Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FINALLY! Saints Deal Bush to Chiefs

It was announced late Wednesday evening that running back Reggie Bush, the New Orleans Saints number one pick and the second over all selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, has been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for their second and third round picks in the 2010 draft.

“Due to the free-agent signing restrictions imposed on our team and the other three that played in conference championship games combined with the necessity of addressing holes in our defensive front-seven, we felt this was the right move to make,” said Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Not mentioned in the impromptu press conference at the Saints training facility on Airline Drive was Bush’s enormous salary, which was $7,089,940 with bonuses in 2009 and will be $8,000,000 in 2010.

Though not burdened with a salary cap, the Saints play in one of the league’s smallest media markets limiting the team’s capacity to pay big salaries while also trying to lock down core restricted free agents on long-term deals.

The move by the Saints isn’t surprising as many league observers doubted the Saints would hold on to a talented player with explosive potential that lacks the durability to be an “every down” back.

Despite not playing anywhere near the lofty expectations that generated seven-figure endorsement deals before he played a single snap, Bush remained one of the most popular players on the team and in the game. Bush’s number 25 jersey has consistently sold well locally and nationally.

One pigskin expert thinks Saints fans should be happy about the move. Edwin Gauthier, a writes a weekly sports column for yahoosports, thinks the move is a win-win.

“Bush’s contributions to the team were significant but limited,” said Gauthier. “Irregardless of what Loomis and (Sean) Payton have said, Bush’s time in the Big Easy was drawing to a close.”

Citing his high salary and Bush’s desire to play in a bigger media market, Gauthier thinks the Saints will be able to parlay the Chief’s two early picks into addressing gaps in their defensive line, a weak point for the Black and Gold’s run defense.

“Bush is an expensive player. The Saints had to tank an entire season to land him in the draft and they had to make him one of the highest paid players on the roster to keep him for as long as they have,” said Gauthier. “That said, Bush is going to do three big things for the Chiefs: one invigorate their offense overnight; two, excite their fan base; and three, raise the team’s profile nationally even without Kim (Kardashian) at his side.”

But will Bush stay in the City of Fountains beyond the two years left on his hefty contract?

“That’s between Reggie and Scott Pioli (Kansas City’s general manager,” said Gauthier.

One thing is for certain: the celebrithete probably won’t appreciate this april fool’s joke.

Monday, March 29, 2010

SharperWatch: Day 26

Free Safety Darren Sharper is arguably the second most popular player on the New Orleans Saints 2009 roster.

If Saints fans had the option of checking a box on their season ticket renewal forms so that $30 from the recent steep ticket hike went directly to retain his services, Sharper would have his love and his money. But that’s not the case.

Though being 34 years of age and having clocked 14 seasons in the league, Sharper had the best year of his playing career, snagging 9 interceptions for the third time in a single season, returning picks for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns. The latter two milestones were career bests.

Perhaps the former Viking had a nip of some of Brett Favre’s “Fountain of Youth” energy drink.

Yet despite his astounding athletic feats and easily outplaying his one year $1,704,000 contract with bonuses, the Saints organization has been in no hurry to hold on to the ballhawk.

Just as amazingly, as the jittery Black and Gold faithful approach the fourth week of free agency, neither has any other team gone after what most people consider a hot commodity.

A large part of that mystery was solved on the evening of the Saints DVD release at The Prytania Theater when Sharper hobbled out of a chauffeured vehicle on crutches as the dozens of Saints fans gathered outside the Crescent City’s landmark movie house gasped collectively.

Sharper played down his condition, saying he had arthroscopic knee surgery to fix knee problems that plagued him after mid-season.

Recovering from surgery is going to inhibit working out with other teams, giving the Saints front office time to put together a new deal.

Saints fans are understandably frustrated that the brass, after raising ticket prices, perceiving that the organization is being cheap with a beloved player that contributed more than most players towards the Saints’ Super Bowl run.

However most people aren’t cognizant that the Saints already have one of the largest payrolls in the league.

