Friday, July 29, 2011

Saints Ink Last of Their “Big Three”, Hold on to Harper

The New Orleans Saints continue to score in the brief free agency period scooping up the last of their critical three unrestricted free agents, signing strong safety Roman Harper to a multiyear contract.

The Saints organization had not released the details of the pact but media reports have it valued at $28,000,000.00 for four years with most of it guaranteed.

The Saints had previously reached deals with wide receiver Lance Moore and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

Though Harper was brutally victimized by the Seattle Seahawks’ offense in the wild card playoff game, the former University of Alabama standout has generally played well for the Black and Gold, particularly under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Of the Saints’ free agents, Harper’s departure would have been the most difficult to address prior to the start of the regular season.

The Saints still have a number of positions to fill and a few more key personnel to try to retain, the most notable being starting center Jonathan Goodwin and backup tight end David Thomas.

Extending guard Carl Nicks’s tenure with the team is another priority though as a restricted free agent, the Saints have the final say on his departure for the 2011 season.

Harper, a second round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, has gone to the last two Pro Bowls.

Reggie Who?- Saints Make Big Special Teams Move

Reggie Bush wasn’t gone from the New Orleans Saints more than 24 hours before the organization had a replacement signed.

Former San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles inked a four year deal with the Saints, further bolstering the team’s already potent running back corps but more importantly filling the void Bush left behind as punt returner.

While defense has received much attention in the draft, the Saints have also acted to improve their special teams personnel in both the draft, the Bush trade with Miami (in which the Saints received one of the Dolphins’ top coverage players as part of the swap) and now with Sproles’s signing.

Sproles in a black and gold uniform likely means the end of wide receiver Courtney Roby with the team, who was primarily used as a kick returner and gunner.

In other free agency news, the Saints signed one of the “big three” priorities by coming to terms with left tackle Jermon Bushrod. The team also held on to starting outside linebacker Scott Shanle and reserve linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

Free agents back-up free safety Usama Young and occasional starting defensive tackle Remi Ayodele will not be returning to the Saints having signed contracts with the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings respectively.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bye, Reggie, Bye

I figured the Saints organization would have parted with the celebrithete after the Black and Gold’s Super Bowl victory due to his expensive contract, though the front office surprised this observer retaining him under the same terms.

With almost $12,000,000.000 due to Reggie Bush this season, the conventional wisdom was that the running back would either renegotiate his deal or be cut.

Head coach Sean Payton has been Bush’s biggest fan and steadfastly defended the former Heisman Trophy winner’s value to the Saints’ turbo-charged offense.

Granted Payton couldn’t cite the stat sheets as solid evidence on this count, since linebacker distraction is not a quantifiable statistic.

Bush’s greatest gift to the organization was his very presence.

His selection by the Saints with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft signaled a new way of doing business on Airline Drive, that the organization was not going to shirk from picking an expensive fan favorite.

Unlike the ridiculous Ricky Williams-Ditka deal, the Saints didn’t mortgage the future to acquire Bush; those rights were paid upfront by Jim Haslett’s club.

It wasn’t a head coach who stood anonymously in line at a drug store in post-Katrina New Orleans nor the newly signed still recuperating quarterback who could barely raise his Saints jersey at the press conference when the team signed him who sold out the Superdome on a season-ticket basis for the first time in the history of the franchise.

It was Bush who created an unprecedented level of excitement and energy.

It was after he was picked that I made the decision to become a season ticket holder again. If the club was going to step up by giving the fans what we wanted, then I felt it fair to reciprocate by reinvesting in an organization that was no longer going to be content with mediocre play.

I don’t know if any player could have lived up to the stratospheric expectations that were assigned to Bush with his own complicity.

I remember not long after the draft a typically objective observer gushed that the Saints had the best running game in the league just by having him in a Saints jersey and I’m sure there were those who were ready to give him his gold jacket before he his first NFL snap.

Reggie Bush did not earn his considerable pay by what he did on the field but how he packed the stands and created an electric atmosphere.

Oh, he also shut up that obnoxious Bears fan I had the misfortune of being seated near with his spectacular 88-yard reception run during the otherwise miserable NFC Championship game in Soldier Field.

Both sides are winners. The Saints got a load of badly needed salary cap relief, a talented special teams player and a fourth round draft pick, the last two being modest prizes but more than what the organization had ended up with had they just cut Bush.

And short of an unlikely Saints-Dolphins Super Bowl matchup, the Black and Gold defense won’t face him in a regular season game until 2013. That they denied a potential conference or worse yet divisional rival of his services is a victory of sorts.

