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Saints Will Have to Rebuild the Superdome Mystique from Scratch

The full schedule for the 2015 NFL season was just released this week, and of course, the biggest news for Who Dat Nation is the schedule for the New Orleans Saints.  It was just a year ago that many looked at the Saints’ home schedule and wondered who even stood a chance to hang with one of the NFL’s premier home franchises since 2011.  A year later, this perception has changed quite dramatically.

Since October 30th, the Saints have unexpectedly won their last four road games and lost their last five home games.  It was once the road schedule that caused the most hand-wringing within the fanbase, but now nothing on the Saints’ schedule can be taken for granted.

Here is the Saints’ 2015 home schedule:

Allow me to paraphrase from a post I wrote after the streak ended against San Francisco last November:

It was the Saints’ impressive home win streak that had been the NFL’s most daunting to conquer.  The Saints’ streak proper stood at 11 consecutive home wins, but if you consider the “Payton Streak”, the Saints had won 20 consecutive home games with Sean Payton on the sidelines.

For a little perspective, the last decade plus has seen some impressive home winning streaks, here are the top five:

New England Patriots - 20 consecutive home wins (2008-2011)

New England Patriots - 18 consecutive home wins (2002-2005)

St. Louis Rams - 15 consecutive home wins (2002-2004) *ended by the Saints*

Baltimore Ravens - 15 consecutive home wins (2010-2012)

Seattle Seahawks - 14 consecutive home wins (2012-2013)

Although an 11 game home win streak isn’t long enough to crack the top five, the “Payton Streak” is long enough to to tie the longest such streak in recent history.  That’s quite an impressive feat and I applaud the Saints for achieving such an effort.  Also, I applaud Who Dat Nation and all of the fans who have stood in attendance over the course of the streak, who created an atmosphere that is nearly unparalleled in recent memory.  All this being said, just because this streak is over doesn’t mean the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is any less imposing of a building for the opponents who enter its snare.

That sentiment still rings true despite the Saints failing to win another home game since that post was written after Week 10 in 2014.  The fact that the Saints failed so spectacularly to conclude the 2014 was jarring, but in hindsight should not have been a complete shock.  To be fair, since the OT San Francisco loss to end the streak, three of the last four losses came to 2014 playoff teams, and the Saints continued to field one of the most atrocious defenses in the NFL each and every week.

The streak, as it was, came to an end against the Niners, and it perplexingly continued against Cincinnati, but it wasn’t until the crushing combination of losses against Baltimore and Carolina that the aura and mystique of the Saints’ homefield advantage was completely shattered.  The once mighty “Superdome Saints” had astonishingly become a more dangerous road team than they were a home team.  In the matter of roughly six weeks, the notion of the Saints’ home strengths and road weaknesses had been turned on its head.

As cliche as it sounds, the Saints will need to focus on one game at a time.  Talk of any winning streaks at home would be foolish and premature.  Rebuilding a mystique around the Saints’ homefield advantage will have to come organically and naturally, just as it did before.  Just winning the next game on the schedule needs to be enough.  After the crushing blows leveled last season, it will take time for opponents to feel that pressure of walking into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at gametime, even in primetime, where the Saints have excelled the most.  But the aura can be repaired, much like it was following the unfortunate 2012 season.

The majority of the work will come down to the team on the field and the coaches on the sidelines, but a significant portion of effort will need to come from the fans in the stands.  Saints fans in attendance can’t afford to stay quiet while waiting for the Saints to just obliterate their opponents like they did in 2011 and 2013.  There may be an old school type blowout like the one against Green Bay in 2014, but that may be the exception rather than the rule.  The fans will have to keep the noise and energy up, especially in the toughest contests.  That can really make the difference in rebuilding one of the great homefield advantages in the league.

Things may not come as easily at home as they once did, and hopefully not go as poorly as they did the second half of 2014, but it would be foolish to overlook the Saints in New Orleans.  The failings of 2014 can be easily pinpointed to an ailing roster, an atrocious defense, and a team not mentally equipped to deal with those deficiencies.  The work being put in this offseason will go a long way with what happens in the Superdome on gameday, but it’s also the passion and energy of Who Dat Nation that will rehabilitate the aura and mystique of the Saints at home.

One win at a time.  Tampa at New Orleans, September 20, 2015.  Let’s go.

2015 NFL Draft: A Look at the Saints’ Consensus First Round Picks

The 2015 offseason has been like no other for the New Orleans Saints since head coach Sean Payton took the job in 2006. Wait, actually it has been somewhat similar to 2006. Back then, Payton as a rookie NFL head coach cleaned house, making shocking moves like trading established wide receiver Donte Stallworth and replacing him with a seventh-round draft selection from Hofstra University called Marques Colston. The rest like they say is history, as Colston has gone on to become the Saints franchise leader in touchdown (68) and in receptions (666).

In 2015, Payton has gone the same route, accumulating draft picks by trading tight endJimmy Graham, left guard Ben Grubbs and wide receiver Kenny Stills, all players that were significant contributors to the New Orleans Saints for the past two years. As it stands, the Saints have nine draft picks this year. Interestingly, that is the most they’ve had since they selected eight players in the 2006 season, a class that produced the core group that won Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

The most important of the nine picks in 2015 however, are the ones at 13 and 31. Not just simply because they’re first round picks, that goes without saying. The main reason why these two picks are so crucial is the fact under Payton, the Saints have been unbelievably good at drafting late, yet they’ve been downright awful at drafting in the first round.

What? Do you need proof? Ok: 2006: Reggie Bush (meh). 2007: Robert Meachem (meh). 2008: Sedrick Ellis (Ugh). 2009: Malcolm Jenkins (Okay). 2010: Patrick “Where’s the Ball” Robinson (Uuuuugh). 2011: Cam Jordan (Good), Mark Ingram (Good). 2013: Kenny Vaccaro (Good, but jury is still out). 2014: Brandin Cooks (Good, but jury is still out).

