NFC South: Mickey Loomis

Saints endorse Sean Payton's move

February, 8, 2011
The New Orleans Saints just sent out what has to be the most anticipated real estate-related news release not involving a team sale or relocation in NFL history.

They included quotes from coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson on Payton’s decision to move his family to Dallas, while continuing to coach the Saints.

Here’s what Payton had to say:

Sean Payton
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAfter moving his family to Dallas, Sean Payton will likely be under more scrutiny than ever.
“When my wife and I relocated our family from Dallas, we had always dreamed of someday settling there. We feel that now is the best time to do this. It’s a decision that I’m sure many families have to confront, and I don’t know if there is any one right or wrong decision -- just the best one you can make for your own family.”

Here’s what Benson had to say:

“Sean is our head coach. Like we do with everyone in our organization, we support them when they need to make tough personal decisions. Sean is making a decision in the best interest of his family and he needs our support and he will get it. What I do know is that Sean is completely focused on bringing our team back to a championship. We continue to move in that right direction and I look forward to 2011.”

Here’s what Loomis had to say:

"Sean and I have discussed his decision to move his family to Dallas and like with any personal decision, it is important that he does what is best for his family. This is a personal family matter for Sean and his family and after discussing it with him, I support his decision. We spoke of numerous other coaches that have done the same thing successfully. I am confident that Sean will continue to be an excellent head coach for the Saints for many years to come and he remains steadfast to get our team back to the Super Bowl and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans."

My take on all this: Although it might not create the best appearance for a guy who is widely credited with helping the Saints and the entire New Orleans area recover from Hurricane Katrina to suddenly move to Dallas, I don’t think this is the slap that many fans see it as. Payton’s obviously given a lot of thought to the move and believes he can do some commuting and still succeed as a coach. Also, the thing that keeps coming up in the quotes is how this decision is what’s best for Payton’s family. That’s where I think people might want to back off a bit and give Payton some slack. Family is very important. We don’t know exactly what’s going on with Payton’s family -- and maybe we don’t need to know. But, if Payton thinks it’s best for his family to be in Dallas and Loomis and Benson are on board with it, then I don’t think it’s anybody’s business but Payton’s. But he also needs to be prepared for the future backlash. If the Saints struggle a little bit, the fact he's living in Dallas will be the first thing fans blame.

Saints shoot down Payton rumors

February, 7, 2011
As the world got ready for the Super Bowl on Sunday, social media circles were burning up with a rumor that New Orleans coach Sean Payton was leaving to become general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Saints acted quickly to cut that one down, issuing the following statement: "Coach Payton is the Saints Head Coach; he is not going to the Dallas Cowboys in any capacity."

I don’t know how these things get started sometimes. It’s true that Payton has some ties to Dallas. He was the quarterbacks coach there before joining the Saints and has a close relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

But how does that set the stage for him suddenly leaving to become Dallas’ general manager? Payton’s under contract to the Saints.

Also, Payton is a football coach. He’s never been a general manager and, at this point in his life, has shown no sign he wants to be an administrator. He’s left that role up to general manager Mickey Loomis in New Orleans and focused on coaching.

Payton also seems quite happy in New Orleans, where he and quarterback Drew Brees are widely credited for helping rebuild the Saints and the city. Also, Payton’s an intense competitor. He won last year’s Super Bowl and he still has Brees in his prime, which makes the Saints a contender to win another Super Bowl in the near future.

Payton has a great situation in New Orleans. Owner Tom Benson leaves football matters up to Payton and Loomis. That’s not the way things have worked in Dallas, where Jones is heavily involved in football matters.

At some point in his career, Payton may want to make a move over to the administrative side, like his mentor, Bill Parcells. But I don’t see this being the time or the situation for him to leave a perfect situation in New Orleans.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

February, 2, 2011
With all eyes focused on the Super Bowl, things are very quiet in the NFC South right now. So let's jump into the mailbag and see what's on your mind.

David in Mobile, Ala., says he believes Drew Brees has three to five years left and wonders when the Saints should draft his replacement. He also asks if Chase Daniel could be that guy.

Pat Yasinskas: Brees just turned 32 a few weeks ago, so I’d lean more toward the five years. I don’t think the Saints need to do anything desperate or anytime soon. They like Daniel, but I think it’s too early to tell if he can eventually be a starter. General manager Mickey Loomis is pretty good at looking a few years down the road in the draft. I would expect that in a few years he’ll start looking for an eventual replacement, but it’s not that time yet.

Kevin in Tampa: Asks about the possibility of the Buccaneers going after DeAngelo Williams and Nnamdi Asomugha.

Pat Yasinskas: As I’ve said before, I think the Bucs will be a little more active in free agency than they have been in recent years. But that’s assuming a new labor agreement gets done. They’ll have a ton of salary-cap room. But I’m thinking the price tag on Asomugha may be too high because there are likely to be a lot of bidders. As far as Williams, we’re getting ahead of the game and assuming he does hit free agency. I’m not so sure that happens. I think the Panthers re-sign him. I think Tampa Bay’s approach in free agency will be to target a few mid-level players. I know that might not excite fans, but that’s what I’m expecting.

