absence. But even if that period of time was your first introduction to Vitt, it’s likely the man rubbed you the wrong way.
It’s not that Vitt ever seemed like a bad guy. It’s not even that he was some kind of psychotic weird old guy—though it’s certainly possible one could deduct that. It was more of an aura or feeling he portrayed.
Now, we are blessed in a sense to know that the associate head coach/linebackers coach is as much a meathead as the man he served under in the Saints’ defense from 2009 to 2011. Luckily, Vitt is not senile and remains capable of returning to his previous coaching success.
Saints fans have to hope he can adjust to the coaching philosophies of Steve Spagnuolo—a coach who is a schemer extraordinaire, much like Sean Payton. If Vitt and Co. can change his tone to become more teacher and less motivator, the Saints defense ought to return to a place of respectability in the near future.
4. Gregg Williams Really Was a Senile Meathead
This isn’t the first time, and regrettably it won’t be the last, that I bag on former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. His style, his cockiness and his antics had worn thin in New Orleans by the end of 2011, regardless of what was to eventually come out.
That the Saints would find themselves in the middle of the most controversial and destructive scandal in NFL history as a result of Williams’ plan would have been reason enough for the organization to rid themselves of him.
The decisive moment of frustration for Saints fans came January 14 when Williams continued to cover 49ers tight end Vernon Davis one-on-one with safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins. Though the Saints’ game plan may have been the one-on-one coverage against Davis, it was clear early in that game such a plan would not work. Somehow, Williams never adjusted.
He was too busy, apparently trying to get his players to knock somebody out. The man in charge of Xs and Os from the defensive perspective forgot what his job was and/or realized he was unable to do that job effectively any longer. Sometimes, senile men become very forgetful.
5. Jonathan Vilma Didn't Only Lose a Step on the Field, but Maybe His Head Too
It wouldn’t be too great a statement to make if you said Jonathan Vilma lost a step on the field in 2011. Sure he was hurt much of the season, but even when healthy, Vilma looked a bit slow and unaware.
Maybe, he had bought in to the lies that coach Williams was preaching. Certainly, that's the indication the NFL has given. Commissioner Roger Goodell wants you to believe Vilma was as much a meathead as Williams, as proven by his contributing to the bounty fund, and leading the efforts of the fund from the players’ perspective.
At this point, no one really knows what is and isn’t true. Though the NFL has taken strides they hope will make people believe them—suspending players and coaches involved—it remains a he said, she said type situation.
I find it nearly impossible to believe Roger Goodell would go through with the suspensions and reject appeals from the coaches if he didn’t have some kind of absolute evidence. But the fact certain players remain steadfast in their defense and denial of such a program existing, makes for an interesting dynamic in the events of this offseason.
6. Tom Benson Always Deflects Attention Away from the Obvious Issue at Hand
Whether it’s dealing with the Katrina aftermath by causing a stir when he insinuated a move of the Saints organization to San Antonio was possible, or this offseason in which the owner purchased the New Orleans Hornets, and Sunday, restructured the Saints’ front office, Tom Benson is the master of the redirection play.
It’s almost as if Benson bought the Hornets to get the nation’s focus off the Saints’ issues and then restructured the Saints organization in order to loosen the criticism placed upon he and the Saints for their inability to re-sign Drew Brees.
Obviously in both cases, those moves were made to create a desired effect and were not reactionary moves. But their timing could be seen as more reactionary than coincidental. Is that wrong?
I’ll let you form your own opinion. But I will unabashedly claim Benson announced such moves when he did to take the focus off the negatives brought against him and his empire.
7. The Saints Don't Value Drew Brees as Much as Everyone Else Does
Some critics have tried to pick on Drew Brees for not accepting an offer somewhere in the vicinity of $18 million per year. Many more, though, have been highly critical of Saints management for their inability to find a price the team and its franchise QB can agree upon.
The feeling in the league, and among fans, is that Drew Brees is worth just about anything he asks for. Most feel he's worthy of becoming the highest-paid player in the league for multiple reasons.
Among them, it can be said that Brees is as valuable as any player in the league, and not just on the football field, but in the community as well.
It’s also important to understand that the contract Brees signed back in early 2006—six years, $60 million—was quickly relegated to secondary status when such quarterbacks as Tony Romo and David Garrard signed deals of similar value within a year or two of Brees.