The sad truth here is that pretty much all of Payton’s first round picks have been either average-to-good players or flat out bad players. That’s not good, when you’re supposedly picking blue-chippers that are supposed to be the cornerstone of your franchise.

So will we see a different story in 2015? Only time will tell. All we can do in the meantime is look at who most of the pundits have the Saints selecting at 13 and 31 in their recent mock drafts, and hope that these players, if they end up actually being picked by the Saints, will fare better than the ones New Orleans selected in first rounds before them.

Consensus Pick at 13: Randy Gregory.

It seems that despite his failed marijuana test, most draft experts expect the former Nebraska defensive end to fall to 13 and get selected by the New Orleans Saints. Personally, I’d be elated if Gregory fell to New Orleans. He’s an excellent pass rusher in the mold of an Aldon Smith or a Barkevious Mingo and could strongly revitalize a Saints’ pass rush that regressed in 2014.

***

Consensus Pick at 31: Dorial Green-Beckham.

The projections for the 31st pick are much more scattered. Interestingly, it’s another player with character issues in college that narrowly takes the cake, in Missouri’s former wide receiver. Tied with Green-Beckham is Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman. What seems certain in any case is that most draft prognosticators expect the Saints to pick up a skill position offensive player at 31. Either DGB or Perriman would definitely be a welcome boost for New Orleans’ depleted wide receiving corps.

***

Consensus “WTF” Pick at 13: Jaelen Strong.

If the Saints pick a wide receiver at 13, it better be Amari Cooper from Alabama. Other than Cooper, New Orleans would be making a big mistake picking up anything other than a pass rusher or an offensive lineman at this spot. I don’t believe in the hype surrounding wide receiver Kevin White, for the simple reason that he hasn’t been highly productive on a consistent basis throughout his college career. Jaelen Strong has had a good receiving career at Arizona State, but in my opinion, he’d be a massive reach at 13.

***

Consensus “WTF” Pick at 31: Kevin Johnson.

With all due respect to Todd McShay, the Saints have enough cornerbacks on their roster not to gamble on one in the first round of the draft, even if it’s near the bottom of the round. Johnson was a stud at Wake Forest, but New Orleans could find good value for a cornerback from round three and later, while addressing more pressing needs at 31, most notably a pass catcher or an offensive lineman in case they select a pass rusher at 13.

Latest draft

2014 Draft Class

 1 20 Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver

2 58 Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cornerback

4 126 Khairi Fortt, Linebacker

5 167 Vinnie Sunseri, Safety

5 169 Ronald Powell, Linebacker

6 202 Tavon Rooks, Offensive Tackle

Analysis: With their first pick in the 2014 draft, New Orleans picked up where it left off in 2013: Brandin Cooks is going to fit beautifully in Payton’s offense and is likely to be a starter from day one, alongside Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is likely going to be a backup for most of the season, barring any injuries in the secondary. If history repeats itself - and Saints fans hope it doesn’t - one or two of the draftees will not play in a single game this season. My money would be on linebacker Ronald Powell, who has a history of knee injuries and was a bit of a gamble in this draft.

The Gem: The explosive, multitalented Brandin Cooks will quickly make Saints fans forget about the lethargic offense of 2013.

Ugh: With the great success they’ve had with Mark Ingram and Roman Harper, the Saints decided they needed another Bama player in Vinnie Sunseri. All joking aside, this was a baffling pick: safety wasn’t a position of need for New Orleans. The Saints can only hope to have somehow gotten a steal.

Grade:The jury is obviously still out, but this group of draftees has its work cut out for it if they’re going to match the early production of the 2013 class.

In his fifth mock, Todd McShay has Clemson LB Vic Beasley and Miami (FL) WR Phillip Dorsett going to New Orleans in the first round at 13 and 31, respectively.

Vic Beasley: COLLEGE: Clemson Class: Sr HT: 6-3 WT: 246 POS: OLB

Phillip Dorsett: COLLEGE: Miami (FL)Class: Sr HT: 5-9 WT: 185 POS: WR

It ain't over till....

Listen, I get it. You’re disappointed and feeling gut punched right now. But, it really isn’t over yet. So, here’s a little something to wrap your heads and spirits around. Since the beginning of the 21st century only two #1 seeds have won the Super Bowl. The 2003Patriots and and YOUR 2009 Saints. Six of the past thirteen Super Bowl champions have been a 4th seed or lower. Including the last 3 consecutive Super Bowl winners

 The 2010 Packers, 2011 Giants, and 2012 Ravens were no better than the 2013 Saints during the regular season. Don’t let yourselves get caught up in some false idea of what a championship caliber team looks like. Instead, try a little good old fashioned “I believe”like our very own vjdancer.

Until all the games are played and the Saints aren’t Super Bowl champs - I will believe it’s possible.

You never know. You might get surprised. Just like the fans of some of the teams above.

From Mike Triplett at ESPN.com: Loomis reiterated that the Saints have a plan for trimming the estimated $25 million in salary-cap space that will be required over the next three weeks. Although Loomis didn’t specify that plan, a huge part will include converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses with players like Junior Galette, Jairus Byrd, Jimmy Graham and Curtis Lofton. That simple tweak could save about $20 million right away, shifting those cap costs into future years. “I wouldn’t call it easy, yet we know what our plan is,“ Loomis told The Times-Picayune. "And we’ve known what it’s going to be for quite some time – in terms of just getting under the cap.”

Tackling woes

In 2014, the New Orleans Saints defense missed many tackles on a weekly basis. Even without a better pass rush and substantial improvement in coverage, better tackling would make the defense less susceptible to back-breaking plays.