Joe in Wilmington, N.C., asks if the recent hiring of Fred Graves as receivers coach and Ricky Proehl as an offensive consultant will be enough to keep Steve Smith in Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: Those moves certainly can’t hurt. But I’m not going to try to read Smith’s mind. He obviously was frustrated by last season and so were a lot of other people with the Panthers. But Smith, to my knowledge, has never said he wants out of Carolina. It would be understandable if he asked to be traded some place with an established quarterback and a strong offense. It looks like the Panthers are trying to improve things and I’m sure they’ve given Smith some indication of what they hope to do at quarterback.

Cody in parts unknown asks if a player who has split his career between teams goes into the Hall of Fame, how is it decided which team he represents and which team he retires with.

Pat Yasinskas: That’s a misconception. In football, a player doesn’t go into the Hall of Fame representing one specific team. He just goes in as himself. A lot of people confuse that with baseball, where a player has to choose which cap he wants on his plaque. As far as retiring with a team, a lot of players don’t do any sort of official retirement ceremony. If they do, it’s their choice as to which team they retire with. Bottom line: If Willie Roaf gets elected Saturday, he doesn't officially go in as a member of the Saints or the Chiefs. Same for Deion Sanders, who wouldn't officially go in as a member of the Falcons. But their time with those teams would be a part of their Hall of Fame legacy.

Saints want to secure Brees

January, 27, 2011
Although the New Orleans Saints have more than 20 potential free agents and some obvious holes to fill, it sounds like one of their top offseason priorities is to reach a deal on a long-term contract extension with quarterback Drew Brees.

In a radio interview at the Senior Bowl earlier this week, general manager Mickey Loomis sounded very confident the Saints will get a deal done with Brees. He wouldn’t get into any timeline on that and you can’t blame him.

The Saints could work an extension with Brees before the March 3 deadline for a potential lockout if no labor agreement is reached. It would be nice for both sides to get that out of the way.

But working a deal now might not be in the best interest of either side. It might be best to wait until a new labor agreement is reached because there could be some nuances in a new labor agreement that might change the way the Saints would want to structure Brees’ contract.

Loomis wasn't nearly as definitive when asked what the future might hold for Reggie Bush. The running back has said he'd be willing to restructure his contract to help the team. But Loomis said the Saints are still in the process of evaluating their situation at running back.
New Orleans fans might want to keep a very close eye on what happens with the head-coaching situation in Denver. There’s a very good chance someone who does not get that job will be running the Saints’ defense next season.

As expected, Denver requested permission Monday to interview New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Coach Sean Payton said permission was granted and Williams will interview sometime this week. The Broncos couldn’t seek permission to interview Williams until the Saints’ season was over and that came with Saturday’s loss to Seattle.

If Williams gets the Denver job, one possible candidate to replace him in New Orleans would be John Fox, who also is scheduled to interview for the Denver job Wednesday. Fox spent the last nine seasons coaching the Carolina Panthers and he and Payton are close friends dating back to the days when they both were assistants with the New York Giants.

Payton said Williams still is under contract for next season with the Saints and the team doesn’t want to lose him. But Payton also said the situation is bittersweet because he wants what’s best for Williams.

“He’s been a huge part of what we’re doing,’’ Payton said. “We have a close staff and guys that understand and are unselfish. It’s about the team; it’s about all of us having success and I think each coach – certainly Gregg – understands that I want what’s best for them. I want them to have these opportunities and I want someday a list of coaches that have all come through here and worked for us and gone on to have success. That’s just a sign that we’re finding the right type of people.

“I think he’s going to have that opportunity and I think he’s going to be very successful when he does have it. Selfishly, there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to see it happen on your watch but I also recognize that he’s too good a talent. If there’s any way, shape or form that we can help him, (general manager) Mickey (Loomis) and myself and the group here will help him. I think that’s something that over his career that he has earned. Back to when we brought him in on an interview and I had never met him really or gotten to know him at all personally in the profession, I knew how difficult he was as a defensive coach. I think he’s going to be a great hire for a team that chooses to hire him. He’s someone that I couldn’t recommend highly enough.”

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

December, 31, 2010
Eder in Harlingen, Texas, asks about the possibility of the Buccaneers keeping Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud.

Pat Yasinskas: I think it may be over for both of these guys in Tampa Bay. Ruud probably will draw lots of attention in free agency because he’s a quality middle linebacker and can thrive in the right system. In Tampa Bay’s system, the middle linebacker isn’t as important as some other systems and I don’t think the Bucs will be willing to pay Ruud what he can make elsewhere. Williams has been an inspirational story, coming back from two major knee injuries. But he’s been reduced to a role player this year with the emergence of LeGarrette Blount. I think the Bucs continue to follow their youth movement and bring in a young speed back to pair with Blount.

