Monday, June 28, 2010

Saints Deny Reports Citing Politics Delaying WH Appearance

An official with the New Orleans Saints issued a statement refuting media reports that politics, specifically team owner Tom Benson’s affiliation and support for the Republican Party, is responsible for the relatively late scheduled appearance by the Super Bowl champs at the White House.

Responding to an inquiry made by The Onside Kick, a representative of the team said that not only has the trip been in the works for months but also that Benson always planned on being part of the contingent paying a visit to President Barack Obama.

It’s likely that the gulf oil spill is largely responsible for the delay, as the president might be wary about appearing in a celebratory setting with the city’s pro football franchise while thousands of gallons of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico.

Though an exact date has not been announced, the Saints have disclosed that they will drop by the White House en route to their preseason game at New England in August.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Joe Horn Comes Home

My vote for the next Nobel Peace Prize award goes to the Lombardi Trophy.

Wide receiver Joe Horn, one of the most popular and productive athletes to play for the New Orleans Saints but whose stormy relationship with head coach Sean Payton contributed to his departure from the team, got his wish to end his professional career with the Black and Gold when the Saints signed him to a contract on Friday.

Though New Orleans was neither Horn’s first team (that was Kansas City)…nor his last as an active player, the talkative and talented wide out had his best years on the gridiron here, including four trips to the Pro Bowl.

Horn was a building block in the immediate post-Ditka era, contributing to the team’s remarkable rebound in 2000. And Horn was still around for the beginning of the Payton era, albeit not for long.

Horn’s first five seasons with the Saints were outstanding, though injury kept him out of all four playoff games the team competed in while he was on the roster. Being held out of the NFC Championship game by Payton was a sore spot that Horn did not take in stride.

After being released by the Saints, Horn signed with the Atlanta Falcons though he saw relatively limited action in the one regular season with the Dirty Birds.

Recently, number 87 was elected into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, something that was more of a matter of when not if, as Horn either holds or trails Eric Martin for most of the club’s receiving records.

At the time the accolade was announced, Horn shared with the media that he and Payton had patched things up and no animosity remained between them.

One has to wonder how much the team’s successful 2009 season and a Super Bowl win contributed towards improved relations, as the head coach is certainly enjoying an all-time personal and professional high. It’s easy to look beyond past transgressions and bitter words when staring at your reflection in the Lombardi Trophy.

When considering how Horn left the team, the move was magnanimous and reflects well upon the ownership, General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton.

Horn isn’t the only former Saint to receive love from the organization.

During the NFC Championship game, team owner Tom Benson hosted in his suite the man from whom he bought the franchise, John Mecom, Jr. That Mecom, who never had a winning season as team owner, is battling cancer shows both class and compassion.

If adversity builds character, then it could be said that success breeds charity.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saints Dump McCray

Somewhere, Mrs. Kurt Warner and Mrs. Brett Favre are doing a happy dance.

In the latest big move by the New Orleans Saints front office, the team announced that they let go defensive end Bobby McCray on Monday.

The cut came shortly after the team signed and then traded restricted free agent and Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown to the Washington Redskins in a complicated “if this then that” draft pick swap.

McCray’s departure is somewhat of a surprise considering that he replaced defensive end Charles Grant twice in the past two years due to injuries. When the team cut ties with Grant and his large contract not long after the Super Bowl, McCray was generally considered a probable starter in the 2010 season.

The Saints have some depth at the defensive end position with returning starter Will Smith, who had a career year last season though was inexplicably snubbed from the Pro Bowl, and returning back up Jeff Charleston, whose tenure on the team was viewed as more questionable than McCray’s.

The Saints also added defensive ends Alex Brown (from the Chicago Bears) and Jimmy Wilkerson (from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) through free agency. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also has the option of shifting Anthony Hargrove, who played defensive tackle last season, over to defensive end.

The Saints brass must be confident in their options at the position as Smith could yet face a four game suspension stemming from the Star Caps case.

McCray, who previously played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, led the team in sacks in 2008 and had a strong presence in the past post-season, laying hard hits on both Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the two playoffs games leading to the Saints’ appearance in the Super Bowl.

McCray’s release could be attributed as a money saving move, though the pass rush specialist caused the team some off-field embarrassment in 2009 when he was arrested for a DWI in late December.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saints Trade Jammal Brown to Redskins

In a statement released by the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, General Manager Mickey Loomis announced that restricted free agent tackle Jammal Brown has signed his rfa one-year tender and was traded to the Washington Redskins for an undisclosed draft pick in 2011.