The Saints should be hesitant to give Sharper a multiyear contract with big guaranteed money in what is the twilight of his career. How many times have the Saints mortgaged their future and invested big money in older players who had left their best days with the previous team?

Sharper was brought on to the team as a temporary fix; that he did so much exceeded everyone’s expectations, including the Saints who dragged their feet in signing him.

Granted it’s not my money (wait a minute, I just got my ticket invoice with the 40% mark-up, IT IS!), but the Saints should be willing to gamble more than they would ordinarily would in similar situations on Sharper remaining productive for another two seasons.

The Saints go into the NFL Draft in desperate need to address their front-seven with linebacker Scott Fujita’s departure and to fill the spot that defensive end Charles Grant somewhat adequately did, though at a premium. The Saints also need to beef up the defensive tackle position, maybe more so if restricted free agent Anthony Hargrove goes to the Detroit Lions.

Between the weak talent pool and the Saints inability to entice players due to the infamous “Rule of Four’, free agency has not been kind to the organization. In fact, they’ve yet to sign anyone from any other team as of yet.

It would be nice if addressing free safety were one less headache for general manager Mickey Loomis before the draft.
If the Saints are comfortable with overpaying running back Reggie Bush, then why should they pinch pennies with Sharper?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Bet I Know Where You Got Dem Cleats

As expected, running back Mike Bell, who helped establish the Black and Gold’s nascent running game for the 2009 season, will join the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2010 season after the New Orleans opted not to match the Eagles’ more lucrative contract.

Bell, a restricted free agent, used his opportunity in New Orleans to reboot a career that had been marred by attitude problems during his time with the Denver Broncos.

The signs were there early on that Bell had finally tolled in the Crescent City. The Saints were not in any rush to make him an offer and when they did, it was practically an insult.

The Saints had initially made Bell a low offer to retain his services, a one-year contract worth $1,176,000. Though a restricted free agent, Bell’s departure will not land his former team a draft pick as the Saints offer to the running back was too low.

Though he blazed out of the gates rushing for 229 yards and a touchdown in his first two games, Bell’s production dropped off as the season progressed.

Bell was the target of an angry Sean Payton blow up in the Super Bowl as the Saints head coach screamed at him for not wearing the right cleats after slipping on a short run near the Indianapolis Colts end zone.

Euphoria from Lombardi Gras might have caused many Saints fans to dismiss Bell’s spill though the cerebral Payton is not so forgiving.

One cannot help but wonder if the cleat matter decided his future with the team. Or maybe Bell did some sales work for ex-long snapper Kevin Houser.

Though he’ll get a ring for his participation, Bell’s Super Bowl numbers were anything but super, rushing for four yards on two carries.

Bell’s departure is a sign that the organization has (finally) accepted big back Lynell Hamilton’s future with the team as a pounder in short yard situations. It’s also an indication that the Saints might draft a running back in later rounds if they don’t find a running back to their liking in free agency.

The team has already unrestricted free agent Oakland Raiders running back Justin Fargas while holding out on a final decision with Bell though a contract with Fargas has yet to be inked.
Because the Raiders released Fargas, the “Rule of Four” would not apply, which is significant as the Saints’ options in free agency are severely limited.

NFL to Kickers: Go to Hell!

If you’re a Saints fan or are paid a lot of money to kick a pigskin, you should be very offended by the latest travesty to come out of Roger Goodell’s NFL.

The league voted on Tuesday to change the overtime rules for playoff games, in which scoring first after the end of regulation may not be good enough to win a post-season game.

With the change, if the team wins the coin toss in overtime, opts receives the ball first and then scores a field goal, they must then kick the ball back to their opponent and stop them from scoring in order to win.

But if the team receiving the ball back from the team that made a field goal on their first possession scores a field goal, then they must kick the ball back to their oppoent. The team receiving the ball back could then win the game with a score, field goal or touchdown. If neither team scores on their first possession then the original “score first/sudden death” rules apply.