Mookie in Snellville, Ga., asked for an update on New Orleans running back Chris Ivory and his hamstring injury.

Pat Yasinskas: Ivory went through a full practice Thursday, so I would take that as a very positive sign.

Will in New Orleans asked why the Saints haven’t been playing rookie offensive tackle Charles Brown.

Pat Yasinskas: One thing I admire about New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis is how he does such a strong job of drafting with an eye toward a year or two down the road. Brown is a guy with big potential and the Saints didn’t need him to come in and start right away. They have brought him along slowly. They sort of did the same thing early last year with Malcolm Jenkins and he’s had a breakout year this season and they’re doing something similar with this year’s first-round pick, Patrick Robinson, who hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time. I suspect the Saints have plans for Brown in the future. Jermon Bushrod may have been just a temporary fix at left tackle or Brown could move to the right side where Jon Stinchcomb has been decent, but not dominant.

Greg in Salisbury, N.C., asks if I think Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson was snubbed by not being voted into the Pro Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas: There is no doubt that Johnson has had a nice season and been one of the few bright spots for the Panthers. But it’s very difficult to get into the Pro Bowl when you’re on a two-win team. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross got in, but he’s a veteran with a strong reputation around the league. If Johnson can continue doing what he’s doing and the Panthers become a good team, then he’ll have a real shot at the Pro Bowl.

Neil in Charlotte says that Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes was overlooked for the Pro Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m not going to disagree on that. Grimes has had an outstanding year. He might need to do it one more time before he actually gets to a Pro Bowl. I was talking to another writer the other day and he votes for the All-Pro teams that will be coming out shortly. He was asking me my thoughts on various NFC South players. When he brought up Grimes’ name, I said, “You know, that’s not a bad idea’’.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 31, Rams 13

December, 12, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading downstairs for interviews and will be back in a bit with much more. But first, here’s Rapid Reaction on the New Orleans Saints’ victory against St. Louis.

What it means: I can’t say it was New Orleans’ best game of the year because the Rams aren’t the best of measuring sticks. But this one was pretty encouraging. The Saints put together a solid game in all areas, which is something they’ve had trouble doing much of the year. If you can do that it December, it’s a pretty good sign that your season is headed in a good direction.

Rising star: One reason the Saints should be good for the foreseeable future is that general manager Mickey Loomis seems to have developed a knack for looking a few years down the line when he’s drafting, and the Saints keep adding young impact players to their roster. The latest example is safety Malcolm Jenkins. A first-round pick last year, the Saints brought Jenkins along relatively slowly as a rookie and played him at cornerback. This year, the Saints moved Jenkins to safety and you can see him blossoming. He picked off Sam Bradford and returned the interception 96 yards for his first career touchdown Sunday. Jenkins also had an interception in the fourth quarter.

What I didn’t like: Overall, Drew Brees had a pretty good game. But he threw two interceptions. Brees now has thrown at least one interception in nine straight games. This guy hasn’t suddenly turned into Jake Delhomme. But it’s a little concerning that a guy who was virtually flawless last year is making mistakes on a pretty regular basis.

What’s next: The Saints face a big test next Sunday. They have to go on the road to Baltimore. Some people like to say the Saints are a classic dome team. Well, December in Baltimore rarely resembles dome conditions.

Looking at NFC South's best bargains

December, 6, 2010
While glancing through some salary and salary-cap numbers today, I started to come up with a list of the five biggest bargains in the NFC South.

As I dug in deeper, it quickly became apparent the list had to grow, because there really are a bunch of players in the division producing beyond their contracts. After looking at the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers, the list stood at eight. Since there haven’t been a lot of positives from the Carolina Panthers, I thought the list might stay at eight, even though I was hoping to get it to 10.

[+] EnlargeMike Williams
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesReceiver Mike Williams has been a huge bargain for Tampa Bay.
But I was presently surprised because I was able to come up with three guys on the Panthers, who have played well and aren’t making a lot of money. So the list stands at 11.

I’m not going to rank them in any particular order. But let me just tell you the guidelines I used in assembling this list. I didn’t go by actual base salaries because those numbers can be a bit misleading. Although there is no salary cap in place this season, I went by salary-cap numbers because those include base salaries as well as things like roster bonuses and workout bonuses that are being earned this year.

I made the cutoff point $1 million. In other words, nobody that has a cap figure of $1 million or more was eligible, because I was looking only for bargains. Here’s the list.

Brent Grimes, cornerback, Falcons, $470,000. When you’re paying Dunta Robinson a ton of money to cover one side of the field, you can’t afford to pay your other cornerbacks a lot. Grimes has started every game this season and is producing. At $470,000 Grimes is one of the league’s best values. It’s rare to see a quality starting cornerback who isn’t well over $1 million.

