The New Orleans Saints have two weeks left in a forgettable 2012 season, but it's not like those games do not matter.
They matter to the slim playoff hopes that the Black and Gold are hanging on to, and it matters to the jobs that are on the line for players in that locker room.
Twenty-two players to be exact. Twenty-two free agents, restricted or non, that Saints brass will be intently watching over the next two weeks with intentions for 2013 on their minds.
Who can help next year? Who is worth our money? These questions, among others, will be echoed in this game and the last by New Orleans' execs.
So, who should stay, and who should go? Those are the questions that keep popping up in my head, and I swear I haven't been listening to The Clash, much.
Let's see which players or on which list.
(Players not listed on here: Turk McBride, William Robinson, Jerico Nelson, Ricky Henry and Ramon Humber.)
All of my readers know the disdain for Ellis' game I have, but I would have figured he would at least show up in a contract year.
Nope. Fooled again.
Ellis was consistent early in the year. Consistently terrible. He was being blocked so far out of the play that I was waiting for Steve Spagnuolo to get him a number in the 50's.
He had a few games during the Saints climb back to .500 where you thought, maybe, but then he has just regressed back into early-season form.
He should not be brought back for anything but the league minimum. Akiem Hicks and even Tom Johnson's improved play have caused Ellis to become expendable.
However, the Saints are dreadfully loyal to players, and the USC product could be back if the price is right.
If this article would have been written earlier in the season, Bushrod would have been a definite go, but since offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has been back solely with the line, he has done a decent enough job on the left side to warrant a contract similar to what he has now.
With that being said, I could see the Saints going with an offensive tackle at the top of the draft and move Bushrod over to the right side of the line.
Charles Brown's recovery from his injury will be critical because his play was improving before he landed on injured reserve again.
If the asking price is too much, though, I can see the Saints passing on him for younger talent to develop.
The Saints haven't had much success, historically, at one position in particular, but the receiver spot has had some good ones.
Think of these names: Eric Martin, Joe Horn, Marques Colston and Danny Abramowicz.
Good receiving corps, huh? You know who rounds out that top five?
This will not be a slide that is here to bash Devery, but to enlighten Who Dat Nation of how good the Bayou Bengal has been for the Black and Gold.
Yea, youngster Joseph Morgan has passed him up on Brees' preferred options for the deep ball, but Henderson has been the epitome of right guy, right moment since he went from the "Bluegrass Miracle" to catching a piece of history this year in Brees' record-breaking touchdown streak extender versus San Diego.
He should go the way of ex-teammate Deuce McAllister and become an ambassador inside the Saints front office.
Casillas might not be a factor in any starting linebacker job, but he has been an invaluable member of the special teams unit this year.
He could settle into a nice career as spot starter who excels at special teams and is even the captain of that unit next year and beyond.
The only problem that has ever existed with Casillas is the injury bug, and it looks like he has shaken it for the time being.
He'll be brought back on a low salary.
Shanle is a free agent again, finally. Do us all a favor, Mickey, and let him go. He can't start over anyone else if he is no longer an option.
His recent stay on the inactive list could mean the end of the Shanle era in New Orleans. The improved play of the linebacking unit hasn't helped his chances of returning either.
There is just no room for him left with the young reserves the Saints have at linebacker.
Elbert Mack has been one of the few bright spots that has been atrocious this season.
His play has stepped up tremendously after passing players on the depth chart due to injury or bad play. He has certainly passed Johnny Patrick and could be a solid veteran to lean on in the secondary next season.
He should be re-signed this offseason.
As it pains me to write this, Chase Daniel will be back in the black and gold, and who knows, maybe he will develop some professional quarterback skills this offseason.
That way, heaven forbid if anything happens to Brees, Who Dat Nation won't start lining up on the Crescent City Connection.
Daniel should not go into next year without competition, though. If that means in the draft or in free agency, New Orleans should add another arm somehow. A backup quarterback should never be "comfortable" in this league.
There's usually a cap on how long Saints players last on the team who are purely contributors to special teams.
They are usually cut unexpectedly when their time is coming up, and this may be the offseason that ends Roby's tenure with the team.
It has happened to Troy Evans, Chris Reis and even the great Steve Gleason. They all had their standout special teams careers come to an abrupt end.
The truly special ones last a while, like Fred McAfee, and as good as Roby has been, I don't see him as one of the "greats." (Even McAfee didn't last that long with the Saints despite having a long career.)
The Saints need more actual receiving help in next year's offense, and not just a receiver by label.
He might be little known, but Higgins is going to be a big part of the Saints' future at the tight end position.
He should be Drew Brees' receiving option behind Jimmy Graham at that position next year despite David Thomas' moderate success in 2012.
He was a bit raw when he came to the team as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska-Omaha, but his physical tools are better than Thomas. That should give him the edge as Thomas fades into more of a sub-package/blocking tight end/fullback.
He will come back very cost-efficient.
The Saints have eight restricted free agents that will be waiting on their contract tender this offseason, but only four of them should actually receive them. (My apologies to Eric Olsen, Justin Drescher, Alex Daniels and Nick Hixson, but you are just not high on the priority list right now.)
Those four players are Chris Ivory, Brian de la Puente, Junior Galette and Rafael Bush.
Everyone knows Ivory's trek this season, and that is exactly why he will be tendered this offseason, if for nothing more than trade bait. The Saints didn't hang on to him through the trade deadline just to let him walk in February with no compensation.
Ivory has played well in spurts when he was given his opportunity this year, but he's not the long-term answer at the position and will be better off getting a fresh start with a new team. Too much is invested in other players at that position for him to get a fair shake.
De la Puente might be the only guy out of the four mentioned here that will get a tender based solely on the fact that there is no one left at his position. Even with that said, I would not offer him anything. He is not worth a tender in my eyes after his play this year. He will be signed, though, because like I have said, this team is exhaustingly loyal to its players, starters in particular.
Galette will be tendered with a second-round grade because he means so much to this team's pass rush. He teams up with Martez Wilson for a fierce pass-rushing duo on the second team unit and, with Will Smith's enormous cap figure, could be up for the starting job opposite Cameron Jordan.
Bush has really come on in the last half of the season, much like Mack has, and he should definitely be locked down for the backup safety spot behind Roman Harper. He doesn't have any starting potential long-term, but in a pinch, he would suffice in the secondary. He and Isa Abdul-Quddus are very solid backups in the secondary, and equally as good on special teams, which is a big perk.