Brown was a former number one draft pick by the Saints and a Pro Bowler but spent the 2009 season on injured reserve. Brown refused to take part in team OTAs in 2010.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coach Payton Unveils Book on Super Bowl Win, "Recovery"

On the same day the New Orleans Saints will receive their championship rings, head coach Sean Payton kicked off the beginning of his promotional tour for his book, Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life.

The 295-page book is part autobiography though it largely centers on Payton’s four years in New Orleans and the team’s successful drive towards the Saints’ Super Bowl victory. Also covered are stories involving Payton’s friendship with country music star Kenny Chesney and the team’s literal burial of the 2006 “Cinderella” season.

In fact Payton said it was the loss in the NFC Championship Game in Chicago that helped inspire the title of the book, as the head coach surmised that the path to a Black and Gold Super Bowl would require the NFC title game being played in the Superdome.

Ellis Henican, a Fox News Channel political analyst and native New Orleanian, assisted with the project and was on hand for the book release event at Emeril’s.

Henican, a graduate of Jesuit High School, said a portion of the book’s proceeds would go to Payton’s “Play It Forward Foundation” charity and relief efforts related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Payton said the idea for writing a book first came to him between the team’s NFC Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings and the Super Bowl. Though had the Saints fell short in the big game, the head coach said he might have gone forward with the book anyway.

The book had a first edition publishing run of 100,000 copies and will be available to the public on June 29th. It lists for $24.95.

The Saints head coach will have some competition hawking books from his starting quarterback as Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees also has a book coming out this summer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RFAs Thomas, Harper Sign 1-Year Contracts

The New Orleans Saints announced on Tuesday that running back Pierre Thomas, who has skipped OTAs, and strong safety Roman Harper, who has participated in organized team activities despite not having inked a deal for the 2010 season, have signed one years contracts. Both were restricted free-agents.

Thomas and his agent Lamont Smith were engaged in a protracted and public tussle with the team, seeking a lucrative multi-year deal. Thomas emerged as the Black and Gold’s primary running back in the team’s successful Super Bowl season.

Harper also had an impressive 2009 and was selected for the Pro Bowl for the first time in his four-year professional career.

In the same news release, the Saints announced that they have waived cornerback Greg Fassitt and wide receiver Roy Hall.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pierre to the Saints: Show Me the Money

It was inevitable.

Running back Pierre Thomas, the first New Orleans Saints to score a touchdown in a (the) Super Bowl, is holding out for more money.

And nobody that doesn’t work in the Saints front office should blame him.

If the Saints running game can be described as a “committee”, then number 23 is clearly its chairman.

Sure he doesn’t have the flash or dash of fellow running back Reggie Bush, but PT had 403 more ground yards during the regular season than the “celebrithete” and only 33 fewer receiving yards. Thomas also had one more touchdown.

If the on-field disparity slightly favors Thomas, the paycheck end definitely goes to Bush. According to USA Today, Bush made $7,089,940.00 in salary and bonuses; Thomas made a paltry (at least by NFL standards) $465,590.00. Mike Bell, who was the junior partner in the Black and Gold’s running back triumvirate, also made more money than Thomas, receiving $540,590.00.

Considering the season Thomas had and the payday that cameo running back Bush enjoyed, the team’s every down running back was itching for a raise.

Thomas ranked 24th in the league in rushing yards. Bell was 32nd. Bush, the highest paid running back in the NFL, was 48th. The lesser-known Bush, Michael, was nine slots ahead of him.

Now a large part of the imbalance in salary has to do with how Thomas and Bush got on the roster.

Bush was the second overall selection in the draft and had product endorsements waiting for him before he played his first NFL snap.

Thomas was an undrafted free agent who had to fight his way on to the roster during the 2007 preseason, where the Illinois running back racked up 190 rushing yards in 5 exhibition games. It should be noted that he only had 5 rushing attempts in three of those games. Thomas’s success cost the Saints’ 4th round pick in that year’s draft his spot on the team.

When given the opportunity, Thomas performed at a high level and he is still the only Saint to have 100+ yards receiving and rushing in a single game. Thomas has not only played well but he’s played well when seriously hurt, staying with the team in post-season despite suffering a serious rib injury in week 16.

And it could be easily argued that Thomas was one of the top five most important players on the team, giving the offense a new dimension as his emergence marked the most stability in the Saints’ running game since Deuce’s heyday.

The Saints have offered the restricted free agent a raise, offering a one-year deal worth $1,684,000.00, but Thomas and his agent Lamont Smith are seeking a more lucrative contract. Thomas has skipped off-season workouts despite making assurances earlier that he would participate.