Curtis Lofton, middle linebacker, Falcons, $918,000. In this case, the salary-cap number is a bit misleading because it includes almost $400,000 in original bonus money that’s pro-rated over the entire contract. Lofton’s only making $508,000 in base salary and isn’t collecting any roster or option bonuses this year. Not bad for a guy who has emerged as the leader of Atlanta’s defense.

Eric Weems, return man/receiver, Falcons, $470,000. Weems earned his salary Sunday with a franchise-record 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Even before that, he was a solid return man and he contributes a bit as a receiver.

LeGarrette Blount, running back, Buccaneers, $320,000. Undrafted out of college and cut by the Tennessee Titans in training camp, Blount has emerged as the feature back in Tampa Bay.

Mike Williams, wide receiver, Buccaneers, $454,562. Although he was only a fourth-round draft pick, Williams has been Tampa Bay’s best receiver since opening day.

Chris Ivory, running back, Saints, $321,666. He comes with a story very similar to Blount’s. With injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, Ivory has been the most consistent player in New Orleans’ backfield.

Thomas Morstead, punter, Saints, $436,250. A lot of people scoffed when general manager Mickey Loomis used a draft pick on a punter in 2009. But Morstead has shown how valuable a punter can be. He’s averaging 47.3 yards a punt.

Carl Nicks, guard, Saints, $509,250. He gets overshadowed by teammate Jahri Evans, but some personnel people will tell you there isn’t much difference between New Orleans’ guards.

Charles Godfrey, safety, Panthers, $683,550. One of the few bright spots for the Panthers. This third-year player has five interceptions.

Mike Goodson, running back, Panthers, $518,000. He wasn’t supposed to be more than a return guy and maybe a third-down back. But injuries have forced DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to miss a lot of playing time. That gave Goodson an opportunity, and he’s had two 100-yard rushing games.

Captain Munnerlyn, cornerback, Panthers, $410,225. With Chris Gamble in coach John Fox’s doghouse, Munnerlyn has gotten some time as a starter. Even as a nickel back, he still is a bargain at this price.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 26, 2010
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Drew Brees, quarterback, Saints. Let’s make it clear that Brees isn’t suffering anything close to the meltdown we saw out of Jake Delhomme in Carolina the last two years. And let’s make it clear that injuries and some poor play around him are having an impact on Brees. That said, let’s be real honest and face the fact that Brees isn’t playing nearly at the same level he did in last year’s march to the Super Bowl or even like he did in his 5,000-yard passing season in 2008. Something is amiss with Brees. He’s talented enough that things can click into overdrive at any time, but, to this point in the season, something just hasn’t been right.

Pierre Thomas, running back, Saints. In a pregame report on Fox, it was said that the Saints were unhappy with Thomas’ approach to recovering from the ankle injury that’s had him sidelined. There’s no reason to doubt this report because if you know anything about the behind-the-scenes logistics on this one, you know the word had to come straight from coach Sean Payton or general manager Mickey Loomis. They’re the guys who call the shots in New Orleans and their unhappiness with Thomas doesn’t bode well for his long-term future.

New Orleans' offensive line. This was one of the team’s strengths last year and a lot of people said in the preseason the Saints might have the league’s best offensive line. It hasn’t been anywhere close to that. Brees is getting too much pressure and there hasn’t been much consistency in the running game.


[+] EnlargeDavid Gettis
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDavid Gettis hauled in two TD catches against the 49ers.
David Gettis, wide receiver, Panthers. Since Carolina won a game, we’re going to make sure we take the rare opportunity to get one of the Panthers in the “rising’’ category. Against San Francisco, he had eight catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. A sixth-round pick, Gettis is doing more than earlier picks Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. In an otherwise dismal season, Gettis has been a bright spot.

John Abraham, defensive end, Falcons. A lot of people were ready to write the veteran off after a 2009 season in which he had only 5.5 sacks. But the Falcons thought Abraham would bounce back and it turns out they’re right. He had two sacks on Sunday and that gives him six already this season. With a bye week to rest up, Abraham looks like he’s got a real shot to get back to double-digit sacks.

LeGarrette Blount, running back, Buccaneers. The undrafted rookie had 11 carries for 72 yards and brought life to a running game that hadn’t had much early in the season. Although veteran Cadillac Williams likely will remain the starter, Blount’s performance means he’s going to get a lot more playing time. Every good team needs two quality running backs and the Bucs have found one in Blount.

New Orleans Saints mailbag

October, 21, 2010
The New Orleans Saints are the final stop in today’s series of team-by-team mailbags.

Joey in Bloomington, Ill., writes: After the great game of Chris Ivory, it just reminds me again how much efforts the Saints have been putting into small schools since Sean Payton as the head coach. They always find good gems and they are part of the team's success. Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jahri Evans, Pierre Thomas, just name a few. How many teams in the league are also putting efforts in small schools and have the success like the Saints?