In 2014 the Saints defense finished last in tackling efficiency! Basically, our guys squandered many opportunities to stop opposing offenses. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints defense missed 148 tackles in 1092 snaps, about 13%. I was able to find that inside linebacker Curtis Lofton led his position with 22 missed tackles at a rate of 1 missed every 7.5 attempts. By comparison, James Laurinaitis only missed 4 but tallied to more snaps than Lofton. Cornerback Keenan Lewis missed 10 tackles coming at a rate of 1 miss for every 5.2 attempts. The back end of the defense was left virtually unprotected as safety Kenny Vaccaro missed 19 tackles at a rate of 1 miss for every 4.5 attempts. The surprise statistic of my fact finding mission was that the Saints special teams units was middle of the pack at 18 missed tackles, the exact same as Super Bowl participants the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. The Saints special teams unit is comprised of (hopefully) potential starters, so all is not lost.

The changes must begin now! The coaches may need to take a page from the youth football leagues and work on tackling with the players. As silly and simple as my theory may be, the league could help alleviate two major problems by embracing a return to fundamentals. The fact that tackling can be practiced without pads or full contact seems to make the suggestion reasonable. In particular, I’d love to hear that the Saints defensive players are working with coaches to get the tackling under control. So, if you’re reading this Kenny V, Mr. Lofton, and WestBank, please get back to basics and start taking advantage of the tackling opportunities!

New Orleans Saints are an Elite Franchise

Kevin C. Cox

“Shook Ones” 
Yeah, they’re scared to death, scared to look, they shook…. 
Cause ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks Who Dats!

By BewareofDog

After all the bed-wetting and diaper-crapping that went on after the loss to the Seahawks, you’d think the Saints had lost their 8th straight game and were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Might as well trade Brees while we can still get some value for that effin’ midget and get ready for the #2 pick in the draft behind Atlanta or Houston. Damn, Saints. They couldn’t even get that right. Letting the Falcons have the #1 pick.

Wait….oh, the emergency is over? They crushed the Panthers and all is well? Okey dokey.

Don’t understand it though. I NEVER worry about a Saints loss. EVAH. I can’t. It’s impossible. Mainly because I understand that I’m lucky enough to be the fan of a football that is one of the VERY BEST in the NFL and has been for quite a while. A bad loss here and there during the regular season is not going to change that or shake my confidence in this team.

I don’t subscribe to the whole victimology/underdog status that some Saints fans readily embrace. It’s a huge part of the reason why some fans can’t really enjoy what is in factThe Golden Era of The New Orleans Saints. I’m not going to tell someone else how to be a fan of the team, but I sure don’t roll with that line of thinking. It’s too tiresome. You’re WAY UP after a victory and then way down in the dumps and ready to be fitted for a straightjacket after a loss.

And you’re scared ALL the time. Before EVERY game.

“Ooooh, this team scares me.”

“I’m so worried about this game.”

“It’s a trap!”

I’ve seen Cowboys and Falcons fans who show more intestinal fortitude toward their respective teams than some Saints fans. Of course, being a Cowboys/Falcons fan is an exercise in futility and are also textbook examples of a delusional mind in action. But, whatever gets them by right?

Pardon me, but, I’m a fan of the New Orleans Saints. One of the top franchises in the NFL and an Elite football team for almost a decade. They have also been a winning franchise for the last three decades.

That’s right, I said DECADES.

It’s weird how some fans spend so much time yapping about losing seasons, paper bags, and the pain of horrible, debilitating, losses to certain franchises which have left them scarred for life and those things are nothing more than distant ghosts from the past. Ghosts that some folks just can’t seem to let go and make it a constant part of their present day lives as Saints fans. And they’re so busy being full of angst that they haven’t noticed how good the Saints have been for quite a while now.

Did you know that the Saints are a WINNING franchise since Tom Benson took over from John Mecom?

Read rest of this interesting article: http://www.canalstreetchronicles.com/2013/12/15/5211606/new-orleans-saints-elite-franchise

Saints status

 New Orleans Saints (6-1):

Despite their 35-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, the Saints were not pleased with their own performance, which included nine penalties, timeouts wasted due to personnel issues, two missed field goals, and four sacks allowed. By the end of the week, the Saints had fallen slightly in the rankings for Defense, Passing, and Rushing; though they maintained their position in regards to overall offense. The BroncosPackersLions,Chargers and Eagles remain ahead of the Saints in the rankings for total offensive yards; with a huge game by Calvin Johnson pushing the Lions up the ranks, and past the Saints for the second-most passing yards in the league. In the NFC, the Seahawks, Panthers,Jets, 49ers, and Packers currently rank ahead of New Orleans defensively. In the conference standings, only Seattle (7-1) has managed – after scraping a win from the Rams – to hold on to a better record than New Orleans (6-1).

The Saints have only lost the ball seven times this year, which is the second-least number of turnovers given away by any team in the NFL thus far (Indy is at 6). Having taken the ball away from other teams sixteen times, New Orleans is ranked No.6 in the league on take-aways. Overall, these numbers result in a +8 turnover differential for the Saints, which is No.4 in the league, behind only Kansas City (+12), Seattle (+9) and Dallas (+9).

As far as punting goes: despite New Orleans being ranked No.8 in yards allowed after a punt, Thomas Morstead has the third-best average net yards-per-punt in the NFL. Had one of his punts been stopped at the one yard line – as it should have been, were it not for a failure on the part of Corey White – he would have maintained his No.2 ranking, and been closing in on the top spot in the NFL. Garret Hartley, on the other hand, dropped to a 78% success rate on field goals this year, after going 0/2 in the Superdome this past Sunday. This ties him as the 25th most accurate kicker (of 33) in the NFL for the 2013 season.

This Sunday, the Saints head to New Jersey to take on the Jets, who are coached by Rex Ryan, brother of New Orleans Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. Although the Jets offense is only slightly better than Buffalo’s, the men in green have had a much more dominant defense this year. This will be the first time New Orleans faces a defense which is ranked higher than our own, which will only be magnified by temperatures in the upper 40’s at the Jets’ home stadium. However, if they remain focused, the Saints should be able to provide Rob Ryan with his first NFL win over his fraternal twin.

