With the emergence of second-year running back Pierre Thomas and a healthy and confident Reggie Bush, who looks like he is due for a possible stellar year, the Saints may have the backfield they needs to finally get to the next level.
But the question remains: What is to happen to the franchise's best running back in team history?
Deuce McAllister, a first-round pick in 2001, has the franchise record of 5,678 rushing yards in a career, as well as rushing touchdowns with 44, and he is tied for the most touchdowns in a single season with 13. He also owns the franchise record of 22 games of rushing for at least 100 yards.
McAllister is also the first Saints running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and rush for over 1,050 yards four times in five years. He quickly became a fan favorite and a leader both on and off the field in New Orleans.
But with serious injuries in two of the last three seasons to both of his knees, the question isn't how much long can he be the dominant, key contributor he has always been. The question is: How much longer can the Saints afford to keep him on the roster?
Reggie Bush is younger and quicker, but he still needs to learn to run downfield before trying to make something happen. But to Bush's credit, he is finally lowering his shoulder and fighting for extra yards instead of running out of bounds for just a short gain.
Pierre Thomas is even younger, has quick feet and a good burst through the line, and has the breakaway speed needed to get into the open field. He has the tools, tangibles, and attributes to become a Brian Westbrook-type player.
Mike Karney is the quintessential power fullback, who has the eyes to read the defense to lead block for a talented backfield. He can also burst through the line, something the team hadn't seen since the days of Lorenzo Neal. He also has the catching ability and the ramming power to get good gains.
Aaron Stecker is a special-teams mainstay and team leader. He is durable to just about any situation, and he has done his best to fill in over the years during key injuries to the running-back corps. But he is also in the final year of his contract.
Bush did cut a new deal with the Saints earlier this year to save money now, but his salary will be jumping up dramatically in the last two years of the contract (which runs until 2011).
Thomas is on the roster until 2010, but he is making far less money than he is actually worth. And with his production and playing time definitely increasing this year, he may be due for a new and more deserving contract that would probably keep him with the Saints till at least 2012.
Yet, McAllister's contract runs until 2012. And with the Saints needing to re-sign other key players in the next coming years, as well as bring in a free agent or two, more than likely this could be the last season we see No. 26 suit up in the black and gold.
It will be a sad day when he departs. He probably will be the stand-up and mild-mannered person he has always been, saying something like, "It's what's best for the team, in the direction they are going."
He'll talk of the fond memories of playing in New Orleans and how he will always have a place in his heart for the team, the fans, and the city.
There will be no way the team will just release him, for he is a valuable commodity to any team who is just a running back away from contention. But the Saints need to treat this with class and trade him to a team that has a shot. Trade McAllister to a team he feels comfortable with, a team with whom he could fit in nicely.
We all owe it to the man to give him a chance at a Super Bowl title; he deserves it for all his years of dedication and sacrifice for the good of his teammates and the franchise.
The team needs to show the man the respect and honor; he could very well go down as one of the best Saints to ever play the game. Send him to a team like Houston, Denver, or possibly Cleveland. This scenario would put him in the AFC, meaning you would only have to face him once every few years.
All three of these teams could use McAllister's leadership and ability.
Cleveland has players like linebackers Andra Davis, D'Qwell Jackson, and Leon Williams. Granted, all three of these players play inside linebacker, a position currently held by Jonathan Vilma, but they could be moved to the outside and finally give the Saints a solid group.
Denver has veteran linebacker Jamie Winborn and the young Niko Koutouvides, who could develop into something if given time. They also have young cornerback Karl Paymah. Houston has linebacker Chaun Thompson, veteran Morlon Greenwood, and fourth-year player Travis Johnson at defensive tackle.
But there could be other teams, who could be on the verge of the playoffs with the help of McAllister's dedication and style of play.
Arizona could be in the mix. They could offer up veteran linebacker Clark Haggans or perhaps third-year defensive tackle Gabe Watson.
Kansas City could also be in the action, trying to sure up their running attack behind Larry Johnson (as well as provide insurance). They could offer linebackers Demorrio Williams, the solid Napoleon Harris, or perhaps the young Derrick Johnson.
The New York Jets could be looking for a one-two punch along side Thomas Jones. They have veteran linebacker Bryan Thomas, the young Cody Spencer, and former first-round pick Calvin Pace. The Jets also have a lot of young talent at cornerback, with Drew Coleman, Dwight Lowery, and veteran David Barrett.
The Saints, having already traded away their second and fourth-round picks for Jeremy Shockey, and more than likely their third-round pick for Vilma, will probably be looking for a draft pick in the deal as well.
It would be nice to watch McAllister finish his entire career with the Saints, have his jersey retired that very next season, and go down as one of the greatest in team history. But we all know, even though we won't deal with or mention it 'til the time comes, that the Deuce-and-a-Quarter tandem in the backfield is more than likely on their final tour together.
And oh what a ride it has been thus far.