Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Saints Kickoff Training Camp on Thursday

Are you ready for some football…practice?

The New Orleans Saints take the practice field at their Airline Drive headquarters on Thursday afternoon, offering die-hard Who Dats their first opportunity to see the 2012 team with their $100,000,000.00 star in the huddle.

The first training camp session will be at 4 PM on Thursday and is scheduled to last until 6:45 PM.  Admission is free to the outdoor sessions, as is parking at nearby Zephyrs Field.  However practices moved to the indoor facility due to inclement weather are not open to the public.

The Saints play their leadoff exhibition game in less than two weeks when the Black and Gold travel to Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, August 5th.

Below is the Saints’ public practice schedule, which is subject to change, through the Hall of Fame Game.

Thursday            July 26th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Friday                July 27th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Saturday            July 28th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Sunday              July 29th                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Monday            July 30th                  OFF

Tuesday            July 31st                  4 PM to 6:45 PM

Wednesday      August 1st                4 PM to 6:45 PM

Thursday          August 2nd               4 PM to 6:45 PM

Friday              August 3rd                4 PM to 6:45 PM

Saturday          August 4th                Travel Day

Sunday            August 5th                Hall of Fame Game (Arizona Cardinals) 7 PM


Sunday, July 15, 2012

And the Who Dat Nation Said Amen

There was never a chance that the New Orleans Saints would not come to terms with their star quarterback, right?

Sure, the San Diego Chargers let him walk after the 2005 season, but Drew Brees never meant to Land of Ron Burgundy that he means to Nola.

And the quarterback is heavily invested here. New Orleans is not only his and his young (and expanding) family’s home but also the locale of his sandwich shop franchise.

My concern throughout the contract process wasn’t Team Brees taking a big bite out of Tom Benson’s ample billfold but the salary cap opportunity cost of a stratospheric deal related to the team’s ability to land future free agents and the frazzled nerves of Saints fans who thought their hero might actually leave.

Brees wanted to avoid the prospect of a one-year franchise tag deal just as much as Saints general manager Mickey Loomis wanted to avoid being known as the football executive who executed the greatest free agent signing in NFL history and the guy who later lost him through a trade demand.

And it turns out the unjustly maligned Saints front office was not the unwilling suitor in the high-stakes contract dance, which made $19,000,000 plus offer.

Brees and his agent wanted more and with the deadline approaching, they got it.

Despite the class warfare and wealth envy that has become en vogue in the American political environment, Saints fans have good reason to be rejoicing over someone else’s good fortune.

In relation to what other NFL players have made, Brees clearly outplayed the contract he signed with the team in 2006. Hopefully Brees will be able to replicate in the next five years what he accomplished in the past six.

Brees has brought more joy to the people of New Orleans than any single person in the city’s history.

He’s earned every penny of his considerable paycheck.

And unlike some professional athletes, Brees is going to keep earning his new bigger paycheck. A second Super Bowl win would lock in the overachiever’s place in Canton on a first ballot.

Being the highest paid player in the league is the MVP award Brees has been denied.

Sports journalists are biased; the free market isn’t.

Though inking Brees to a multi-year deal was a no brainer and the possibility of an accommodation not being reached infinitesimal, failure to do so would have sent the franchise on a downward spiral with rock bottom not hitting for a few seasons to go.

It’s a scary yet unfortunately familiar place.

In a rare exception for Saints fans, this is a “what could have been” situation that was mercifully avoided.

The Saints have not only retained their superstar but the franchise core who possesses a gravitational pull for attracting and retaining talent.

So long as Brees is healthy and taking the snaps, expect the Black and Gold to remain a part of the Super Bowl conversation for the next five years.

The Saints didn't just sign a player; they extended their lease with greatness.

Congratulations on the contract and welcome back number nine.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Contract Clock Ticks Down on Brees, Saints

The anxiety of Saints fans has reached DEFCON 1 as the period to sign Drew Brees to a multiyear deal hits the two-minute warning this weekend and runs down on Monday afternoon.

While Brees won’t be immediately joining another team if a longterm contract isn’t reached on Monday, his future in New Orleans beyond the 2012 season could be in question and by extension the team’s ability to compete over the next five years.

It would likely signal the disintegration of a team that has largely stuck together over the past few years, bringing back unpleasant memories from two decades ago when the wheels began to come off another talented Saints roster.

The sun began to set on the Jim Mora era on January 3, 1993, which marked the last time a Saints team played in the post-season until Jim Haslett became head coach seven years later. 

The team core that had brought unprecedented success for the franchise began to melt away after the 1992 season.

The playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles marked the final appearances of quarterback Bobby Hebert and linebacker Pat Swilling in Saints uniforms, though the latter was traded. 

The season after Hebert and Swiling’s departure, linebacker Rickey Jackson won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers and Vaughan Johnson was with the Eagles. 

The last major exodus saw the remaining member of the famed Dome Patrol, linebacker Sam Mills, and the franchise all-time leading scorer Morten Andersen (kicker) playing for other teams in 1995. 

