Can Saints’ On-Field Leaders Pull Them Through?

By now, football fans everywhere are well aware of the strict and possibly harsh penalties that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saddled on the New Orleans Saints as a result of their involvement in the well documented bounty scandal.

Drew Brees

The punishment is powerful, enormous, thorough, and could potentially result in the Saints missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Take a look at a summary of the sanctions and take a second to take in the enormity and devastation of it.

  • As of April 1, 2012, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the entire 2012-13 NFL football season.
  • Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended without pay for the first six games of the NFL season.
  • Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012-13 season.
  • The Saints organization has been fined $500,000.
  • The Saints are forced to forfeit their second round selection in the 2012 and 2013 NFL entry draft. The Saints won’t have a pick in this year’s draft until 90 players are selected by the other 31 NFL teams.
  • The Saints and the individuals disciplined today are expected to participate in efforts led by the league office to develop programs that will instruct players and coaches at all levels of the game on the need for respect for the game and those who participate in it, on principles of fair play, safety and sportsmanship, and to ensure that bounties will not be part of football at any level.
  • Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely from his new job as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. After this season, the commissioner will review his case and decide to what extent, if any, that he will allow Williams to return to the NFL.

There in black and white is what many pundits have declared the death of the Saints organization.

  • On ESPN’s website, John Clayton wrote that the penalties given to the Saints as a result of the bounty scandal effectively take Drew Brees and company out of Super Bowl contention.
  • Les Carpenter wrote on Yahoo that the Saints sold their souls to win Super Bowl XLIV. (Honestly)
  • Peter King writes on Sports Illustrated’s website that Jonathan Vilma and other Saints players are likely to be punished by the commissioner and further prevent the Saints from returning to the form that led them to a 13-3 season in 2011.
  • Don Banks also writes on Sports Illustrated’s website that it is impossible to view the Saints as a contender for the Super Bowl next season. He goes on to say that the effects from the Commissioner’s ruling will be felt for years to come.

That is just a taste of what is out there. If you want, you can use Google to find countless columns that basically say the same thing – how could the Saints possibly win a game without Sean Payton coaching and without their general manager managing, and the loss of games played by players that might still be suspended by Goodell? Surprisingly, the Saints players that reacted on twitter have a slightly different view.

First of all, many of the players expressed shock in severity of the punishment.

  • Drew Brees tweeted, “I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this punishment.”
  • Linebacker Jo-lonn Dunbar tweeter, “Can we all say #excessive?”
  • Back up quarterback Chase Daniel tweeted, “This is absolutely absurd! I am speechless to say the least!”
  • Special teams ace Courtney Roby may have summed it up best by tweeing simply, “Wow..”

Over the past couple of days I have also began to notice that Saints players are losing their cool a bit. They have had enough of the negativity. The Saints are a prideful group and have just finished a 13-3 campaign that was highlighted with a playoff victory over the Detroit Lions. The Saints won many of those games with Coach Payton’s role either non-existent or limited due to a leg injury that he suffered in the team’s last regular season loss to the Buccaneers.

Regardless of player bravado or any rationalization I could come up with that would downplay the severity of the sanctions, the 2012 off season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Saints. I am sure fans feel like the team is authoring a never ending country music song. You know the kind of song I am talking about. Plenty of county artists have penned sad ballads where the car breaks down, the dog runs away, their wife sleeps with their brother, and so on. Take a look at the some of the sad moments in the Saints off season of country music sadness.

  • The much talked about and infamous bounty scandal and its disastrous fall out.
  • The Saints failed to agree to a long term deal with Drew Brees and were forced to place the franchise tag on the best player in franchise history. Brees was reportedly furious and has yet to sign the franchise tender.
  • The Saints have lost Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks, and Tracy Porter to unrestricted free agency.
  • The Saints were selected to play in the Hall of Fame game for the second time since 2006 upping their total of pre-season games from 4 to 5.
  • Did I mention that the team has failed to sign Drew Brees to a long term contract?

If the Saints want to prove the pundits wrong they have to make sure that Drew Brees is 100% happy before Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis are forced to leave the facility to serve their suspension. Brees is ever more important to the Saints franchise than he was a week ago. His smile is infectious. His spirit is cathartic, and he is the face that can lead this organization through what is one of the biggest PR nightmares in the history of professional sports.

Organizationally, the Saints might be the one team with the pieces in place to pull this off. The Saints haven’t announced how they will handle the suspension only announcing that they will support Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton through their suspensions. My guess is that the team will handle things like this:

  • Newly hired defensive coordinator Steve Spangnuolo should take over Payton’s role and be named the interim head coach. Spagnuolo has spent the last few seasons in the same capacity with way less talent for the St. Louis Rams. Previous to his stint in St. Louis, Spagnuolo was the mastermind behind the Giants defense that took down the undefeated New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLII. Payton was mostly hands off with the defense leaving Gregg Williams to take care of that side of the ball (Whoops).
  • Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson has been with the team for four season and should be able to move up to the position of defensive coordinator working with Spangnuolo to get the defensive game plan in order each week.
  • On the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is one of the rising stars in the league. Carmichael took over play calling duties for Payton last season when Payton was out with his leg injury. The offense didn’t miss a beat. Brees has often been called a coach on the field and I am more than confident that Carmichael and Brees can continue to prepare the record setting offense each week.
  • The loss of Loomis could be the most difficult for the Saints. The good news is that most of the work that needs to be done with free agency can be finished before his suspension begins. Payton and Loomis have handled the draft for the Saints and their absence will certainly be felt in New York. The good news is that the Saints barely have any draft picks. Wait, can you consider that good news?

One last thing, the Saints organization has proven to be many things the last decade. The most important today is there resilience. The city of New Orleans, the fans that make up the Who Dat Nation, and the organization as a whole have been through more in the last seven or eight years than most franchises go through in their history. This is going to be another test of that resiliency. The strength of the leadership in the locker room is going to be tested like never before. The spotlight on the Saints is going to burn very bright this year. The question that needs to be answered is – will the Saints and their fans will come out the other end burned or with a sun tan that once again leaves the football world stunned by the power of the fleur de lis?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.