A combination of events have made for a very rough offseason in New Orleans.
The Saints' bounty scandal has left the franchise holding on by a thread, and as a result, the coaching staff and management are being held together by duct tape and super glue.
On top of New Orleans being fined $500,000 and losing its second-round draft pick in 2012 and 2013, head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season, GM Mickey Loomis will miss eight games, and assistant/interim head coach Joe Vitt will be forced to miss six games.
"Coaches only do so much for a team; the game belongs to the players," you say.
However, New Orleans will be without two of its best defensive players. Starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will miss the entire upcoming season, and starting defensive end Will Smith will miss the first four games.
With the defense being at less than full strength, more pressure will be put on the Saints' potent offense, and fortunately for New Orleans, the man under center holds the NFL record for passing yards in a season.
Well, at least that would be the case...if Drew Brees and the Saints could agree to a new contract.
As both sides continue to work towards a new deal, New Orleans is in a tough position; however, the Saints' roster is filled with talent, and this is the same team that brought the franchise its first Super Bowl.
It's been three seasons since the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. Let's look at three reasons that the Saints will overcome this rough time and have a successful season in 2012.
Other than possibly the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans has the deepest set of offensive weapons in the NFL.
At wide receiver, the Saints feature a wide variety of body types between the 6'4" Marques Colston, the speedster Devery Henderson and the ultra-smooth Lance Moore. However, the Saints' plethora of wide receivers play second (or third) fiddle to the other deadly weapons on offense.
When talking about "matchup nightmares," New Orleans has two players that haunt the dreams of opposing defenses: scat back Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham.
"The Lightning Bug" Darren Sproles is exactly what his nickname suggests, a quick little running back that lights up the scoreboard; however, Sproles is much more difficult to catch than the nocturnal insect.
Although it wasn't highly-publicized when he signed with the Saints last offseason, Sproles may have made the biggest impact on his new team of any 2011 free agent. New Orleans certainly is more of a spread, passing attack than a "ground and pound" running team, but Sproles provided both for the Saints in catching 86 passes and seven touchdowns, while running for 603 yards and averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
Last season, trying to catch Sproles was more like trying to catch a rabbit than trying to catch a lightning bug.
While Sproles stands just 5'6", an equally impossible matchup for defenses is 6'6" teammate and tight end Jimmy Graham.
Prior to last season, the tight end position didn't play a big role in the Saints' potent offense. However, 2011 was a much different story, as Graham caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. It seems like every elite tight end has a basketball background, and Graham displayed his hoops skills on the football field last season.
To reach their full potential, both players will require the return of Drew Brees, but when/if he signs a new contract, both Sproles and Graham will be smiling ear-to-ear.
Although Steve Spagnuolo's tenure as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams registered just 10 wins in three seasons, he was a tremendous defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. He'll be expected to be same in New Orleans.
Spagnuolo was New York's defensive coordinator for two seasons. After a successful year in 2007, people in league circles began to consider him as a potential head coach.
Spagnuolo turned down the opportunity to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins, but he only remained a coordinator for one more season.
The last time Spagnuolo was a defensive coordinator was during the Giants' run to Super Bowl XLII. After being given a great deal of credit for New York's success on defense, Spagnuolo signed a four-year contract worth $11.5 million to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
Some coaches are better-served to be coordinators; often, coaches fail in their first opportunity as a head coach, only to follow that up with a successful run as a coordinator. The possibility remains for Spagnuolo to return to a sideline as a head coach, but he'll be asked to do exactly what he did to make a name for himself in the NFL, coordinate the defense.
In the absence of Sean Payton and Joe Vitt, the Saints' defense will be looking for a true leadership figure. Steve Spagnuolo may be just what they need.
"He doesn't have a contract."
"They can't come to an agreement."
"Chase Daniel has been taking all the first-team reps."
I know, I realize that, and duh.
Despite the fact that their negotiations seem to be getting nowhere, I have a very hard time seeing anyone other than Brees under center for the Saints in week one. He'll get his contract, and the Saints will get their quarterback.
Assuming Brees receives a new contract, the loss of Sean Payton will be far less severe than it would be for most teams losing their head coach. For example, if Jim Harbaugh were suspended for the entire 2012 season, San Francisco would likely struggle behind their less-than-stellar quarterback Alex Smith.
Payton is an offensive mastermind; he's quite possibly the most innovative offensive mind in the entire league. However, Brees acts as a second head coach for this team.
He knows Payton's offense like the back of his hand, and his teammates respect his on-field ability and respond to his leadership.
After a record-breaking 2011 campaign, Brees will head into 2012 with a great deal of confidence despite the loss of his head coach. If the Saints are able to get past all the "noise" from this offseason, there's certainly enough talent on their roster to compete for a division title this season.
If everyone does their job, and players don't lose track of their main objective, the Saints could end up right where they've been in recent years - in the playoffs and contending for a Super Bowl.