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*** OFFICIAL New Orleans Saints Thread *** (1 Viewer)


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Draft team needs: New Orleans Saints

By Pete Prisco | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Their coach is suspended for a season. The general manager? Eight games. And the quarterback isn't happy about not getting a new contract and having the franchise tag placed on him.

What happened to the feel-good story with the New Orleans Saints?

How quickly things can change.

The Saints, thanks to Bountygate, are a team in more flux than any in the NFL. Coach Sean Payton received a year suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday, which puts this team in a bad situation and uncertain about the coach in 2012.

There are some good candidates -- including offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo -- but Payton's offensive mind will be missed.

As long as Drew Brees is around, the Saints will be competitive. He has to get past his anger over his contract situation, which he will eventually do. This will be a lesson on how the quarterback, if a star, is more valuable than the coach.

Even so, Payton will be missed.

QB: Brees broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season in 2012, cementing his spot as one of the NFL's best. He is so good at figuring out what a defense is doing before the ball is snapped. His decision-making is as good as any in the NFL. He and Carmichael have a relationship that grew last season when Payton suffered a broken leg and didn't call plays. Chase Daniel is the backup. If he has to play for more than a game or two, the Saints would be in big trouble, even though the team likes him.

RB: The Saints runs the ball by committee. They have Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles. Ingram is expected to get more carries this season after being bothered by injuries as a rookie. Thomas and Ivory are good, solid backs who fit in the system. Sproles was the best free-agent signing in the NFL last year, a third-down back who is great in the Saints' screen game. Fullback Jed Collins was an impressive lead blocker as a rookie in 2012.

WR: The Saints did the smart thing and kept free agent Marques Colston. He is a big target for Brees in the middle of the field. He has great hands. Lance Moore is a nice second receiver who has great quickness. The third receiver is Devery Henderson, a deep threat with speed. They did lose Robert Meachem to the Chargers in free agency, so Adrian Arrington or Joe Morgan, a 2011 camp sensation, will have to step in and play.

TE: Jimmy Graham emerged as one of the game's best tight ends in 2011. He is a big target who creates real matchup problems for a defense. He can get deep down the field and knows how to settle in zones. He isn't a great blocker, but he has worked to improve at it. David Thomas and Mike Higgins are the backups. The Saints use an extra tackle as a tight end in short-yardage situations.

OL: This unit suffered a big loss when its best player, guard Carl Nicks, left to sign with Tampa Bay. The Saints replaced him with Baltimore's Ben Grubbs, who isn't far behind in terms of talent. He will join Jahri Evans, the team's right guard, who is also one of the best at his position. Center Brian De La Puente was a first-time starter in 2011 and had some tough moments, but he's scrappy. Jermon Bushrod is solid at left tackle, although he had some bad moments last season. The right tackle will be Charles Brown or Zach Strief, who both started some last season. There isn't a lot of depth behind the starters and this is an area that could be upgraded.

DL: The Saints didn't get a lot in terms of pass rush from their front four last year. Will Smith, who was often miscast as a 3-4 end, is expected to be the top pass rusher. But he's getting up in years. Second-year player Cameron Jordan is expected to be the other end. He didn't do a lot as a rookie. Junior Galette is the best end off the bench. The Saints signed Brodrick Bunkley away from Denver to start at tackle next to Sedric Ellis. Bunkley is coming off the best season of his career. Ellis has been just OK since he was taken as a high first-round pick three years ago. Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers were disappointments last season and both are free agents. The Saints need depth inside and more speed outside.

LB: The Saints lack speed at the linebacker position, which shows up on a regular basis. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma isn't as good as his reputation, and New Orleans on Saturday signed former Falcons LB Curtis Lofton to a five-year contract. The former Falcons LB, who's four years younger than Vilma, doesn't bring the kind of speed the Saints need, but he will either challenge Vilma or push him off the roster. Outside linebackers Scott Shanle and Will Herring are nothing more than average players. Expect to see second-year player Martez Wilson in the starting lineup this year, and Chris Chamberlain, who was signed Friday, will compete with Shanle. He does have speed. Jonathan Casillas is a top reserve if he comes back. The Saints could use help here, especially in terms of speed.