Pat Yasinskas: Every team in the NFL has a pretty deep scouting department and has guys who are supposed to keep an eye on the smaller schools. Other teams around the league have had some success in mining the small schools from time to time, but I can’t think of anyone that’s done it better than the Saints in recent years. Payton certainly deserves some credit because he plays a role in pre-draft work and he’s employed these guys properly once he’s gotten them on the field. But I think general manager Mickey Loomis and his scouting staff deserve a ton of credit. Let’s use Colston and Evans as prime examples. These were guys the Saints found later in the draft and they’ve produced like first-round picks.

Ryan in Seattle writes: Conventional wisdom says that the Saints defense is a liability and that it has to rely on turnovers to be effective. However, the turnovers have not come as frequently this year, yet the defense is ranked in the top ten in yards per game and points per game. Given that that the offense hasn't been nearly as explosive this year, and the Saints are still 4-2, isn't it time that the defense starts getting a little more respect nationally?

Pat Yasinskas: Sure, I think the New Orleans defense is much better overall this season. The turnovers aren’t coming like they did last year, but the Saints are actually shutting down opposing offenses at times and that’s a really positive development. I still think you’ll see some turnovers come at some point, though, because they are the trademark of a Gregg Williams defense.

Geoff in Florida writes: Is Darren Sharper coming back in time to face the Steelers and if he does come back in time do you think that he could have a season like last year? I thought that he was pretty much the MVP of the Saints’ defense last season and that he could potentially spark the defense into another takeaway monster like last year?

Pat Yasinskas: The Saints have a little less than three weeks to make a decision on Sharper and it’s possible he could be back for the Oct. 31 game with the Steelers. But I caution all New Orleans fans not to get your hopes up too high and expect Sharper to have a huge impact immediately. With all due respect to Sharper, and I’ll say the guy might be on his way to the Hall of Fame, he’s a 34-year-old safety coming off micro-fracture knee surgery. I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to expect him to be what he was even a year ago. I think Malcolm Jenkins stays as the starting free safety. If Sharper shows he’s healthy enough, the Saints will put him on the active roster and that will provide them with a very nice insurance policy for the second half of the season.

Saints give up on LB Clint Ingram

October, 20, 2010
In a somewhat surprising move, the New Orleans Saints have released linebacker Clint Ingram on the day he was supposed to come off the physically unable to perform list.

Coach Sean Payton had said Monday that Ingram, who had been sidelined with a knee injury since joining the Saints, was expected to begin practicing Wednesday. But general manager Mickey Loomis said the team made the move because Ingram wasn’t going to be ready to help the Saints this year.

Ingram had suffered the injury while with Jacksonville, but the Saints took a chance on him as a possible replacement for Scott Fujita, who signed with Cleveland. The team has been getting by with Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Danny Clark at the position. Clark, who was signed in September, has looked more comfortable and been more of a factor in recent weeks.

New Orleans Saints mailbag

September, 16, 2010
The New Orleans Saints are up in our series of team-by-team mailbags.

Nate in Palmer, Alaska writes: I'm sure your box is overloaded with Reggie Bush comments. I wanted to share mine. First off, I am not a fan of Reggie Bush. I just don't like him and have never been much of a fan of his. It is becoming more apparent that he probably accepted some gifts which is against the rules, and even though I'll be the first person to say he should pay whatever price is due, returning the Heisman which he did win by running over everyone seems kind of silly. Accepting gifts surely didn't make him run any faster or better in the end. He earned it.

Pat Yasinskas: The NCAA found that Bush violated rules while he was at USC and they’ve punished the Trojans for that. But, as far as him forfeiting the Heisman, I think that’s kind of unnecessary. I know the NCAA and the Heisman Trust like to talk about integrity. That’s a wonderful concept. But is it a reality in the modern world of college sports? Anyway, I’m with you. Bush was clearly the best player in college football that year. Even if he doesn’t have the trophy, he’ll always have the memories, and anyone who watched him that season will have memories of a spectacular performance.

Kenneth in Boston writes: How are the Saints going to incorporate Danny Clark into the lineup? Will he just be a backup or will he be some competition with Jo-Lonn Dunbar for the starting position? His resume looks consistently impressive.

Pat Yasinskas: Clark was inactive for the opener, but I think that was mainly because he just joined the team. Yes, he was with the Saints previously, but that was before the arrival of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Clark has to learn Williams’ defense, and that might take a little time. But I expect to start seeing a little bit of Clark rotating with Dunbar pretty soon. Once Clark gets the system down, he’s got a shot to become the starter.

Scott in St. Amant, La., writes: Twice in the Sean Payton era the Saints have traded up in the 4th round to get a player they cut on the final roster, Al Woods this year and Antonio Pittman 4 years ago (he was beaten out by Undrafted Free Agent Pierre Thomas). They also cut 3rd rounder Andy Alleman. Alleman and Pittman are still in the NFL, and Woods is a practice squad player. It seems like this is an established trend now. Do you think the value of establishing that players win roster spots only by competition outweighs the loss of 5 mid-level picks for these two players who never suited up for a game?

