As the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos prepare this coming week to play in the Golden Anniversary of the sport’s biggest showcase also known as Super Bowl 50, Saints officials are busy trying to figure out ways to get to Super Bowl LI next year in Houston on February 5, 2017.
Now six years removed from their last and only Super Bowl appearance ever in Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints have a plan in place to get back to the Big Game and quickly — and whether you think that they’re out of their minds or not for thinking that way, all depends on your point of view.
Now almost six years later in 2016, there is so much that is different about this Saints team that just completed the 2015 season, than the one that won the title in Miami.
Not necessarily all of the missing players from that amazing season (only 5 remain: Drew Brees, WR Marques Colston, RT Zach Strief, RG Jahri Evans, and punter Thomas Morestead), but the overall outlook of the Saints franchise at the moment.
Coming off that win in ’09, the Saints were confident and had a certain “swagger” about them, only to be undone in the next two seasons that followed by injuries in the 2010 Playoffs at Seattle (the infamous “Beast Quake” game where Marshawn Lynch ran over and through the entire Saints defense); and a heart-breaking finish in the final seconds at San Francisco in the 2011 Playoffs, in a season where many believe the Saints should have won their 2nd Super Bowl.
Jan 14, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after the game against the San Francisco 49ers at 3Com Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, 36-32. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmonson-US PRESSWIRE
Then of course came “Bountygate” in 2012 — and fairly or unfairly, this franchise has never quite “been themselves” ever since.
Yes, there was the 11-5 campaign and Playoff berth in 2013, but that merely was an apparition of the TRUE Saints team that we saw in 2014; one that improved perhaps just slightly in 2015.
That in and of itself is why there were more than just a few people laughing to themselves under their breaths a few weeks back, when Saints QB Drew Brees told the NFL Network that the Saints have a plan in place that includes getting BACK to the Big Game one last time before Brees calls it quits for good.
Brees said he and Payton will be back because “a plan was put in place” for the future in New Orleans.
“I think we (have) a plan was put in place throughout last offseason as to how we were going to build a foundation by which to make a run at it (a Super Bowl title) in the future. That includes some new faces, that includes some young players that, I think, will all have a chance to come together and kind of build a team that can make a run at it in the future.”
“Unfortunately, we had high expectations going into this year and we fell a bit short. But I’m confident with the character, the leadership, the talent we have.”
The plan — based on what everyone understood — was for the Saints to win NOW.
Obviously, it didn’t quite go as planned.
Sep 20, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton in the second half of their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won, 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints first traded both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills last offseason, ridding the locker room of some “bad apples”.
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Then, the additions of center Max Unger (via the Graham trade) and free agent RB C.J. Spiller along with the re-signing of RB Mark Ingram was supposed to improve the running game — but the Saints finished 22nd in rushing yards per game.
But nothing — and I mean nothing — betrayed the Saints’ best-laid plans as bad as their godawful defense, which finished ranked 31st for the second straight season, and second to last or dead last (in 2012) for the 3rd time in 4 years.
One would naturally assume that the Saints are bordering on pure insanity to think that the plan which was set into motion at this time last year, still has a snowball’s chance in Hell of working now in 2016.
But here’s where they might not be as crazy as you think.
The Saints DID by all accounts, have an outstanding Draft last year; and if they are able to even come anywhere remotely close to having the same success again in this upcoming 2016 NFL Draft, they will even further strengthen a young foundation of players who most likely will be the core players of the “new” era of Saints Football at least for the rest of this decade.
The key then becomes Free-Agency, and what they should or shouldn’t do beginning March 9th.
One could hardly blame the Saints or their devoted fans for being reluctant or “gun shy” about pursuing players in Free Agency again this year, given the abject and near outright failures of 2014 and 2015.
Those failures that have seen the Saints appear to essentially waste money on what were supposed to be “key additions” to their defensive secondary with safety Jairus Byrd and CB Brandon Browner; who our Editor Barry Hirstius notes may be the most hated Saints player since late 1970’s placekicker and punter Russell Erxleben (since I’m only 18, I’ll take his word for it).
Nov 8, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Brandon Browner (39) reacts with free safety Jairus Byrd (31) after a penalty during the second half of a game against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Titans defeated the Saints 34-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
But — as Barry also noted in his recent article on possible targets in Saints Free-Agency this coming March (to read Barry Hirstius’ article on Saints Free Agency, click HERE), if the Saints were to only spend wisely on a few players whom would be “good fits” such as players like San Diego Chargers TE Ladarius Green or Denver Broncos LB Danny Trevathan, who will be playing in his 2nd Super Bowl in the last 3 years next Sunday; then going back into the well of Free Agency for another drink of Free-Agent talent, may not be such a bad idea.
The point is that the Saints CAN get much better and quickly. They just have to get it “right” in 2016, where they fired and missed in 2015.
As Saints GM Mickey Loomis admitted in a end of season press conference two weeks ago:
“Are there mistakes? Absolutely, there are and we always own them. We’re not shying away from a decision that I’ve made or we’ve made that didn’t turn out. We also don’t trumpet the ones that do work out either.”
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The takeaway that one can gather from Loomis’ comment is that while the Saints honestly acknowledge that their moves haven’t always quite turned out the way that they planned, you shouldn’t expect that they’re suddenly just go to stop making them.
That would be giving up on their plan, not moving forward with it.
NFL.com Around the NFL writer Marc Sessler said this about the Saints and their offseason outlook, just the other day:
“It was a painful campaign for this loyal fan base, but at least the Saints didn’t ditch the duo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. After watching three old-as-the-wind quarterbacks reach their respective conference title games last week, New Orleans still has hope under center.”
Sessler is absolutely right. As long as the Saints have Brees under center, then they can still dream about winning another title before Brees retires.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) is pressured by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn (99) during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
But they’re quickly running out of time. Which makes these next few weeks and months of the off-season, as critical as any of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.
The Saints still do have a plan, and they’re still very serious about seeing it through. If they can be successful at the areas in 2016 which they fell short of in 2015, it can actually work.
Meaning that the Saints’ plan to get back to the Super Bowl, is not as crazy as you think……………