[Current Jets Rankings: Offense - 17th; Defense - 6th; Passing - 22nd; Rushing - 13th]

Kenny Vaccaro Has Personal Vendetta Against Cowboys

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Saints safety and Texas native Kenny Vaccaro remembers how the Cowboys expressed some interest in drafting him last year and then later decided to pass on him. Vaccaro describes what happened during the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, “My agent was like, ‘Hey, the Saints about to take Kenny, y'all gonna make a move?’” To which Vaccaro said the Cowboys replied, “'Nah, we don’t move up for safeties.’”

What Hath Saints Free Agency Wrought

This year’s free agency season stirred up emotions in Saints fans to an unusually intense and divisive degree.  Some looked at the bold swings of the front office as a welcome and creative shake-up of a team that has failed to live up to expectations in recent years.  Some, like myself, despaired over the departure of established and beloved talents without what appeared to be a clear plan to get better, buckling to cap pressures and undermining the remainder of the window we have withDrew Brees.  Emotional reactions don’t account for much, though, so let’s have a look at each position impacted by the moves of free agency and try and evaluate whether the Saints got better, got worse, or made a lateral move.

Tight End - Worse

We’ll start with the most obvious call.  Despite all the nice things people have had to say about Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson, neither is in the same league as the departed Jimmy Graham.  Then again, only Tony GonzalezRob Gronkowski, and maybeAntonio Gates and Shannon Sharpe are in that league.  Graham, in only five years in the league, has already established himself as one of the elite offensive weapons ever seen at his position, topping 1000 yards in receptions in two of his five years (and 950 in another) and topping 10 touchdowns three times, including a league-leading 16 in 2013. Josh Hill has shown some promise in his first couple years and will likely be a significant contributor in the offense, but the odds of his emerging as an elite offensive weapon on Graham’s level are between slim and none.  Watson, meanwhile, is a sure-handed veteran who theoretically gives us the option of trotting out some of Payton’s preferred duel tight end sets, but he’ll be 34 this season and hasn’t scored more than three touchdowns in five years.  We’ll get some production out of this spot, but it will be nothing like what we’ve had since drafting Graham in 2010.

Cornerback - Better

Another clear choice.  This is a case of both addition by addition and addition by subtraction.  Obviously the marquee signing is Brandon Browner, a starting cornerback on each of the last two Super Bowl winners, and a clear improvement over the now fully departed Patrick Robinson/Corey White tandem.  He averages over 1 pass defended per game and carries with him the reputation of being a big, physical cover corner who on his best days can match up with the league’s top receivers. However, it’s not worth pretending we’ve acquired Richard Sherman or Aqib Talib; Browner has two interceptions in the last two seasons, seasons in which he has missed a combined 15 games to injury.  If those injuries recur, we may regret having lost the positional depth Robinson and/or White represent.  That depth could be made up for by second year cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste and by the newly signed Kyle Wilson.  Neither have shown much in their professional careers so far, but if we’re lucky Browner and Keenan Lewis will be taking the majority of the snaps.

Wide Receiver - Worse

The Jimmy Graham move was baffling; give up an elite player at a key position and a pick at the beginning of the fourth round for an injured player at a position that is devalued due to its wealth of talent and a pick at the end of the first round.  More confusing was the Kenny Stills deal.  While it seemed all of free agency had been about clearing up cap space to make improvements throughout the roster, suddenly we sent the team’s best deep threat outside of Graham, who cost less than $600,000 for 2015, to Miami for a third round pick and a linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe) who’d missed the entire previous season due to injury with a contract so large he almost completely wiped out the remainder of the team’s cap space.  Needless to say, in adding no receivers, the Saints got worse at this position by sending off a player who in his second season averaged 15 yards per reception and totaled 931 yards in 15 games.

Center - Better

Max Unger, when healthy, is certainly a better center than Jonathan Goodwin or Tim Lelito.  He made the Pro Bowl in both 2012 and 2013 and he has served as the anchor of one of the best running games in the league with the Seahawks for the last few years.  The only concern here is that he missed 10 games last year to an ankle injury.  If that problem recurs (a serious risk for the 305 pound man), the already tenuous inside blocking of the Saints will take a serious hit and we will have gotten stunningly little in return for Jimmy Graham.  Here’s hoping he is fully recovered and can become a staple in the middle for the Saints.

Guard - Worse

Benjamin Grubbs probably didn’t deserve to be named to the Pro Bowl in 2013.  Over the last few years, after the departure of Carl Nicks, Drew Brees has repeatedly taken internal pressure, marking increases in QB hits and sacks.  Still, you know what Ben Grubbs is better than?  Nothing.  And that’s what we have opposite the newly extendedJahri Evans at the moment.  With no cap money remaining, we will have to hope that we are able to draft a ready starter or that Senio Kelemete or Lelito are ready to take over starter’s responsibilities at OG.

Running Back - Lateral Move

Two of the three main running backs for the Saints are set to return:  Mark Ingram was signed to an extension and Khiry Robinson remains on his undrafted free agent rookie contract.  The change comes in the form of exchanging Pierre Thomas for CJ Spiller.  Both are running backs who are comfortable in space and are as much pass catchers as running backs, though certainly Thomas is more comfortable between the tackles and Spiller has more explosive speed.  Their production has been similar the last couple years; in 2014, Thomas had 600 total yards and 3 touchdowns, while Spiller had 425 and 1 TD.  In 2013, Thomas had 1,062 yards and 5 touchdowns while Spiller had 1,118 yards and 2 touchdowns.  2012 represents the real difference, the year that optimists point to as the reason our offense has been substantially upgraded:  Spiller had 1703 total yards and 8 touchdowns, which far outpaces the production Thomas has ever had in any individual season.  If that Spiller returns, the Saints offense may be able to make up for the losses at WR and TE; if not, it could be much tougher to score points next year.

