In every NFL offseason a team has players who win and players who lose. There are players who gain more significant roles while others take a step back and see their role decreased.
Sometimes winning and losing is a product of a new contract or someone holding out, or finding out about suspensions or a number of related circumstances arising.
The Saints have a number of people involved in their organization who won and lost this offseason. Here are some of the most important of those.
When Curtis Lofton signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints on March 24 for five years, $27.5 million he won. He made good money.
Then when the NFL handed down suspensions to the Saints' defenders as a result of Bountygate, Jonathan Vilma was suspended a full season, automatically making Lofton the New Orleans Saints' middle linebacker in 2012.
Add in the fact Lofton is now playing on the right side of the Saints-Falcons one-sided rivalry and the fact he's playing in a defense taught and called by Steve Spagnuolo—one of the finest defensive minds in the game.
This offseason has been one of winning, winning and winning some more for the Saints’ new middle linebacker.
There may be a lot of evidence to point to Drew Brees as a loser this offseason. He lost his head coach, some of the fans enthusiasm poured out toward him and he was franchised.
But the truth is that Brees' holdout is going to end up netting him more money than he would have been given had he simply signed a long-term deal at the beginning of the offseason.
And when he comes out and dominates in the first four weeks of the year despite a limited amount of time working with teammates during the offseason, Brees will garner everyone's admiration as Aaron Rodgers did a year ago when the team held zero offseason workouts.
He's an absolute machine. He'll soon be a very well-paid machine.
Cameron Jordan progressed throughout his rookie season. But he never showed himself to be the kind of stud a team expects to receive when they draft a player 24th overall in the NFL Draft.
Yet starting this offseason Jordan is not only the No. 1 defensive end on the squad (due to the four-game suspension of Will Smith) and will stay on the field on the majority of passing downs when he moves to the defensive tackle spot.
Because of his versatility, Jordan figures to become a good, if not great, NFL defensive end in Steve Spagnuolo's defensive lineman-friendly defense.
The move reunited Bunkley with Spagnuolo, who worked at least in part with Bunkley when the two were in Philadelphia. Due to that relationship, Bunkley will trust Spagnuolo and likewise the defensive coordinator will understand how to best use Bunkley.
As a result the underachieving former first-round pick gets a chance to start for a team likely to contend for a Super Bowl.
When the New Orleans Saints decided to re-sign wide receiver Marques Colston and allow Robert Meachem to leave via free agency, they were betting on their ability to find a player who could provide Meachem's explosion and dependability somewhere else.
After drafting Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon, it looked like that guy might be the young Badger or veteran Adrian Arrington.
But OTAs have reminded coaches and fans of another name—Joseph Morgan, the second-year player out of Walsh College who may have made the roster a year ago had he not needed to be placed on IR near the end of the preseason.
Morgan is 6’1” and as fast as any player the team possesses on its roster. As a result he may be the deep threat the team was looking to replace. And he also figures to take some kick or punt return snaps away from Darren Sproles.
Not bad for a guy from tiny Walsh College.
To call Jimmy Graham a beast is actually undervaluing his monumental growth and impact on this particular Saints team. A more proper label would be "Hulk plus Superman." He's strong as an ox and can almost literally fly.
That combination makes him No. 1A in terms of NFL tight ends in the current decade. He and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski figure to be the prominent tight ends in the entire NFL for the next eight years or so.
With Gronkowski recently signing a big deal (six years, $54 million), Jimmy Graham is in line to see a huge payday of his own once the Saints get Drew Brees' contract done. If that deal doesn't get done until after this season, and Graham's production exceeds that of Gronkowski's, Graham could easily become the highest paid tight end in NFL history.
With the year-long suspension of Saints' head coach Sean Payton, Joe Vitt gets to be a real head coach for longer than just a couple games. He instead gets to be the head coach for an entire year (though he actually must sit out the first six games of this season for his role in the Bountygate scandal).
When the Saints reach the playoffs, Vitt will be the head coach. When the Saints become the first team to host a Super Bowl, he will be the head coach. And, yes, he will be the one lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
For a guy who is simply an assistant coach that is quite a win.
Obviously Saints fans are a resilient bunch. They've been through the 'Aints era, the paper bags, Hurricane Katrina and a number of other difficult moments. They've always responded with an unconditional love to their team.
Put simply the fans don't deserve the negative press this team has gotten this offseason. The organization deserved much of the bad press it is getting. For die-hard fans this was unwarranted. The stress and frustration acquired as a result of this offseason should not have been put on Saints fans.
The only real positive is that we know Saints fans will respond with undying, unconditional love the way they have for nearly 50 years.
It isn't merely about his being suspended an entire NFL campaign—a measure as historic as it was despicable. Sean Payton has had a historically bad offseason. He won’t be back in New Orleans as a coach until the end of the 2012-13 NFL season.
He’s been embarrassed. I’m sure he’s been hurt. I’m sure his family is there for him but also a little saddened and upset about what has happened.
What is likely to hurt Payton the most is the damage his suspension has and will continue to do to his reputation as a coach. Everyone knows he’s a great play-caller and motivator. Some people forget he’s as intricately involved in the team’s personnel decisions and operations.
And he is really the general that makes this team operate in all other facets. Because he is such a good implementer of his plan, the team will get by in his absence.
But when the Saints raise the Lombardi Trophy, it’s going to be quite unfortunate that Payton won’t be there to at least gaze upon the trophy in his home stadium. That’s what is too bad about this whole thing for Sean Payton.
Not only was Mickey Loomis suspended the first eight games of the regular season for his role in the Bountygate scandal, but he was also accused of wire-tapping opposing coaches in the Superdome from 2002-04.
If he is found guilty, it isn't only an NFL violation but it could be a major legal violation for which Loomis and anyone else found to play a role could face time.
Sure, Loomis was officially made a part of the Hornets' organization for which he'll receive a pay raise (we assume) and more responsibility, but that is a small benefit compared to the ugly possibilities still in play for everything that has happened this offseason.
Going into OTAs Chase Daniel was viewed as one of the best up-and-coming backup QBs in the league. Now Saints fans are questioning his ability to lead the team. His stock figured to rise throughout the preseason and he figured to be closing in on a chance to start somewhere around the league after this season.
Now? Daniel will be lucky to remain the Saints' backup QB through the end of this season, after the team signed veteran signal-caller Luke McCown.
Make no mistake, he'll stay on the roster, but he should be concerned about his role. He's got a lot of work to do.
He is not the only one. There are several other Saints who have lost playing time or a role this offseason. Here were the biggest hits after of course the biggest winners.
Through all the crap, though, the Saints figure to be just fine in 2012.