Pat Yasinskas: I respect the Saints for not sticking with a guy just because he was a draft pick. If somebody else is outplaying the draft pick, then somebody else should make the roster. And you can’t argue too much with what the Saints have done in the draft since Payton and Mickey Loomis have been together. Getting guys like Jahri Evans and Marques Colston in the middle or late rounds is pretty impressive.

Luke in Virginia writes: I've seen both from you and from others that the Saints run defense was made to look bad against the Vikings. I don't see that. Is there a play or a stat that makes you think that? While I was watching the game it seemed to me that we never gave up any big plays on the ground, Peterson’s long was 14. He was under 100 yards. No touchdowns. Yeah, his average was a little high but I remember on multiple 3rds and shorts we got him down. Last year that would have been almost a given. Plus our offense was getting multiple three and outs, so they got the ball a lot. Besides that one long drive at the end of the half we really did a good job of holding them. Plus Sedrick Ellis seemed like he had a great game - per your prediction. So I guess given all that why is it you say the run defense looked bad?

Pat Yasinskas: I’ll back off my initial impressions a bit and part of the reason for that is what you just said. As I watched the game in the Superdome, it seemed like Adrian Peterson was chopping up the Saints. Peterson’s going to chop up a lot of teams because he’s an excellent running back. But you are correct – when you go back and look at the statistics and the grand scheme of things, he didn’t exactly tear the defense apart.

Saints a dynasty waiting to happen?

September, 9, 2010
BreesSteve Mitchell/US PresswireWith Drew Brees at the top of his game, the Saints have a chance to make another Super Bowl run.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m not sure what really qualifies an NFL team as a dynasty anymore. Back-to-back Super Bowl wins? Perhaps. But what’s the real time frame for a team to be considered a dynasty? Just for the sake of argument, let’s make it five years. In that scenario, I say a team has to go to the playoffs at least four times and win two Super Bowls. We’ll use those parameters to throw out three reasons why the New Orleans Saints can be a dynasty -- and three reasons why they may not be one.

Three reasons why the Saints can be a dynasty.

  1. Drew Brees is 31 and in his absolute prime. That alone is a huge start. Brees is now in the Peyton Manning and Tom Brady stratosphere. He’s the heart and soul of this team and he’s the perfect fit with coach Sean Payton in an offense that really has no limits. History has indicated quarterbacks can play at a high level into their mid-to-late 30s and we’re not even including Brett Favre. The Saints have made some noise about signing Brees to a long-term contract, but it hasn’t happened yet. It will, though. Brees is too important to this team to even let him get close to the end of his current contract, which still has two years remaining.
  2. The rest of the Saints are in their prime. We’re not even talking about Darren Sharper here because who knows if he’ll even play again? That doesn’t really matter. The rest of the core of this team is very good and relatively young. Players such as Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Marques Colston and Reggie Bush are in their prime years. More important, guys such as Jahri Evans, Carl Nicks, Sedrick Ellis, Tracy Porter and Malcolm Jenkins already are very good, but they probably haven’t even entered their prime years yet.
  3. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are a dynamic duo. The two get along very well and there’s no reason to think they won’t be together for the long haul. They share a vision of what they want their team to look like and they’ve done a tremendous job of putting a strong nucleus in place. You can’t sit still and the Saints haven’t done that. Even after winning the Super Bowl, they let older players such as Scott Fujita and Charles Grant go and they’ll continue to work early draft picks such as Jenkins and Patrick Robinson into the mix.
Why the Saints might not end up being a dynasty

  1. There’s a storm brewing in Atlanta. As good as the Saints are, you can look in the NFC South and see a legitimate challenger. The Falcons have put together back-to-back winning seasons, and with a healthy roster and quarterback Matt Ryan entering his third year, Atlanta might be ready for the next step. No NFC South team ever has repeated as the division champion. The Saints certainly seem poised to do that. But the slightest slip could be costly because the Falcons appear to be nearly on the same level with the Saints.
  2. You have to know how to handle success. The Saints spent much of the offseason celebrating and that was great. But has the party really stopped? Just judging by the local media and what’s going on with all the fanfare in New Orleans today, it seems to be almost expected that the Saints will just continue winning almost all the time. With that kind of climate, a loss or two is going to put all sorts of pressure on this team. The Saints handled adversity well last season, but they really didn’t have much of it. The mark of a truly great team is being able to handle adversity on a consistent basis.
  3. Is Payton as good as we think? Right now, it’s hard not to put Payton very close to the top of any list of coaches. He seemed to really grow last year, and hiring Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator was the move that put this team over the top. Payton’s always been daring, and the onside kick in the Super Bowl only added to that reputation. But think back to the two seasons before that when the Saints were mediocre. Payton took big gambles in those days and didn’t always come away viewed as a genius. Being bold and daring can be good. But you can’t get too caught up in living up to those labels. You’re not going to be right on every gamble.
Repeating as Super Bowl champions has become one of the hardest things to do in the modern NFL. Of the 15 Super Bowl champions before the New Orleans Saints, only two were repeat customers.