Linebacker - Probably Worse

Similarly, almost the entire linebacking corps will be back next year.  David Hawthorne,Parys HaralsonJunior Galette, and Ramon Humber will all return.  The big exchange here is Curtis Lofton for Dannelle Ellerbe.  This is a very  meaningful exchange; Lofton was the team’s leading tackler and the captain of the defense, so Ellerbe will have big shoes to fill.  He missed nearly the entirety of last year to a hip injury, but generally speaking, looking at basic counting stats, Ellerbe has not been as effective a player as Lofton.  Only once has Ellerbe racked up more than 100 tackles in a a season (101 in 2013), whereas Lofton has had at least 118 tackles each of the last 6 seasons.  They both have a total of 3 interceptions for their careers, and Lofton has 27 career passes defended to Ellerbe’s 9 (Lofton has been in the NFL for one more year and you have to remember that nothing from last year contributes to Ellerbe’s stats, but that’s still 3.8 per year for Lofton and 1.8 for Ellerbe), which gives no indication that Ellerbe is superior in coverage.  Ellerbe had a 4.5 sack season in 2012, more than any one year for Lofton, but he has no other season with more than one and he has substantially fewer stuff yards for his career (87-21) than Lofton, indicating he’s no better in pass rush.  All of this seems to point to an expensive downgrade, but that remains to be seen.

Overall, it’s tough to feel optimistic about the Saints being better in 2015.  The offense will have substantially less firepower, the offensive line currently has more questions than answers, and the defense hasn’t undergone the overhaul it needed.  The draft is still a huge factor with the Saints as the team possesses 5 of the first 80 picks, and I’ll post an article in the next couple days looking at how many starters that’s likely to produce, but simply put we all know that the draft and rookies are a crapshoot.  I’ll be thrilled if CJ Spiller, Dannell Ellerbe, and Brandon Browner represent such substantial upgrades that the Saints cruise into the playoffs, but right now it looks like Drew’s age 36 season will be sacrificed to the rebuild.

Graham Negotiations...

Jimmy Graham’s Agent Flies To New Orleans To Negotiate With Saints

By David “Satch” Kelly on Jun 17 2014, 2:44p 14

Jonathan Ferrey

Graham’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, flew to New Orleans from Memphis on Tuesday to negotiate with the Saints’ front office face to face, according to NOLA.com. Graham’s hearing is also being held in Metairie, according to the NFL Network, so that may be the more likely reason he flew in. There’s conflicting reports as to why exactly, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up that a deal is imminent. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank will hear arguments from the NFL Players Association and the NFL Management Council to determine if Graham should be officially labeled as a tight end or a wide receiver for franchise-tag purposes. The proceedings will be held privately and it’s unclear how long it will take Burbank to issue a ruling, though one week is a fair guess based on past arbitration hearings.

Sean's drafting record

2010 Draft Class

 1 32 Patrick Robinson, Cornerback

 2 64 Charles Brown, Offensive Tackle

 3 95 Jimmy Graham, Tight End

 4 123 Al Woods, Defensive Tackle

 5 158 Matt Tennant, Center

7 239 Sean Canfield, Quarterback

Analysis: Following their win in Superbowl XLIV, the Saints had a pretty lousy draft. The six players selected played in a combined 171 out of a possible 384 games (44.5%) and started a combined 86 games (22.4%). Two of the six players (Al Woods and Sean Canfield) never played in a single regular season game for the team. To complete the mediocrity of this draft class, four years later, only two of the six players drafted are still with the team (Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Graham).

The Gem: The Saints drafted a relatively unknown tight end from Miami in the third round. He turned out to be the best tight end in the NFL at the moment: Jimmy Graham. It was a bit of a reprieve for an otherwise pretty awful draft.

Ugh: Al Woods, the local product out of LSU was drafted in the fourth round. A wasted pick, as Woods never suited up for the Saints in a meaningful game and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Grade: Thank God for Jimmy Graham.

Saints biggest needs for 2015

3. Interior Offensive Line

I know some draft analysts (Kiper) have projected the Saints to take an Offensive tackle in the first round, and though I can understand the reasoning, I think they’re looking at the wrong part of the line. Perhaps one of the biggest positional drop-offs from 2013 to 2014 was guard play. In 2013, the Saint’s boasted two Pro-Bowl guards who largely held their own throughout much of the season. Thus, last year the major concern was the Left Tackle spot, from which current Chicago Bear Jermon Bushrod departed. After theCharles Brown experiment was done away with, Terron Armstead filled in and has established himself as a solid starter at the position. Indeed, he is only improving over time and could definitely be a young centerpiece of the line of the future. With Armstead alleviating some Tackle concerns and Zach Strief resigned, anxiety only remained over the Center position going into 2014 and was pegged by some (myself included) as the biggest wildcard on offense. However, little did we know, it was the Guards who would struggle just as much if not more.

Both Ben Grubbs and Future Saint’s Hall of Famer Jahri Evans’ play have deteriorated over the last season (and some might argue over the last two seasons despite their Pro-Bowl designations). To make the situation more pressing, the Saint’s guards are getting paid with the best of the them at the position and are thus falling far short of their contracts. Both player’s contacts end after the 2016 season leaving the team on the hook for two more years. Considering the cap pressure however, it is possible that the team may part ways a season early to find some cap relief. Thus, the Saints need to start looking past their aging line to the future.

With the staple of the Saint’s franchise being their offense, the Offensive line has been their most valued asset second only to Quarterback. It is therefore imperative that Saint’s shore up that line – the interior, in particular, which is most pertinent to said Quarterback’s success. The good news is that of all that has been said of the staff’s inefficiency concerning the development of cornerbacks, the exact opposite can be said of offensive lineman. Under Sean Payton, the Saint’s have excelled at developing lineman at every position on the line, turning overlooked draft picks into All-pros in the interior, and maximizing each players worth in a seemingly endless rotation on the exterior. With this in mind, hopefully the Saint’s can work their magic once again and pluck some late-round picks and develop them into anchors for the future line. I trust no one more than our coaching staff to achieve this goal, and thus find that position to be the most likely addressed in the late-rounds or undrafted free-agency.