Further denigrating the value of kickers and field goals, the first team in overtime to score a touchdown or safety would win the game.

It seems the NFL owners have succeeded in conjuring up an inane rules “adjustment” that only rivals in absurdity the American League’s designated hitter.

I am a big fan of simplicity and there’s nothing more basic than being the first to score. Kind of like a gladiator match: whoever dies first loses.

But the NFL owners, who have perfected the art of extracting blood from a turnip and millions from cash-strapped state legislatures, figured out another way of making a few more bucks by potentially extending playoff games (and thus advertising time) with a rule that makes about as much sense as “fizbin” (see Star Trek).

And of course, the NFL owners felt a need to take quick action on playoff overtime rules not long after the New Orleans Saints advanced to the Super Bowl after Hartley booted the game winning field goal in overtime.

Considering the timing, it’s reasonable for Saints fans (who already have “crevasses” on their shoulders) to infer that this is a reaction to the 2010 NFC championship game.

The NFL owners cited the increasing accuracy of kickers as being a reason for the change, though the new rule diminishes the roles of kickers, both those who split the uprights and those who try to put kickoffs into the end zone, as players who simply “extend play” as opposed to winning not just the big games but the biggest games.
Don’t think field goals matter and that they’re automatic points? Just ask former Buffalo Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood about the importance of connecting a big kick in post-season.

Norwood’s wide right in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV cost his team the Lombardi Trophy and inspired the plot of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, launching Jim Carrey’s acting career.

No miss by Norwood; no Dumb and Dumber; no millions of dollars in Carrey’s checking account; no Jenny McCarthy waking up next to him in bed in the mornings.

Don’t say field goals don’t matter.

Kickers are an important part of a team. The Saints missed out the playoffs in the 2007 and 2008 seasons largely because of problems with their kicking game despite having one of the top overall offenses in the NFL. And the Saints won a Super Bowl thanks in no small part to their kicking game, when punter Thomas Morstead flawlessly executed the on-side kick to open the second half. And they wouldn’t have gotten there without Garrett Hartley’s big kick.

And I should add that it was a missed chipshot in Washington by since fired Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham that contributed to the Saints earning home field advantage in the playoffs.

Somewhere, in their greed and resentment of not having the Manning-Favre Superbowl they wanted, the owners forgot that the game is called FOOTball not PASSball.

Props to the Purple People and a Handful of Others

The Minnesota Vikings, the very team “victimized” by Hartley in the NFC Championship, voted against the rule change as did the Cincinnati Bengals, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens.
Insanely amazingly, the Saints voted for the change.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Saints' Free-Agency Doldrums

“I got all of the love in the world for Darren Sharper I just don’t have all the money in the world for Darren Sharper,” quipped New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis at his “later then usual but with good reason” season ending press conference.

The line drew plenty of laughs and attention, though the hemming and hawing over money in an uncapped year has not amused Saints fans that only want the ball-hawk back at any price south of “franchise-tag”.

Remember how protracted the negotiations were between the Saints and Sharper last off-season, with the Minnesota Vikings castaway anxious for a suitable deal to be worked out? I haven’t and figured that another round of such negotiations were going to play out regardless of the Lombardi Trophy.

But enough about Sharper, at least for the time being.

The Saints have not made much of a splash in free agency and probably won’t this year for three reasons.

1) The Saints are already the amongst the highest spenders in the league, with team having the second highest payroll in the NFL, according to an article appearing in Tuesday’s Times Picayune.
2) The infamous “Rule of Four” affecting the conference championship participants.
3) The core of the team is largely set.

Loomis has alluded to the return of the salary cap once a deal is reached between the players and the team owners. Big contracts now that might not fit under the new collective bargaining agreement could make for very difficult decisions a year later.

The Saints front office must also contend with severe restrictions put on them by their success in post-season. As of right now the Saints are permitted to sign only one UFA though this does not apply to players that have been waived.