The foundation of what was then the most successful team in Saints’ history was replaced with a perpetual revolving door of underachieving scrubs coached by burnouts. 

Eleven years of on-field mediocrity did as much to jeopardize the New Orleans franchise’s viability as Hurricane Katrina’s thrashing of the Superdome. 

Brees has not just been a phenomenal player; he’s been the top recruiter for free agents willing to take less money to be a part of his team and the reason why so many other players have opted to stick around and not seriously test the free agent waters. 

The day Brees trades his fleur-de-lis helmet for another, Saints fans will once again witness an agonizing talent departure when their contracts expire. 

The collapse will not be sudden though the rebuilding will be protracted.  And painful.

Drew Brees is not just the franchise player; he’s the franchise core. 

The Black and Gold faithful have every reason to be anxious for a longterm deal to be worked out by the Monday deadline at 3 PM New Orleans time as there’s a lot more on the line than making a Super Bowl this season.

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's Time to End the Contract Insanity

Allow me to start this column out by making a statement that would best made behind a screen of chicken wire: Drew Brees is not the greatest quarterback of all time.

Willie Roaf was a better a tackle than Brees is a quarterback.

Rickey Jackson was a better linebacker than Brees is a quarterback.

And Morten Andersen was a better kicker than Brees is a quarterback.

Roaf will be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. Jackson was enshrined in 2010. And Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer who went to seven Pro Bowls, will likely have a bust in Canton if the committee remember kicking is indeed an important part of FOOTball.

If Brees’s playing career ended today, the Saints quarterback would likely get voted into the hall, though he wouldn’t be the slam-dunk Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will be when they’re eligible.

Brees would need to win a second Super Bowl to guarantee his spot in the hall.

That said, no player who has ever worn a gold helmet with a black fleur-de-lis has meant more to not just the franchise but also the city of New Orleans.

Brees is to Nola what John Elway is to Denver, Dan Marino is to Miami and George Brett is to Kansas City.

Number nine owns this town. He knows it. And perhaps more importantly his agent Tom Condon knows it.

And if someone else ends up taking snaps for the Saints offense in 2013, the 70,000+ waiting list for season tickets would shrink fast.

Even if Brees’s next few seasons don’t resemble the past few in the stat department, it is important to the franchise and the fans for him to have a contract that will allow him to end his playing career as a Saint.

So who is at fault for the way Brees’s signing has been so drawn out?

This blogger doesn’t have any scoop as to negotiations between the team and Brees/Condon, but a large part of the blame needs to be left on the doorstep of the Saints’ front office.

Why did owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis let negotiations drag out this far?

Did the Saints’ braintrust really believe Brees could be signed at a lower price while the franchise quarterback was tearing up opposing defenses and the NFL record book?

As much as I appreciate Benson’s post-Katrina commitment to building a quality team and Loomis’s moves to remake the Saints into a perennial Super Bowl contender, not coming to terms with Brees at an earlier and cheaper date boggles the mind.

That’s not to say Brees and Condon are faultless as negotiations have entered overtime.

Is Brees simply being greedy?

Are the quarterback and his agent stalling until a late June arbitration hearing is held about Brees’s’ future franchise tag status?

Or is Team Brees looking to play “negotiation chicken” up against the July 16th deadline for a multiyear deal?

Is Condon letting his drive to ink a record contract for his client and his own reputation delay an agreement that could jeopardize the chances of Brees ending his gridiron days in a Saints uniform?

Brees isn’t the only person whose tenure with the Saints is on the line.

If Brees ends up playing for another team in 2013, Loomis can start cleaning out his office on Airline Drive.

Loomis would go down in Black and Gold lore as the general manager who lost the team’s most important player and he would be lucky to land a gig as an executive in the Arena Football League.

One has to think Loomis has lost more sleep over Brees’s contract than his own suspension for his connection with the Saints bounty scandal.

Last season Brees demonstrated the kind of leadership that made Who Dats fall in love with him all over again when he organized voluntary workouts for his teammates at Tulane while the players and the league owners worked to reach a longterm deal.

This year, Saints fans are being treated to something else: a multimillionaire quarterback and his agent publicly hemming and hawing over contract details with a franchise that has a track record of letting their great players go elsewhere in the face of prolonged negotiations.

Both sides need to keep their egos in check and work out a reasonable contract that recognizes Brees’s value as an athlete and a pillar of the organization and the community without mortgaging the team’s future.

Every dollar paid to Brees is one less buck the team can use to sign an offensive lineman or defensive back.

To Brees’s credit, he has recently toned down his frustrations about the state of negotiations and has instead redirected his public grievances towards the league’s treatment of his coaches and teammates caught in the bounty scandal.

As great as Brees is, the protracted haggling isn’t not making the Saints a better team.

It’s time to get a deal done. Hopefully the upcoming arbitration ruling concerning another potential franchise tag will accelerate making a deal.

Andersen, Jackson, Roaf, Pat Swilling, Archie Manning and Sam Mills all ended their playing days wearing the uniform of another team.

For the sake of Saints fans everywhere, let’s hope Brees does not join that number.