In fact, it's not uncommon for Super Bowl champions to stumble the next season and not even make the playoffs. Are the Saints, who had one of the greatest feel-good stories in Super Bowl history, the next team to take a fall?

Or can the Saints break the trend and repeat?

In the final installment of our Great Debate series, senior writer John Clayton and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas take two very different stances on whether the Saints can repeat.

[+] EnlargeBrees
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireDrew Brees and the Saints know they'll need to be on their game each week to have a shot at repeating as champions.
Pat Yasinskas: John, you and I have talked about this many times throughout the offseason and I totally respect your reasons for saying the Saints aren't going to repeat. You very well may end up being right. But I've already gone out and predicted the Saints will win back-to-back Super Bowls and I'm not backing off that one.

The main reason I believe this can happen is because the Saints aren't like a lot of recent Super Bowl champions. I think the uncertainty over the labor situation helped them greatly. Super Bowl teams traditionally get ripped apart in free agency. A few marginal or role players usually end up getting big contracts elsewhere just because other teams overrate them and want someone with a Super Bowl ring on their roster. A lot of times, Super Bowl coaching staffs get raided with coordinators moving to head coaching jobs elsewhere.

None of that really happened with the Saints. All they really lost was linebacker Scott Fujita, who got a big contract from Cleveland. Even though the Saints have had some recent injuries at linebacker, Fujita is replaceable. The Saints also cut defensive end Charles Grant and I think that was addition by subtraction.

They replaced Grant with veterans Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson. Neither is going to put up 15 sacks, but both play the run solidly and are consistent, which is something Grant never was. The Saints basically have kept their team and coaching staff intact. Throw in the draft class and a few other minor additions and I'll say the Saints, on paper, are better than they were a year ago. I know you disagree, so go ahead and start shredding that paper.

John Clayton: The Saints' story in 2009 was a great one, but for the Saints to repeat, now you are talking the beginning of a dynasty. I don't see that. Sure, the Saints will make the playoffs. They have Drew Brees, who now ranks with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as one of the league's three best quarterbacks. You're probably going to call me hypocritical when I say the Colts are my team to repeat as the AFC champion. The reason I did that is I couldn't get behind any other team in the AFC that has a great chance of getting to the Super Bowl.

That's not the case in the NFC. I think the Cowboys have the most talent. I also believe -- and we've talked about this many times -- the Falcons are ready to jump to the top of the division. Matt Ryan is ready. The offense is ready to explode. Mike Smith is getting his defense where he would like it to be. Plus, the schedule is more favorable to the Falcons this year than the Saints. You know from your travels last year you were always going to New Orleans because usually the best games in your division were there. This year, the best home games involving your division teams are in Atlanta. The Falcons play their toughest opponents at home. The Saints play their toughest teams on the road. That's why I don't think the Saints will repeat.

PY: All good points, and I agree the Falcons are a very real threat to New Orleans. Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have assembled a very good roster and I think Ryan is on the verge of taking the next step. The Saints aren't going to coast through their division as they did last year and basically have it wrapped up by November. And they probably aren't going to start 13-0 as they did last season. I think you also have to at least include Carolina in the talk about the NFC South, because it's always a physical football team and the Saints will have to be at their best just to get through the division.

However, there's one big difference between Brees, Payton and the Saints compared to Smith, Ryan and the Falcons. The Saints have won a Super Bowl. They know what it takes.

There's been talk about a Super Bowl hangover, and there's no doubt the Saints spent a big chunk of their offseason celebrating. It might have taken some sort of a toll, but I think that's all gone now. When the Saints came out very sluggish in their preseason opener at New England, Payton ripped into his team and the message was basically, "Last year showed you what hard work and focus can get you." It was only a preseason game, but I think that was a wake-up call the Saints needed to get back into the same frame of mind they had last year.

JC: The Super Bowl hangover theme is giving me a headache because I've heard it so much. It also concerns me when a coach as good as Sean Payton has to rip into his team this year. Ripping into a team is like a chip at a poker game. There are only so many chips you can use during a season. When you bring that up, now you're making me wonder if they are going to make the playoffs. I stay with them making it as a wild card. But don't you see the holes on this team?

So much of their success last season was Darren Sharper intercepting passes off inexperienced quarterbacks. They don't face inexperienced quarterbacks this year, and Sharper is out for at least six games and who knows how much longer because of microfracture surgery. I hate to tell you this, but I intercepted a call in which they were going to ask you to play one of the outside linebacker spots. Scott Fujita is gone. Jonathan Casillas is out for the season. What happens if the team loses one or two defensive tackles to injury? DeMario Pressley and Al Woods -- two draft choices in the past couple of years -- already have been cut.