The NFL is currently pursuing 4 or 5 different investigations. Amid all the draft talk, free agency signings, and recent arrest announcements, as well as surprise retirement announcements, has been a curious lack of information on several ongoing investigations.

All Things Not Bountygate: The Curious Case of Current NFL Investigations

The idea for this post came as I was reading an article by Mike Florio, of PFT:

No resolution of pending investigations before league meetings

Posted by Mike Florio on March 21, 2015, 8:39 AM EDTGetty Images

With four important investigations pending for the NFL, some thought that the league would bury the outcome of each one during the late Friday afternoon hours of the second full day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

So nothing has been decided yet, and the cases of the Jets allegedly tampering, the Browns allegedly sending text messages to the sideline during games, theFalcons allegedly pumping in fake crowd noise over the span of two seasons, and the Patriots allegedly tampering with air pressure inside footballs during the AFC title game remain unresolved.

Actually, “allegedly” applies only to the Patriots.   Jets owner Woody Johnson committed a clear violation of the tampering policy as it relates to Darrelle Revis, the Browns have admitted that G.M. Ray Farmer sent in-game texts to the coaching staff, and the Falcons have acknowledged that artificial crowd noise was used.

I say 5 investigations, because the Jet’s tampering investigation began in January because of nothing more than Woody Johnson saying that the jets would love to have Darrelle Revis. The next part or what I consider another investigation, came during the high point of pre-free agency itself.

This memo came out to all teams amid a outbreak of supposed deals made between teams and players.

PP-28-13
TO: General Managers
Head Coaches
Player Personnel Directors
FROM: Commissioner Goodell
DATE: March 8, 2013

SUBJECT: Impermissible Activity During the Three-day Negotiating Period for Unrestricted Free Agents

Clubs were advised in PP-26-13 that during the three-day negotiating period for prospective Unrestricted Free Agents, they are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12, and that no contract can be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.

Clubs are further advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year. Any announcement of an agreement or an agreement in principle by a club or another party, including, but not limited to, a certified agent, player, or media organization may subject the club to a tampering investigation.

Please contact the Player Personnel department if you have any questions

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

The Jets are being closely investigated because the Revis signing came out very quickly after the opening of free agency. Also not clear is whether or not they had the right to negotiate with Darrelle Revis in the first place. He was under contract through 2015 if the Patriots chose to exercise their option.

Many teams also had deals supposedly done prior to the launch of free agency, according to the many twitter post, and most were validated immediately when the signing period opened. Fortunately our own Bountygate, maligned New Orleans Saints were not one of them. In fact the team waited until the period opened before scheduling any visits.

Of particular interest within our division, is the Noisegate investigation of the Atlanta Falcons. Again there isn’t anything to investigate as owner Author Blank has already admitted and apologized for the acts, which went on for 2 seasons. Seems only a matter of doling out fines and/or lost of draft picks.

Our fellow SBNation blog the Falcoholic, has several post you may want to visit, both for the insight of the writers as well as the fan reactions.

Report: Falcons Investigated For Fake Crowd Noise:

Arthur Blank: Pumping in Fake Stadium Noise Was “Wrong”:

Why isn’t the Falcons’ fake crowd noise scandal a bigger deal?

And finally our friend Dave Choate’s own post on this very subject.

Falcons noise scandal: The NFL merrily sits on its hands

Along the same lines the Browns have also admitted to sending texts illegally during games.

So why hasn’t anything been announced with the above “investigations”? As the tampering investigations are probably aimed at teams other than the Jets, this one could well be “ongoing”, but the rest should be at or approaching the penalty stages. Also curious is the lack of “media outrage” that went on during Bountygate. Could the leagues weak “evidence” of Bountygate be tempering everyone’s opinions, or is the NFL just lucky, that so much more is grabbing the spotlight at the right time.

And after a flurry of breaking stories following Deflategate, it appears interest has fallen off the SB Champion New England Patriots as well. Why haven’t we heard more on this one. Did Tom Brady do it? Did the Colts frame them?  Was mother nature to blame? Did the ballboy’s bathroom break influence the AFCCG? Wouldn’t we all lie like to know?

So what do you thing friends and foes, (I’ll send post notifications to our fellow blogs)? Is the NFL purposely dragging it’s collective heels, hoping that the more time goes by it will fade from sight. Because believe me fans, the attention span for those it doesn’t effect, personally or as rivals, is a very fleeting thing.

On thing is sure. Some resolution must surely be made before the draft in April.

For all of their surprising late round successes, the Saints have consistently failed themselves by drafting players that were too raw and underdeveloped to contribute on the field, this has to change in 2015.

Saints Need To Select Polished Over Potential In This Year’s Draft

I try not to worry about sports much, especially the New Orleans Saints, which are held closest of all.  I do find myself concerned going into the 2015 NFL Draft, though.  It’s been said quite often this offseason, and it’s true, that this is the most important draft class of the Sean Payton era in New Orleans, eclipsing even his inaugural draft in 2006.  The 2006 draft shaped the beginning of the Payton era leading into the 2009 Super Bowl season and 2011 record setting season.  The 2015 draft will shape the final stretch of Drew Brees’ stellar career and perhaps go to lengths in continuing it.

Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have drafting patterns that they have followed since joining together in 2006.  Their habits have been protected by early, mostly unduplicated success, in taking on project players that played far beyond any of the potential seen in them by most other franchises or experts.  All-Time Saints great wide receiver Marques Colston is the prime example for this.  Loomis is still considered a genius for selecting the unheralded Colston in the 7th round of the 2006 draft, as Colston turned into Brees’ top target and the Saints’ best receiver in franchise history.  Even current starting offensive tackle Zach Strief was selected in the 7th round of the 2006 draft.  Not bad, Loomis.