And then the Saints are limited to paying their UFAs no more than the first year salary of the UFA they lost to another team.

The good consequence for the Saints under the uncapped free-agency environment is that players who would typically become UFA are restricted free agents, which covers a number of starters, some of whom would be heading to greener pastures if they had the opportunity.

Tethered to expensive draft compensation penalties, many teams won’t chase many of the Saints’ RFAs.

The league’s most prolific offense consists almost entirely of players under contract or restricted free agents. In other words, the Saints have already made their biggest moves prior to the draft by offering one-year contracts to their star RFAs.

The Saints’ Super Bowl MVP quarterback and his award winning offensive line will return in tact, as will his receiving corps and all of the running backs minus one.

The same goes for the special teams and most of the defense.

In fact, only two starters were not under contract: recently departed linebacker Scott Fujita and the currently on crutches Sharper.

For the Saints, their remaining UFAs signing with other teams would be a good thing to some degree as it would give the team freedom to pursue players at other positions, but most of the team’s remaining UFAs aren’t exactly prize catches (Mark Brunell and Darnell Dinkins anyone?).

And then there are their restricted free agents the Saints seem almost content to see leave.

Running back Mike Bell wasn’t tendered much of an offer (Saints get nothing if he leaves) and has already worked out with the Seattle Seahawks. One RFA I would like to see remain on the team is defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, who visited with the Detroit Lions.

Hargrove is a success story on a several levels. Once suspended for violating the team’s substance abuse policy and a liability for his previous employers, Hargrove has turned his life and career around and proved to be an asset in the Saints’ weakest position, defensive tackle.

With the team already “light” in that spot, I am a little concerned why they would not invest more in the athletic Hargrove, who was offered third-round level compensation.

The Saints will likely test the patience and faith of the fans with their reluctance and/or inability to make a big splash in free agency while also not being more aggressive to retain fan favorites.

Expect the Saints to address their greatest needs in the draft, where a lineman and a receiver could be dealt away for picks in what is considered a deep talent pool, combined with “band-aid” short-term free agent signings of veterans who are taking their final snaps as professionals.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You Sir, Are No Scott Fujita!

Below is part of an exchange between SIRIUS NFL Host Adam Schein and recently released Saints defensive end Charles Grant.

Schein: "You know those would be great fits for you. Tell me why Carolina, Atlanta and Tennessee."

Ex- Saints Defensive End Charles Grant: "If I play in Atlanta I get to play New Orleans two times in a row. If I play in Carolina I get to play New Orleans two times in a row. Those are two great teams, Carolina, and Atlanta is one of those teams that's going to be in the race to win that Super Bowl next year. Tennessee, I just like their defensive coordinator, his philosophy."

When I read such prolific statements, it’s a wonder how Grant pulled one over the Saints front office and duped them into giving him that super-sized contract they recently shredded.

First of all, the Saints won’t be playing any NFC South team twice in a row unless the team ends the season against one of them and faces the same opponent in the wild card round of the NFC playoffs.

The last time this happened was in 2000 when the Saints beat the Saint Louis Rams to win their first ever playoff game. The Saints had dropped the regular season finale against the Rams the week before.

And while the Carolina Panthers made a late season run to respectability at the end of the 2009 season, it’s unlikely that the cats will be contending in the midst of a major franchise restructuring, with quarterback Jake Delhomme’s release and defensive end Julius Peppers’s departure.

The Atlanta Falcons have a better chance of making a Super Bowl but then the Dirty Birds are hardly a favorite.

Ironically enough, Grant prefaced his sour grape hurling with effusive comments for the Saints organization.

But it was Grant’s sorry (not remorseful) attitude, declining play and nose for trouble (StarCaps, pregnant woman shot to death) that made him the bane of Saints fans and a regular target of vitriol on Saints internet boards and radio talk shows.

Grant’s pride is probably hurt with all of the public laments and grousing over linebacker Scott Fujita’s leaving the team yet only hearing only “amens” when word got out that he was cut.