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Howard Smith/US PresswireThe Saints are counting on Malcolm Jenkins to step in for Darren Sharper at free safety.
Are you 100 percent sure Malcolm Jenkins can be as good as Sharper at free safety? Mickey Loomis, the general manager, said it best last week. The Saints will have to play better just to come close to the regular season they had last season. I figure they will get off to a good start, but can they finish as well? The odds are against them.

PY: John, good thing you intercepted that call. As you know, my body type might help the Saints against the pass, but I'd be a liability against the run and I'd also be the tallest linebacker the Saints have had since Fujita. But, yeah, I'll give you the fact that the Casillas injury really hurts the linebacker corps.

As for Jenkins taking over for Sharper, nothing's a given. But Sharper got off to a great start early last year, but was pretty much shot by the end of the season. Jenkins is a great physical talent, and having Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter at cornerback will help make him look good. I'm projecting here, but I think Jenkins is going to be better than Sharper was at the end of last season.

Other than that, I'll fall back on my contention that the Saints are largely intact. Yes, they were lucky at times last season, but they were also very good. I think they're better in a lot of ways this year, and if they can just catch a little bit of luck, I think they can repeat. If I'm wrong, then maybe this time I'll be taking up residence in Atlanta instead of New Orleans in December and January. Better yet, from a selfish standpoint, maybe the Bucs will do the old worst-to-first trick that's been so common in the NFC South and I might actually get to spend a few weekends at home this year.

JC: If the Bucs can pull off a worst-to-first in the NFC South, the Saints, Falcons and Panthers would have to pull a USC and go on probation and be ruled bowl ineligible. Let's look at reality here. The Saints and Falcons are going to be building up a great rivalry over the next few years.

The league needs it. So much of the NFC is settled into the NFC East with those four teams pounding on each other. The AFC East is bubbling over with the Jets and Rex Ryan taking on the Patriots and Dolphins. I don't mention the Bills because I know you would earn a roster spot on that team.

There is a lot that could be good about a Saints-Falcons rivalry over the next few years. Payton has the go-for-broke mentality with his play calling, and Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator, has a lot of Rex Ryan in him. He'll not only want to tell his players to hit opponents hard, but he'll talk a good game too. The Falcons are the quiet monsters. Mike Smith is a gentlemen on the sideline, but he can gear up his team for good hits, and you know how that offensive line, starting with guard Harvey Dahl, irritates opponents with the way they block. But for a rivalry to happen, you have to have drama. The Saints dominating and repeating would be a great story, but it would take away from the rivalry factor.

By the way, Pat, if you are going to sign with the Bills, hold out for good money.

New Orleans Saints cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
Check here for a full list of New Orleans’ roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Right up until the final preseason game, it looked as if Jonathan Casillas was set to be the starter at weak-side linebacker. But the Saints just announced Casillas has been placed on the injured-reserve list and will miss the season with a foot injury. They also placed Clint Ingram, who was brought in to compete for that spot, on the physically-unable-to-perform list. That leaves them more than thin at linebacker. Scott Shanle was going to start on the strong side and Jonathan Vilma in the middle. Shanle can play either outside position and could move to the weak side if the Saints think that's in their best interest. Stanley Arnoux, Marvin Mitchell, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Anthony Waters are the other linebackers on the roster and none of them are sure-fire starters. Dunbar got some first-team work on the weak side in the early part of camp, but is viewed more as a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player. Arnoux, who missed his rookie season with an injury, has the tools to play the either outside spot, but lacks experience. This looks like a situation in which the Saints will have to look for help from the outside. What’s available on the waiver wire might not be enough. They might have to pursue a trade for a linebacker with realistic ability to start right away.

No-brainer: Although he was an instant fan favorite, and a huge reason why New Orleans won the first Super Bowl in franchise history, the Saints have known for a long time -- barring a huge miracle -- that free safety Darren Sharper wouldn’t be on the opening-day roster. He’s 34 and the Saints didn’t even re-sign him until Sharper checked the free-agent market and found he had very little value. He’s also coming off knee surgery and couldn’t get on the practice field the entire preseason. The Saints placed him on the physically-unable-to-perform list and there’s hope he might be able to come back and provide some help in the second half of the season. But that might be nothing more than wishful thinking. The Saints called in last year’s first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins, who spent his rookie season at cornerback, soon after the Super Bowl and told him he’d be moving to free safety. He’s worked with the first team the entire offseason and he’s not going to be coming out of the lineup unless he struggles mightily.

What’s next: It’s kind of difficult to improve on the roster of a Super Bowl champion. But general manager Mickey Loomis and his staff will watch the waiver wire closely for more than outside linebackers. You still could see a move at defensive tackle, where depth is a slight issue. With only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, it’s imperative the Saints carry one on the practice squad. The odds-on favorite for that is Sean Canfield, who was a seventh-round draft pick and went through the preseason with the Saints.