DB: The top corner is Jabari Greer, but the Saints lost Tracy Porter to free agency. That should put Patrick Robinson, who played a lot last season in the nickel packages, as the starter. Robinson has good speed and improved a lot as a second-year player. There isn't a lot of experience behind those two, but the Saints have high hopes for Johnny Patrick as a nickel corner. The safeties both return with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins. Harper is good near the line of scrimmage, but struggles in coverage. Jenkins has good range. Jonathon Amaya was added for depth.
NFC South draft needs

New Orleans Saints excerpt:

Overview: New Orleans was already without a first-round pick this year — that pick was traded to the Patriots for the Saints to be in position to draft Mark Ingram in 2011 — and they lost a second-round pick this year as part of their “bounty” punishment. It leaves the Saints with only six picks — a third-rounder, a fourth-rounder, a fifth-rounder, two sixth-rounders and one seventh-rounder. Their first choice isn't until No. 89 overall. Barring an appeal from Sean Payton that goes on longer than expected, his one-year suspension will keep him from being involved during the draft, and that will leave the Saints without their most authoritative voice in the war room. GM Mickey Loomis’ suspension does not begin until the start of the regular season, so he will take part in draft weekend. It’s not clear how much say an interim head coach might have during the draft, but it appears likely that the commissioner will have announced player sanctions for the “bounty” case by draft weekend so the team can prepare accordingly.

Need No. 1: Defensive end/defensive tackle

One of the top tasks for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — who could get another shot to be a head coach much sooner than anyone expected if the Saints decide to hire Payton’s one-year replacement from within — is improving the pass rush from the front four. DE Cameron Jordan, a first-round pick in 2011, had one sack last season and the Saints should be looking for help off the edge and on the interior to generate more pressure. The Saints signed DT Brodrick Bunkley, who is likely to start at nose tackle, but he has only six sacks in his six seasons, and DT Sedrick Ellis produced only half of a sack last season after collecting six sacks in ’10.

Need No. 2: Cornerback/safety

The Saints let CB Tracy Porter walk in free agency. Patrick Robinson, a 2010 first-round pick, is likely to replace him, and while the starters in the defensive backfield are pretty well set, they need to add depth at corner and safety. These are not areas they have addressed in free agency to this point and an injury to a starter or two would be very significant at both positions given the lack of depth.

Need No. 3: Wide receiver

QB Drew Brees still has a deep collection of dangerous targets, even with the departure of WR Robert Meachem in free agency. Adrian Arrington could get a shot to replace him, but part of the reason the Saints have had such success over the past few years is because they have continued adding talented targets for Brees even when it seemed like other needs were more pressing. They should continue to make that a priority and look for a deep threat at receiver.
We need a pass rusher, Drew to get a new contract, Parcells to come on for a year to just deal with the nuts and bolts, and then we'll have a Super Bowl team.

NFL upholds suspensions for Saints Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt

By Will Brinson | Senior NFL Blogger

The NFL upheld the bounty-related suspensions -- "after careful consideration" -- for the Saints Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt, the league announced on Monday.

Payton's suspension will begin on April 16, the league announced, while the suspensions for Loomis (eight games) and Vitt (six games) will begin immediately following the conclusion of the NFL's preseason.

"The club and the individuals will be expected to cooperate in any further proceedings and to assist in the development and implementation of programs to instruct players and coaches at all levels on principles of player safety, fair play, and sportsmanship," the league said in a statement.

Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he would "consider mitigating the financial penalties" on the various individuals involved "if they embrace the opportunity" to assist in those programs.

Additionally, the league said it would consider "modifying the forfeiture" of the 2013 second-round pick that the Saints were initially docked by the league.

It's worth noting that the suspensions for Payton, Loomis and Vitt do not automatically just "end" -- Commissioner Goodell "will review the status" for all three and "determine their eligibility for reinstatement."

That the Saints lost their appeal isn't particularly surprising. After all, they appealed to Roger Goodell, who actually decided on the original punishment himself. It was always unlikely that Goodell would randomly change his mind in such a short amount of time.

It became even more unlikely that Goodell would change his mind when audio of Gregg Williams' pre-game speech against the 49ers during the 2011 playoffs emerged on the same day that the Saints appealed.

That audio caused a big stir, as it featured Williams telling members of his defense to specifically target certain injuries on specific San Francisco players. It also caused a stir because the filmmaker who released the audio, Sean Pamphilon, did so much to the surprise of the Saints and former Saints player Steve Gleason. (Pamphilon claims he has the right to release the audio, however.)

There was a belief that the Saints would use the "rogue coach" excuse to explain why Williams continued to employ a bounty program during the organization. However, it never seemed likely that Goodell would bite on that.