The main reason why so many Saints fans had their fingers crossed for an uncapped season in 2010 was because it gave the team the best scenario to part ways with the defensive end.
I will close this out by saying that Grant was one of the few starters who made multiple visits to WWL’s Saints Player Show at Hooters in Metairie, one of the best outlets for the average fan to meet players. Though his appearances were never “two times in a row”.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Hate the Player

Most Saints fans have expressed kind words for departing linebacker Scott Fujita, who as an unrestricted free agent signed a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

But there are quite a few on the blogosphere and on the sports talk realm that can’t fathom why Fujita would turn his back on the community he promoted so much so soon after the start of free agency.

After all, didn’t Fujita say time and time again he wanted to stay “home”?

I for one take him at his word with good reasons, as Fujita has been a consistent booster for his adopted city since he joined the team. (See Yahoo Sports Shutdown Corner’s article on Fujita’s latest act of philanthropy.)

Fujita’s first service to the organization was his decision to relocate to the storm-ravaged town. On March 14, 2006 Fujita became the first free agent to sign with the 2006 Saints.

Now let me put this in perspective: this was seven months removed from Hurricane Katrina when much of New Orleans was littered with FEMA trailers and blue tarp roofs, a time when the Crescent City looked more like a part of Haiti than the United States.

A familiar face recruited Fujita, ex-Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Sean Payton who had just assumed the reins of the Saints.

Fujita would be the first brick in the franchise’s rebuilding process that was simultaneously being carried out as the New Orleans area was being rebuilt. The cornerstone of the new New Orleans Saints, quarterback Drew Brees, officially joined the team two days later.

For making that first leap into the drowned city, Fujita had my respect.

The Berkeley grad’s leftist political talk, not so much, though it is refreshing when a professional athlete goes beyond bumper-sticker slogans in discussing civic affairs even if I find the substance disagreeable.

Maybe Fujita will do the Democratic Party a service and knock out Dennis Kucinich when the bleeding-heart linebacker’s gridiron days come to a close. Talk about contrasting television images.

But as usual I digress.

It was obvious the Saints had little interest in retaining Fujita as a starter except as a worst-case scenario. With no salary cap and no penalties for offering the ufa a contract, the Saints decision to let Fujita “test the waters” of free agency was their way of saying “happy trails”.

With the Saints looking at keeping him at a bargain and his starting position likely endangered due to his declining production and his age, why should Fujita turn down millions of dollars of guaranteed money from a team who covets him?

To have passed on Cleveland’s early offer would not have been an act of dedication but insanity.

Fujita made the right move. Right for his career, right for his family and dare I say, right for the Saints. I’ll get to that part at the end.

Call it greed. Call it capitalism. Call it whatever you want. I call it a win-win.

By signing such a large contract with the Browns, the player the Saints did not want did his ex-team a huge favor when taking into consideration the “Rule of Four”.

Severely limited in their ability to pick up quality unrestricted free agents, Fujita’s departure allows the Saints to not only bring in someone whose contract with his team ran its course, but by signing for ton of money, the Black and Gold can now afford under the restrictions to pay a quality ufa.

So on behalf of Who Dats in the know, 3,000,000 base and 500,000 bonus “thank yous” for everything you did for team and the New Orleans area and for getting the Browns to pay you enough so the Saints can replace or upgrade the position you left behind.
At least on-field.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Free Agency 2010: Grant Gets "Capped"

Praise be!

If there is ever a reason to be grateful for the uncapped season, it should be the window the New Orleans Saints front-office needed to dispose of underperforming/all-around pain in the ass defensive end Charles Grant and his double-stuffed contract.

Grant was the closest thing to a ne’er do well on the roster.

One of the few remnants of the Jim Haslett-era, Grant had an impressive first three seasons, with 27.5 sacks, which he infamously parlayed for a bigger contract so he could “feed his children”.

The Saints rewarded his early productive years and discounted as aberrations his relatively off-years in 2005 and 2006, when he made a combined 8.5 sacks, with a seven-year, $63,000,000 deal in 2007.