The concern comes in when you realize that for every Colston is a Mike Hass and an Adrian Arrington.  For every Strief is a Matt Tennant and a Tavon Rooks.  Like most franchises of course, there are far more busts and reaches under Loomis and Payton than there are “diamonds in the rough”.  Mostly there’s just a lot more rough in said rough.  Loomis has made his name with the selections of Marques Colston, Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, and Jimmy Graham, but his best talents are in economics, not talent evaluation.

I’m not as concerned about the Saints drafting a player that simply doesn’t pan out, it’s mostly concerning that the player doesn’t pan out because he wasn’t ready, that he never saw the field because he was injured before he was even drafted.  It’s concerning that a pick turns into a bust because the Saints drafted him into a position to fail, another project with potential and raw talent, drafted to a franchise that is consistently playing for now rather than building for the future.

The Saints under Payton and Loomis have drafted physical freaks of nature with alarming injuries like Greg Romeus and Ronald Powell in recent years.  They’ve drafted workout warriors like Martez Wilson and prototypical specimens like Stanley Jean-Baptiste to their detriment.  The Saints have drafted these players perhaps thinking that they’re getting a steal on players that would have been, or once were, first round prospects, but injury or questions about their readiness at the NFL level came into question.

The Saints need football players.  Honest-to-goodness football players that are ready to contribute in Week 1, not raw, untapped potential.  The Saints have neither the time, or the coaching apparently, to see this questionable potential through.  It’s here that Jeff Ireland and the Saints scouting staff are most in the spotlight, or under the microscope.  The pressure is on these new talent evaluators to really hit on the majority of these picks, as poor drafting has crippled the depth of the Saints, as currently constituted.

As for those amazing undrafted free agents like Pierre Thomas, and to a much lesser extent Chris Ivory, the Saints and the fans would be wise to expect less from that pool of talent.  The Saints desperately need pass-rushers, coverage linebackers, and interior linemen, and the UDFA pool is not an ideal place to search for that type of talent, Junior Galette not withstanding.  Expectations need to turn from anticipating so much from sub-fifth round picks and UDFA’s, and beginning to demand more from the front office, scouts, and coaching staff with selecting players in the first two days of the draft.

The Saints need to draft based on the production the player had on the field, not the potential that is seen in him.  A player can have a crossfit chiseled physique with unbelievable speed and length, but it’s worthless without a polished game to back it up on the field.  The Saints need leaders, they need developed talents that are ready to grind through a 16-game season, the Saints need help.  Ironically, the only ones that can help the Saints are the Saints themselves.

Not every pick needs to become an All-Pro, but the majority need to become dependable, consistent players on this team.  The time for projects and potential is over, it’s time for substance.  Take a guy you know can play, that can contribute.  I’m fairly confident the Saints are ready to change philosophy in 2015, as they’ve made substantial, fundamental changes already this offseason.  Can the Saints actually pull this off?  Well, that remains to be seen, and we will all be watching closely.

Justin Gilbert Visiting Saints

NFL Draft 2014: Justin Gilbert Visiting Saints

By Dave Cariello  @CSCtweet

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

One of the top available cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft will be meeting with Saints this week.

Former Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert will be meeting with the Saints for a pre-draft visit, per his personal Twitter account.

Gilbert is one of the top cornerbacks available in the 2014 NFL Draft and is a potential first round draft choice. At 6-0, 200 pounds, Gilbert has good size to match his speed.  The All-American was also a Jim Thorpe Award finalist for the nation’s best defensive back

Saints Wisely Avoiding Past Stars In Free Agency



Nostalgia.

It’s great for the fans, but nostalgia will kill a sports franchise.

Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints have been victims of nostalgia in recent seasons, attempting to resurrect the careers of wide receiver Robert Meachem and, most recently, center Jonathan Goodwin.  Payton, like many coaches before him, had tried to use former stars as crutches when new players were needed.  These players were productive stars in the past and there was hope that they still had “a little gas left in the tank” in order to provide a stop-gap solution a good price.

The Meachem and more notably, Goodwin acquisitions proved to be more of a sad realization of diminished skills and diminished returns, than a return to form.  It is perhaps these examples that have led the Saints front office to avoid recent free agents that have that nostalgia factor.  Three notable former Saints were/are free agents this offseason, and the Saints have avoided bringing them back into the fold, despite all three fulfilling areas of need.  They are:

RB - Reggie Bush - Saint from 2006 - 2010

WR - Lance Moore - Saint from 2005 - 2013

G - Carl Nicks - Saint from 2008 - 2011

All three of these players had seen their greatest career successes in New Orleans and all three were fan favorites (yes, even the maligned Reggie Bush).  Even though Bush recently signed with the San Francisco 49ers, he was expected to visit with the Saints and some fans were actually excited about the prospect.  Again, nostalgia.  Both Moore and Nicks are available, and again, there are segments of fans that want to bring back that nostalgia, but the Saints are wise to avoid the mistakes of the past.  The Saints actually seem poised to look toward the immediate future rather than the glories of the recent past.

When DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews joined the Philadelphia Eagles as free agent running backs last week, many Saints fans saw this as an opportunity to pine for the release or trade of former Saint Darren Sproles, in order for Sproles to return to the Saints.  Nostalgia, rearing its head again.  For as many great moments as Sproles created as a Saint, he also faded for long stretches, especially as the season went on.  He also has done this in Philly.

The Saints turning their focus to the younger, albeit more expensive, CJ Spiller shows a smarter change in philosophy, eschewing nostalgia for common sense.  There will be better options in the draft than Lance Moore at WR and Carl Nicks at guard.  Those options may not immediately be as good as these former Saints in their prime, but these former Saints are obviously far past their prime anyway.

I can’t wait for Bush, Moore, and Nicks to all return to the Saints, to be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame.  As players though, their time in New Orleans, while great, had run its course.  Thankfully, the Saints have realized that you can’t move forward if you’re constantly looking back.

Nostalgia.  There’s a place for it, and it’s not on the current roster.