Clearly, he didn't.
Peter King MMQB Excerpt:

Goodell talked with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during the week, apparently for quite a lengthy conversation. Whether they'll be on the same page with any player suspension, I doubt. I can't predict how many players will get suspended, but it seems logical to think middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will get the lengthiest one and perhaps three or more defensive leaders will get lesser bans. But that's based on common sense and nothing else. I do know this: Goodell hates bad news occupying front sports pages, particularly when it robs coverage from an event the league loves -- the draft -- and so I believe Goodell will rule on the suspension appeals today or Tuesday at the latest, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't rule on the players this week.
Bill Parcells "definitely not coming" to the Saints, per Adam Schefter.

Guess the Saints will keep it in house.

Why isn't Bill Parcells coaching the Saints? Ask Mickey Loomis

By Michael Lombardi NFL Network

Front Office View

Bill Parcells won't be coaching the New Orleans Saints on an interim basis. This is a loss for the Saints and the many fans of one of the game's finest coaches. Having Parcells back for one more encore season would have been a beautiful thing to watch. To see him roaming the sideline, providing those great sound bites and talking about games would have benefitted all football fans. I am sure the television networks are disappointed -- this would have been a great story to monitor all season.

It started as a fantastic idea by suspended coach Sean Payton. In fact, it was such a good idea that many non-Saints fans were complaining about what an unfair advantage it would be for Parcells to take the reins. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition.

Now assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt will assume the interim gig through the preseason, serve a six-game suspension from the bounty scandal and then retake control in Week 7. Yes, that's right -- the Saints promoted one coach facing suspension to replace another on the verge of suspension. This only makes sense if you know the inner workings of the NFL.

There is an old theory developed by former New York Giants GM George Young that applies to the situation in New Orleans. It's called "Guard your desk." The premise of Young's philosophy is that most NFL people don't ever want to bring in a talented outsider in fear they might lose their own desk. Competition is only good on the field in the NFL, not in front offices or coaching staffs. However, this is not common in every professional sport. In Major League baseball, former general managers always seem to catch on with new teams at lower-level positions. Apparently, there's no "guard your desk" mentality in the MLB. But it runs rampant in the NFL, and it's the reason Parcells is not coaching the Saints.

Parcells carries a huge persona, which can be intimidating if you have never worked for him or don't understand his language of football. It takes courage and conviction to stand up to him on all matters football. He can melt the weak and fortify the strong. And his presence would've created an uncomfortable situation for Saints GM Mickey Loomis, who would have been forced to take on a different role in his relationship with the head coach.

Like Parcells, Loomis is not used to working for anyone but the owner. Loomis holds a degree in accounting and always served on the contract side of things before becoming a GM. So his general background is more finance than football. But as often happens in the NFL, the money men run the teams. Loomis and Parcells come from different backgrounds and hold different philosophies, which would have made this a difficult arrangement for just one season.

Bringing Parcells aboard was a wonderful idea in the beginning because Payton wanted it. But from Loomis' perspective, it would have created problems. How would roles be defined? Parcells' presence would have threatened Loomis' significant power base on all matters football. Loomis is facing an eight-game suspension at the beginning of the season as part of the Saints' bounty punishment. Let's say Loomis returns in Week 9 to find Parcells unhappy with a player the Saints drafted. Do you think that Loomis is going to pull Parcells aside after practice and tell him to just coach the team?

When this Parcells option presented itself, Loomis had two choices:

1) Embrace this as an opportunity to improve his craft by learning a new way of handling his job, knowing that he'd have a talented manager on the sideline and in the front office during his suspension.

2) Resist change as a result of feeling threatened and not wanting an outsider to come in.

Clearly, Loomis chose the latter, which is not uncommon in this league.

Loomis decided it would be best to keep everything in the family, despite the many obstacles created by Vitt's and his own looming suspensions. Payton knew the best thing for his football team would have been adding Parcells, but in order to keep everyone happy, he went along with "The Loomis Plan." Sometimes in the NFL, peace replaces winning.

I am not sure how this is all going to work. There are so many moving pieces, so many areas of uncertainty. It's hard to believe the Saints can continue their recent success. And until they sign Drew Brees, nothing else matters. Without Payton and Brees, the Saints suddenly become the fourth-best team in the NFC South.
Brees applauds selection of Vitt as Saints' interim coach

CBSSports.com wire reports

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees, the unquestioned leader in the New Orleans Saints locker room, calls Joe Vitt "the obvious choice" to take over as interim head coach while Sean Payton spends the entire 2012 season serving a suspension for his role in the club's bounty system.

Vitt was suspended six games in the scandal that remains under investigation by the NFL, and the Saints have not yet announced how his responsibilities will be divvied up during his absence for the first third of the regular season, but Brees hardly seems bothered by that.