And how did Grant repay general manger Mickey Loomis’s generosity?

Two and one-half sacks in 2007.

But it got better.

In the off-season, Grant was involved in an altercation at a Georgia nightclub in which the Saints defensive end was stabbed in the neck and a pregnant woman was shot dead. Grant was later indicted for involuntary manslaughter and the matter is still pending.

In 2008 Grant barely showed improvement with three sacks. On top of that was his involvement in the StarCaps scandal in which Grant and fellow Saints defensive end Will Smith and running back Deuce McAllister were to be suspended four games for using the banned substance that can be used as a masking agent for steroids.

Grant, who has been battered on sports talk shows by callers and hosts alike for not playing up to his contract, entered the 2009 season on the bubble and improved his sack total to 5.5, his highest number since 2006. Grant was placed on injured reserve before the playoffs after tearing his triceps in the regular season finale at Carolina.

With the shooting trial and possible StarCaps suspension still hanging over Grant’s head and his fat contract hanging over the organization’s head, the uncapped season made the former Georgia Bulldog’s release inevitable.

Also released were linebacker Mark Simoneau and guard Jamar Nesbit.

It’s a good thing Loomis has a sharp mind as I had forgotten Simoneau was still on the team, with good reason. The ten-year veteran hasn’t played a game since 2007, which I guess makes him an eight-year actual veteran.

Simoneau played at Kansas State.

Nesbit was a solid player until he opted to serve his own StarCaps suspension immediately while his teammates chose to appeal. At the time a 10 year veteran, he never got his job back as the Saints decided to stick with rookie Carl Nicks. Nesbit has since filed a law-suit against the manufacturer of StarCaps for lost wages and other damages resulting from his suspension.

Nesbit might be best remembered for jumping on the field to execute practice snaps with quarterback Drew Brees moments after starting center Jonathan Goodwin was injured in the Atlanta Falcons game.

Nesbit played at the University of South Carolina.

Free Agency 2010: Saints Lose Fujita, Gain Wiggle Room

When Saints fans see linebacker Scott Fujita in the Superdome this season, he’ll be wearing a brown uniform. Literally.

The Black and Gold faithful lost a fan-favorite on Sunday when Fujita joined the Cleveland Browns. Though terms of the deal were not released, one has to assume it was a relatively lucrative multi-year contract as Fujita shouldn’t expect to be winning any new hand jewelry with his new team.

According to USA Today, Fujita made $3,005,70 in salary and bonuses in 2009.

Fujita was an unrestricted free agent the Saints organization allowed to test the open free agent waters though the linebacker had publicly expressed an interest in remaining in New Orleans.

Saints fans, doubtlessly sorry to see him go, should hope that he inked a big deal with the Browns considering the UFA shackles imposed on them and the other three teams to play in this past season’s conference championship games.

Under the uncapped season rules, the Saints can only sign an unrestricted free agent after losing one from their team. And then the organization is limited to paying an UFA no more than the amount of the lost UFA’s first-year contract.

With rebuilding the Saints’ defensive front-seven a priority going into this year’s draft and free agency period, Fujita’s departure appeared probable the moment the team didn’t offer him a contract. The organization had no intention in investing big money in a soon to be 31 year old linebacker who has had declining production.

Fujita has missed seven games over the past two seasons and had a single sack. In contrast to his first two years with the Saints, Fujita missed only one game and made a combined 6.5 sacks.

That said, the fans always cheered for Fujita like he was a superstar despite pedestrian stats.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Fujita follows fellow Saints alumnus Heath Shuler into politics after the self-professed bleeding-heart liberal hangs up his cleats.

Fujita graduated from Cal-Berkeley with a bachelor’s in political science and earned a master’s in education and has been a vocal advocate for gay marriage and legalized abortion.

The Saints are slated to play the Browns in the Superdome in the 2010 regular season, though the date has not been released.