The New Orleans Saints are having what could be mildly described as a tumultuous offseason, with big trades and cuts galore. Another big decision is how the team will deal with one of its longest-tenured pillars: right guard Jahri Evans.

What Should the Saints Do With Jahri Evans?

Some would say that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have already gone too far this offseason. The Saints traded their Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, in the very prime of his career, for an oft-injured although talented center in Max Unger and a first round pick. They followed that up by trading wide receiver Kenny Stills who, apart from rookie wideout Brandin Cooks, was one of the team’s rare bright spots in an otherwise lackluster 2014 season. For Stills, they got another oft-injured player in linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third round pick from the Miami Dolphins.

Those are just two of the many moves New Orleans has made so far and with the 2015 season not starting until September, you can bet that there are more transactions to come out of the brain trust at 5800 Airline Drive in Metairie.

One of those transactions will almost certainly involve Pro Bowl right guard Jahri Evans. There have been numerous reports about Evans, some stating that the Saints were shopping him around, others that they were going to outright cut him. Given that New Orleans was able to trade left guard Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth round pick (by the way, how did they manage to get a draft pick out of Grubbs?) some are now assuming that Evans might be in for a contract restructuring.

Well, let’s take a quick look at some of Evans’ numbers on and off the field at this juncture in his Saints career.

1) Jahri Evans’ Off-the-field Numbers

-          Base salary for 2015: $6,800,000

(This is the money guaranteed to Evans in 2015)

-          Cap Number for 2015: $11,000,000

(This is how much Evans counts in the team’s total salary cap, aka his “cap hit”)

-          Dead Money for 2015 (prior to June 1st): $5,000,000

(This is the money the team would have to pay Evans should they trade or cut him before June 1st)

-          Dead Money for 2015 (after June 1st): $3,500,000

(This is the money the team would have to pay Evans should they designate him as a June 1st cut. Note that the dead money would still be $5,000,000 if Evans is traded, even after June 1st).

Summary

Jahri Evans’ $11,000,000 cap number ranks second on the New Orleans Saints roster only to Drew Brees’ frightening $26,400,000 (hey, it’s a quarterback league!) This high a number for a somewhat declining right guard (injuries or not) leads me to think that New Orleans will not opt for the status quo when it comes to Evans’ contract.

Should the Saints trade Evans, they’ll still have to pay him $5,000,000, while saving $6,000,000 in salary cap money. If the team however cuts him prior to the NFL’s June 1st cuts date, it would amount to the same thing, with no real financial benefit, whereas in a trade they could potentially get “something” back as was the case for left guard Ben Grubbs.

On the other hand, should the Saints designate Evans as one of its two allowed “June 1st cuts” and release the veteran after that date, the team would reduce the dead money owed to the right guard by $1,500,000 thus saving $7,500,000 in cap money instead of $6,000,000 which isn’t insignificant. If you would like to take a look for yourselves, these numbers are compiled here at overthecap.com.

2) Jahri Evans’ On-the-field Numbers

Although they have their flaws, I am a proponent of Pro Football Focus methods when it comes to approximating individual NFL players’ level of play. Here’s a quick look at Evans’ number in 2014 and an overall look at the trend in his play the past 6 years.

-          2014 (These numbers include 78 NFL guards with a min. of 297 snaps)

-          Overall: -6.5 (46th)

-          Pass Protection: -17.7 (77th)

-          Run Blocking: +9.6 (11th)

-          Snaps: 1158 (1st)

Summary

2014 was rough year for Evans when it came to what the Saints do most, which is passing the ball. Evans to his credit however, played the run extremely well and despite reports on a wrist injury, he played the most snaps of all 78 guards included in the PFF ranking, showing that he is still tough and durable.

2009-2014 Overall PFF Ranking (NFL Guards)

-          2009: +42.0 (1st)

-          2010: +6.3 (30th)

-          2011: +17.2 (9th)

-          2012: +18.9 (8th)

-          2013: +11.1 (17th)

-          2014: -6.5 (46th)

Summary

Evans has had a stellar career in New Orleans, and in the past six seasons, only in 2014 did he have a negative PFF grade. Last year’s precipitous decline could simply suggest that his bad play was indeed due to injuries, since it has all the looks of an anomaly.

On the other hand, one could think that Evans who turns 32 in August, is now entering the twilight of his career and will never regain the form of his past years. Or worse, he could actually go further down in productivity from here.

So Um, What Are You Saying?

The Saints have four options right now when it comes to Jahri Evans: they could either trade him, cut him now (which wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense unless they immediately need the cap space to sign more free agents), designate him as one of their two June 1st cuts in order to lower the dead money attached to his contract and recoup more cap money, or restructure said contract.

New Orleans has to weigh several things here: the first being whether they can afford to lose both of their guards and completely retool their offensive line, a unit that is vital to Sean Payton’s offense and to the health and success of quarterback Drew Brees. Secondly, if they want to keep their longtime right guard, New Orleans has to decide whether they are willing to add more weight onto their future salary cap by restructuring Evans.

My opinion is that losing Evans this offseason would fit right into the mantra that it’s “better to let go of a player a year too early than a year too late.” Although history doesn’t show that he is as high a liability as he was in 2014, Evans is definitely on the downside of a great career and unless he is willing to take a fairly significant pay cut, the Saints should either keep trying to find a trade partner for him or cut him post June 1st.

With more draft picks (nine) than they’ve had in over 10 years, New Orleans could find its right/left guard of the future in the draft, be it early or even in later round as they once did Evans himself (4th round pick in the 2006 NFL draft). With Tim Lelito capable of manning one of the guard positions, tackles Terron Armstead, Zach Strief and newly-acquired center Max Unger, the Saints could still have a fairly productive offensive line to lead them to a successful 2015 NFL campaign and even beyond. With the draft around the corner, if Evans hasn’t been involved in a transaction by then, the Saints’ selections could give us an early indication of their thinking regarding their Pro Bowl right guard.