Matters will be coming to a head soon in the negotiations as June 15th is the deadline for RFAs to sign the contract offered by their team. If Thomas doesn’t sign the team’s offer, the Saints have the right to drop it to 110% of his 2009 salary, which would be just over a half million dollars, less than a third than the Saints 2010 offer.

With Bell lost via restricted free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles and Bush set as a cameo-back, Thomas is a critical piece of Saints offense. One would say indispensable. Unless Thomas recklessly opts to go on a “hunger strike”, the gritty running back will ink his RFA contract and will be back for the 2010 season.

There was much consternation by fans over how talks between the team and free safety Darren Sharper dragged on. Sharper is clearly the most beloved player on the defensive side of the football though his best days are clearly behind him. At 25 years old and relishing his position as the undisputed starting running back for the Saints, Thomas’s best days could well be in front of him.

Whether it with the Saints or some other team in 2011 could be determined by whether Thomas has to settle for the one year deal the front office slid to him or if the team chooses to make a long-term investment in a player who has only gotten better every season.

When looking at the salary of the team's number two running back, a big raise for Thomas would be an act of economic justice.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sean Payton Minicamp Media Transcript

Courtesy of the New Orleans Saints

Has Jimmy Graham taken advantage of the opportunity to catch balls from Drew Brees and work some with the ones?

“He’s getting a lot of work. Today and tomorrow we’re doing a lot of base personnel groupings so that means we’re in ‘21’ and some ‘12’ – two-tight end work. For us the key is finding a handful of packages that we think suit him, packages that would suit David Thomas or Jeremy Shockey. Jeremy got walk-through snaps today and went back in. He’s feeling better. I was encouraged just seeing him out here getting the walk-through. But I do think that (Graham) is a guy that we’re giving some snaps to and the timing with he and Drew is important. Just like you’re seeing Patrick (Robinson) get some snaps. Some of these guys that we’ve had for the better part of three weeks now; the rookie camp, the OTAs and they’ve been quickly being brought up to speed.”

What is the learning curve for Graham with his mostly basketball background?

“He’s picking it up. For someone who hasn’t played as long, he’s handling the adjustment pretty well.”

Is Charles Brown 100% healthy?

“He’s close. We have him at limited, which means he’s going to get snaps. We just have to mindful in how much we give him, knowing that he’s coming off the hamstring. He’ll see those snaps increase in the next 10 or 14 days, which is really the period that we have. But he’s limited right now. He’s getting some work; we just don’t want a setback and the rehab is going well. He’s going to be able to get snaps before we break here and go to training camp. He’s one of those players – I think Devery Henderson is another one, and Jon Stinchcomb – that we’ll have a chance to monitor and get snaps in. There’s a group of players that we’re hoping to give more work here before we break for the summer before two-a-days. He would be one of those guys.”

Can you talk about the development as a coach of Joe Lombardi?

“He came to us as an offensive quality control coach. When we lost Doug Marrone, we promoted Pete Carmichael to coordinator and Joe Lombardi was promoted to quarterbacks coach. Both he and Pete do a real good job preparing the meetings, preparing the quarterback installations. A guy like him wears a lot of hats. He’s real thorough and he’s a guy that has passion for what he does. The uniqueness of his story was to see him after the Super Bowl with his father and his brother having the opportunity to share in a moment with the trophy that was named after his grandfather. He’s doing good.”

What have you seen out of Jo-Lonn Dunbar so far out here?

“He’s experienced. He’s been with us long enough to where he’s a guy that knows exactly what he has to do. He has to contribute not only in the defensive line of work, but also in the special teams. He’s one of those players, along with Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux and Troy Evans – those guys are all competing for playing time.”

How did Dunbar do in those games last year when Scott Fujita was out?

“He did well. If you recall, he actually played the year before, too, in a starting position. So it’s not new to him. Although he’s young, he’s had a number of game snaps. I would describe him as someone who’s disciplined and pretty smart in regards to his assignments.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Saints to Hold Five Minicamp Sessions This Weekend

The New Orleans Saints have released the schedule for this weekend’s minicamp sessions.

The Friday afternoon (3:00 PM) and Saturday morning (10:15) sessions will be open to the public, pending weather conditions. In the event of inclement weather the practices will be conducted in the indoor facility. Indoor practices are not open to the public.

Gates will open at 2:15 PM for the Friday afternoon minicamp session and at 9:15 AM for the Saturday morning practice.

The minicamp sessions on Friday morning (10:15), Saturday afternoon (3:00) and Sunday morning (10:15) are closed to the public.