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.