After the loss to San Francisco in the NFC playoffs, Saints fans were anxious to see the team do well this upcoming season.
In March, however, the NFL made claims that certain present and former members of the Saints were going to be punished for their participation in a bounty system.
The past few months have been hard for the New Orleans Saints. The bounty scandal, Roger Goodell's harsh punishment of the franchise and the team's inability to sign franchise player Drew Brees are causes of concern as the Saints try to move forward.
In the aftermath of this recent scandal, the New Orleans Saints have done their best to maintain a positive attitude. However, the severe punishment of many high team officials and players such as Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, and Jonathan Vilma leaves fans wondering as to what the fate of the team will be this season.
Here are five things the Saints can do as they try to move past Bountygate.
Roger Goodell has acted swiftly and doled out punishments to every major figure in this scandal. Payton's one-year suspension has been viewed as overly harsh and stringent, but Goodell is trying to make a point.
The NFL has been criticized ever since evidence came to light regarding the nature of concussions in the NFL and their severity. Preaching safety, Goodell has taken a hard-line approach to dangerous behavior and has reacted accordingly to the Saints.
He is sending a message that as commissioner, he will not allow for dangerous play in the NFL. After the claims were made against the Saints, the franchise was unable to disprove any of them, showing that some foul play may have occurred during Gregg Williams' time in New Orleans.
After allegations were made, the onus was on the Saints to disprove them; instead, it devolved into a media sideshow full of damning sound bites and revelations regarding the extent in which the team was involved.
These claims are not unfounded, but for the sake of the franchise, the Saints need to focus on positive behavior from here on out. For the foreseeable future, any borderline hit a Saints player is involved in will be scrutinized heavily by all those watching.
If they have the ability to refute any allegations made, that needs to happen now in the offseason. The Saints management cannot afford to stretch this out into the regular season because if it does, the Saints will spiral into the worst team in the NFC South as well as the NFL as a whole.
If they play along with Goodell and the rest of the investigation, they can begin the process of rebuilding and hopefully salvage the season.
If Drew Brees is not signed before July, the Saints franchise could possibly collapse. With the stress of these investigations and the suspension of most the coaching staff, it falls on Brees to assume a leadership role to help steer the Saints through all of this craziness.
With Brees as the adopted son of New Orleans and the face of the franchise, owner Tom Benson and the Saints are hurting themselves by having held out this long. Brees has almost every major passing record on the team as well as the NFL record for most passing yards in a season.
He is highly motivated towards making the Saints a successful franchise and giving back to New Orleans.
His role in the 2010 run to the Super Bowl gave the city something to hope for after Hurricane Katrina. For Saints fans and New Orleanians in general, Brees represents everything good about the franchise and the city.
Their hopes are pinned on him, and for every day that he remains without a contract, those hopes dwindle.
He is a figure of respect and adoration in the city, and his re-signing could bolster the flagging hopes of fans everywhere.
In order to begin rebuilding the reputation of the franchise, they need to have someone wholesome represent them. Drew Brees is that man.
As interim head coach, Joe Vitt has his hands full. As organized training activities (OTAs) are underway, the Saints can begin focusing on playing clean football and distance themselves from this media nightmare.
This past Wednesday saw Joe Vitt entertaining friends and guests of the franchise, and he was forthright about the Saints, his six-game suspension and his role this year.
He has been impressed with the team's effort to learn the new defensive scheme under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and how the focus is on football, not these controversies.
Vitt needs to guide the players this season and let them know that not much can be done. The focus is on playing clean football and waiting for Payton's suspension to run out.
For the time being, football is the focus, and the shift of attention is a good one.
What's done is done. After these allegations came to light, there wasn't much the Saints could do to disprove it. Now, the Saints should forget Bountygate because nothing can be done.
Punishments have been made, and the consequences have become apparent; now it is time to rebuild and gather up what resources the Saints can to have a good season this year.
Whether that means striving for a .500 record or just playing a cleaner style of football, who knows? But I do know that Joe Vitt will be making sure the Saints stay on the field and out of the headlines.
Steve Spagnuolo's hiring by the Saints' front office will prove to be a blessing this season. Former coach of the the St. Louis Rams as well as former defensive coordinator of the NY Giants, Spagnuolo's defense will feature a type of blitzing unseen these past few seasons in the Big Easy.
As opposed to filling the box with seven players, Spagnuolo is content to let four or five players rush the line of scrimmage while the rest of the defense focuses on playing a zone defense. He believes it will result in less broken plays and giving up yardage.
Another benefit, though it is indirect, will be the type of hitting fans will see.
With Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, there were more blitz packages that saw a lot of heavy hitting and jamming of the box with six or seven players, resulting in hits and tackles that could have been construed as borderline penalties in light of Bountygate.
With the switch to a more of a zone defense, the emphasis is shifted from hard hits to cleaner coverage. As opposed to trying to lay-out the quarterback, the defense can sit back and wait for an interception as there will be more defensive players covering receivers as opposed to one-on-one man coverages.
Spagnuolo's defense is more reactionary and allows for the New Orleans defense to place more emphasis on reading receivers and making big plays i.e. interceptions as opposed to WIlliams' defense that highlighted big tackles in the backfield that could be perceived negatively post-Bountygate.
This season, the Saints defense needs to play better and cleaner than its opponents so it can shake off the stigma from Bountygate.
The only people who feel worse than the Saints right now are the fans in New Orleans. For them, the Black and Gold is a part of their culture, and the recent events surrounding Bounty Gate have left them angry and confused.
Throughout this entire process it fell on the Saints to clear their name, guilty until proven innocent as Roger Goodell acted in the best interest of the NFL by administering harsh punishments.
Meanwhile, Saints fans felt "railroaded" and taken advantage by the commissioner. The Saints became a warning shot for the rest of the NFL: Don't cross Roger or else.
Ultimately, this sense of outrage and despair can go two ways. It will embitter the franchise towards Commissioner Goodell while the team struggles during the season.
Or the fans and franchise will hate Roger Goodell and the team will rally and salvage the season with a .500 record. In times of crisis—such as this one—the one thing the Saints can do is conduct themselves in a standard befitting the NFL.
That means play hard and clean, leave no doubt about anything performed on the field.
They need to play harder and cleaner this season because ultimately, that is the only thing they have left. Coaches and players have been taken away. Fines have been levied, and draft picks have been taken; short of killing the franchise, what else can Goodell do?.
When the Saints realize they have nothing left to lose, that's when they will start winning. I am not saying this is going to be a miracle season with a run to the playoffs.
As long as the Saints play well and keep it clean, this season will go down as a win, no matter what the score sheet says.