That argument became even more compelling when rookie Sam Bradford signed a rookie deal for six years, $72 million. In other words, for two seasons Sam Bradford has had a higher average salary than Drew Brees. Something seems wrong with that picture.
For some reason, the Saints organization has yet to understand this Brees' deal is different than any other deal they’ve ever been involved in. Brees’ contract may be an even bigger deal than Benson buying the Hornets this spring. That’s how much Brees means to the New Orleans Saints.
If these were the only reasons Brees deserves to be paid $23 million per year, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay the man.
8. Someone Is Holding This Together
Despite all the craziness stemming from the accusations, suspensions, appeals and other tasks at hand during the offseason, the Saints are just as ready to open training camp and the 2012 regular season as any team in the league.
Of course, Drew Brees is yet to sign on the dotted line of his exclusive rights franchise tag. And Sean Payton won't be around at anytime in the 2012 season.
But the entirety of the organization is otherwise strong. Sean Payton's influence on this team exists through Joe Vitt, Aaron Kromer and the rest of the coaching staff.
Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Roman Harper and Will Smith are key veterans in the locker room who have and will help the coaches maintain Sean Payton's attitude and plan.
Tom Benson recognized the efforts of behind-the-scenes people like Dennis Lauscha who he just named President of the organization. Combined with Rick Reiprish and Ryan Pace, this group will run the day-to-day football operations during the eight-game suspension that awaits Mickey Loomis at the beginning of the 2012 campaign.
It appears that group is already working together and keeping things calm amid brutal winds and crashing waves of this stormy offseason.
9. The Saints Desire to Be a More Balanced Team
With the arrival of a brand new linebacking corps—Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain—the Saints have placed quite a premium on the defensive side of the ball in the 2012 offseason.
Each of those players figures to provide better-than-adequate coverage ability, while adding aggressive-yet-skilled run-fit skills. Each of the three possesses the ability to fend off attacking blockers to get to the ball-carrier. None of them are the blitzing type.
Sure Steve Spagnuolo will send each of them on occasion, but don’t expect the Saints to operate on last year’s model whereby linebackers and/or safeties were sent on more than 50 percent of all defensive snaps.
Tight ends and running backs ought to be less effective against the Saints defense, while the deep ball and explosive pass plays should also be held to a minimum in 2012.
But the Saints also figure to do a better job in 2012 in helping their defense. Look for Pete Carmichael to do his best to play a little more conservatively in hopes of keeping the defense off the field.
10. The Organization Operated in a More Responsible Manner Toward Its Own FAs
When the New Orleans Saints chose to let guard Carl Nicks leave via free agency, it marked a change in the direction of the franchise. Since Sean Payton came to New Orleans, the team had made a practice of re-signing any player the team considered to have made a huge impact on the success of the team.
In many cases, that worked out well. And it's true that the team allowed players such as Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove to leave after the team’s successful journey to a Super Bowl title. But those players were allowed to leave because they were overachievers who were going to demand too high a salary.
Carl Nicks, Robert Meachem and Tracy Porter were no underachievers. Each is in the prime of their career and deserving of nearly every penny they make. But the Saints were wise to let each try their luck in a different city. As great as all three were in New Orleans, none were must-haves as the team goes forward.
11. Any Successful Draft Selection Made in the Past Has Been Luck
It's a little-known secret, but Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton haven't really done that great a job in the April NFL draft. In their first year together, they selected second and had the luxury to simply take whichever player the Houston Texans passed on (they of course took Reggie Bush after Houston surprisingly took Mario Williams).
Then, they took Pro Bowlers Roman Harper and Jahri Evans and the most consistent receiver the NFC has (Marques Colston) in that same 2006 draft. But only seven of the other expected starters in 2012 were even drafted by the team. Granted, the Saints have done a good job of identifying talent outside of the draft or in picking up good reserve players in the draft.
The importance of this fact is that the 2012 NFL draft was rated by most draft experts as an "F". Others were kind and just said they don't see many of the players making an impact this upcoming season.
Of course, it's possible most draft experts (and yours truly) could be wrong. Akiem Hicks, Corey White, Marcel Jones and/or Andrew Tiller could make an impact in 2012 or at some point in the not too distant future.