For Reggie, Miami marks a new beginning where he will enjoy more sun no longer being in quarterback Drew Brees’s shadow. In addition to playing on grass, which is easier on running backs than man-made turf, he’ll fit better into the Dolphins culture, which attempts to fill the Hollywood hole left in a Los Angeles-less league.

Bush will also have a final chance to prove that he is a featured running back as oppose to an infrequently deployed gimmick player.

Hopefully Bush is cognizant of the love New Orleans had/has for him. How Saints fans stood by him during his not so productive games and the Heisman fiasco. New Orleanians know all about tough times and public embarrassment and there was probably no city that would have been more supportive of him during his public tribulations.

When the Saints picked him, we didn’t get the Hall of Famer most unreasonably hoped for; but we did pick up one of the key ingredients of a new Saints team.

Thanks Reggie, it’s been fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saints Retain Key Offense Component

The New Orleans Saints took a big step in their uphill battle to retain the core of the team’s high octane offense with the re-signing of wide receiver Lance Moore to a multiyear deal.

The news was announced by Moore via his Twitter account, in which the undersized yet reliable receiver tweeted “"Welp, its been real new orleans........But let's make the next five years even more real. I'm coming back baby!!! #whodat"

Moore was considered one of the three most important free agents for the team to hold on to in the abbreviated signing period, the other two being strong safety Roman Harper and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

Moore has been a consistent contributor as a wide receiver and is a favorite target of quarterback Drew Brees, who made no secret about his desire to see Moore’s services retained.

Moore has also handled punt return duty when running back Reggie Bush has been injured or “punished” for poor performance. Moore returned 11 during the 2010 season for 112 yards though he had yet to return one for a touchdown in his career.

The wide receiver’s best season with the Saints was in 2008 when he caught 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Though his time on the field was limited due to injuries in 2009, Moore made a key contribution in the Black and Gold’s quest for the Lombardi Trophy. Moore caught a two-point conversion during Super Bowl XLIV, which was initially called an incomplete pass but after being reviewed it was ruled a reception.

Moore largely returned to his 2008 form in 2010, catching 66 passes for 763 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are You Ready for Some Football?

With the clock running down on the off-season, NFL owners and the players they locked out came to terms on a new ten-year collective bargaining agreement.

The deal came at the relatively insignificant cost of the “fifth” preseason Hall of Fame game (sorry Canton, but your throwaway exhibition game will not be missed) though the long drawn out back and forth and legal maneuverings took a toll on the fans’ collective stomach linings and perhaps their enthusiasm for the multi-billion dollar sports enterprise.

Though the owners played hardball in their tactics, the agreement they adopted proved, at least upon the review of this non-lawyer/sports agent, to be a reasonably fair working arrangement.

The biggest losers being the sports agents who took delight in reaping the dividends of ludicrously loaded draftee contracts and the annoying gamesmanship that kept their rookie charges out of training camp.

While an argument can be made that the massive payouts are “almost” justified as collegiate stars view first round money as the reward for their largely uncompensated effort on the university gridiron, this Saints fan is still emotionally scarred from the 2003 Jonathan Sullivan fiasco.

The Saints invested millions of dollars and two first round draft picks for the sixth overall selection in the draft and received the pauper’s sum of 1.5 sacks out of the bargain.

The second overall pick in the 2006 draft hasn’t performed at the level of his considerable keep either but I imagine this story will be coming to a head sooner than later.

A major concession to the players was the once assured scrapping of two of the four preseason games. The NFL postured as looking out for the fans on this matter though nobody was ignorant of the increased financial windfall to the league by going to an 18-game season.

Attendance at preseason games lags greatly behind contests that count however expanding the season would increase the chances of players becoming hurt, wreck season statistical achievements and make it harder for undrafted rookies to crack into the 53 man roster.

Though the matter has not been definitively resolved, the switch from a 16 game season to a 18 game season has been shelved to at least 2013 and then can’t be implemented without the players’ consent. Hopefully the players will vote with their brains (and knees) and not their pocketbooks when the issue is revisited.

More than a few NFL owners are struggling with stadium debt and needed an uninterrupted 2011 season worse than their most notoriously spendthrift players. And maybe that’s why the deal was more equitable than I suspected it would be.

We’ve seen where owner-labor disputes can cause serious damage to professional sports entities.

The NBA is in the midst of its own lockout.

And this one-time confirmed baseball fanatic never fully recovered the love I had for Major League Baseball after the strike shortened season and the resulting obnoxious financial victory by the players.

During tough economic times, one thing America didn’t need is to be denied its favorite three hours of escapism because of a fight between billionaires and millionaires.

So a tip of my fleur-de-lis cap to both sides for getting a deal done with a relative minimal amount of disruption.