But it seems highly unlikely. That's because the Saints are one of the few teams in the league who are more effective at acquiring free agents who fit the roster than draftees.
12. The New Defense Will Rely More on Safeties
The decision to allow Tracy Porter to leave via free agency says much about the Saints' defensive plan for 2012 and beyond.
First, it says Johnny Patrick and Patrick Robinson will both play integral roles in the Saints defense. It also says that draft pick Corey White and a handful of other players signed as free agents will compete playing roles in the Saints' sub-packages.
Most of all, what it means is that the Saints will likely use Malcolm Jenkins in more man-to-man coverage nickel situations. You may even say that much like Antrel Rolle in the Giants' defense, Jenkins will play the nickelback spot in nickel packages.
That frees Roman Harper up to roam centerfield and focus on playing in the box. It also means either Isa Abdul-Quddus, Jonathon Amaya or one of the other undrafted safeties will get to play quite a bit in nickel situations.
Most importantly, this allows the Saints' starters to do what they do best. But an underrated benefit of playing three safeties more often is having a defense that won't give up a ton of big plays, especially over the middle of the field.
The explosive plays over the middle of the field killed the Saints a season ago and were ultimately what lost the team the game in San Francisco. The improvement in the entirety of the defense resulting from playing the three safeties will make it easier for the Saints to hold leads and play better in two-minute defense.
13. The Saints Are Comfortable with Chase Daniel at QB If Necessary
Though the extent of Chase Daniel's professional quarterbacking experience is some garbage time hand-offs and exhibition passing against second- and third-string defenses, the New Orleans Saints are set to go with the former Mizzou Tiger if absolutely necessary.
With both Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints playing hardball in their contract negotiations, it's not impossible to think of a scenario in which Chase Daniel is the starting quarterback for the Saints when they take field at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on September 9 versus the Washington Redskins.
It's unlikely at best. And the Saints are not hoping they have to start the season without their leader. But the fact the Saints haven't caved to Drew Brees' demands, despite the need for some positive press, shows they are committed to a particular number for Drew Brees' salary figure.
With Daniel, the Saints would clearly become a run-first offense. It would almost seem like a waste of the talent the Saints possess on the outside to have no Drew Brees. But Pete Carmichael would certainly make use of run fakes to get Daniel on the edge with levels of options down the field.
The screen game also guarantees to be a heavily used tactic should Daniel take the reins of the offense.
Of course, the Saints already do a lot of these things, and do them well. So it isn't as if the Saints would have to adjust a ton to no Drew Brees. Most of all, Chase Daniel would just have to prove the team's stance worthy.
14. Pete Carmichael Will Run the Ball More in 2012
Part of keeping the opposing defense off the field is converting on third downs—which the Saints have always done well—but there's also another way to do so effectively. It’s called running the football.
The beautiful thing about running the football is that, even when the offense gains zero yards, the clock bleeds faster than Lloyd Christmas’ neck when he was getting a shave in Dumb and Dumber. With four good running backs on the roster, Pete Carmichael should run the ball early and often anyway.
The necessity only grew when the team made the decision to become a slightly more defensive-minded team (which took place when it hired the uber-genius Steve Spagnuolo to run the defense). As I have said previously, the Saints should benefit from more ground production because of the addition of Ben Grubbs.
The result of a more ground-based attack moves the chains, keeps the team out of long third downs, keeps the clock moving and opens the play-action game to an even greater degree than in previous seasons.
With more running, the Saints offense will be even better than in 2011.
15. Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer Are Merely Supporting Actors
When Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis wined and dined and teed up for 18 holes with Bill Parcells, the duo was making a statement. That statement wasn’t so much that the team was desperate for Bill Parcells as it was that the Saints do not consider Joe Vitt or Aaron Kromer to be realistic head coaching options in the event that Sean Payton were to leave the team permanently.
One could not definitely make the same statement in relation to Steve Spagnuolo or Pete Carmichael since both made it clear that, for the one season, they were not interested in taking the reins of the team.
This offseason, after the initial rookie camp, Joe Vitt made it clear the team will miss Payton, as he spoke of the routine he and Payton entered into after each practice in the past. Vitt made it seem as if the team will not be the same without Payton.
Whether that's true or not, it’s clear neither Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton nor Tom Benson felt comfortable handing control of the day-to-day operations to any interested party in the building.