"Joe Vitt is one of the most respected coaches I have ever been around," Brees said in an email to the Associated Press on Friday. "His ability to lead this team in an uncertain time throughout this off season and for whatever term we have him during the regular season is undeniable in our locker room."

Vitt, 57, has worked in the NFL since 1979 and joined the Saints as part of Payton's very first staff in 2006. During the 2009-10 Super Bowl championship season, Brees spoke glowingly of Vitt's leadership abilities, recalling a speech Vitt told in which he said players and coaches who win championships together walk together forever in history, regardless of where their individual careers may take them.

"He is the obvious choice and the best choice," Brees said. "I believe I speak for our entire team when I say we believe in him as much as he believes in us."

The Saints had consulted retired coach Bill Parcells, Payton's mentor from their days together in Dallas, while trying to figure out how to move on in Payton's absence. The club eventually decided to make the appointment from in-house, with general manager Mickey Loomis emphasizing the needs for maintaining as much continuity as possible for a team seeking its fourth straight playoff appearance.

Vitt will be able to oversee the offseason training program and training camp before stepping aside for the first six weeks of the regular season.

The decision gives Saints players a measure of certainty and direction as the Monday opening of the offseason training program approaches.

Still looming, however, are possible punishments for between 22 and 27 current and former Saints defenders that the NFL says participated in the crunch-for-cash bounty system that disgraced former Saints defensive coordinator has apologized for running for the previous three seasons. An NFL report has said the system paid off-the-books bonuses for hits on targeted players that knocked them from games or left them needing help off the field.

Meanwhile, Brees still has not committed to showing up for workouts on Monday as he and the Saints continue to press for a long-term contract extension.

The Saints have placed the exclusive-rights franchise tag on Brees, locking him in for at least one more season. Brees, however, has said he does not want to play under the franchise tag, which amounts to a one-year deal with no long-term security in the case of an injury.
Tom Benson: Deal with Drew Brees 'close,' thinks it 'will be done shortly'

By Will Brinson | Senior NFL Blogger

On Friday, the NBA announced that Saints owner Tom Benson purchased the New Orleans Hornets. It's a glorious day for basketball in the Big Easy. If you want to talk about the NBA, go hang out with our Eye on Basketball brethren. We want to talk football.

Like, for instance, why is Benson buying a basketball franchise (cost: $338 million) instead of ponying up for a new contract for franchise quarterback Drew Brees. Well, according to Benson, he spoke with Brees Friday morning and the sides are "close."

"We're close," Benson said. "I think that will be done shortly."

This is quite surprising news. Heretofore, all rumors and speculation about Brees contract indicated that he and the Saints were pretty far away from reaching the parameters of a deal.

Such a deal was expected to potentially become somewhat contentious; the Saints desperately need Brees on the field and on time, as he'll serve as a de facto coach in an organization that needs some structure right now.

Perhaps things are changing quickly and Brees deal was held up with the Saints management handling the purchase of the Hornets. It would be a surprise, however, if the deal was done as shortly as Benson seemed to imply.
Mickey Loomis not concerned by Saints' dearth of draft picks

Despite having just five picks in the 2012 NFL Draft and no selections until the end of the third round, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said he was confident his team would be able to bring in a talented class of rookies.

The Saints gave up this year's first-round pick to move up to select running back Mark Ingram in 2011. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stripped them of their second-round pick this year for organizational involvement in a "bounty" program, in which players were rewarded with cash for injuring opponents.

Loomis said the Saints would not look to trade into the first two rounds, but the team might consider trading down to acquire more picks.

"We've traded picks away before," Loomis told The Times-Picayune. "I don't recall off the top of my head a year where we didn't have a first- or second-round pick, but look, that has happened before to teams. And we still have five picks -- third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh. So that's five players we can bring in here to help contribute to our team. So we've got to do a great job with those five picks and sign some college free agents after the draft that can help us.

"And look, I think we get more focused, not less, when you're short at the top of the draft. Because we have to do a good job, and we will do a good job with those mid-round and late-round picks because we have done that in the past."

Loomis refused to discuss quarterback Drew Brees' ongoing negotiations for a long-term deal, saying only that the Saints were "up against" the salary cap. Brees reportedly will not show up to the start of the Saints' offseason workout program Monday without a contract.

"Yeah, again, I'm not going to comment on any of that -- about the progress or how I feel about it or how he feels about it," Loomis said. "That's up to him to make those comments."

Loomis' eight-game suspension for his part in the "bounty" program begins Monday, but he did not want to delve into the Saints' penalties, which include a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.

"We're focused and thinking only about the things we can control," he said. "That's not something we can. They've made their decision, and we've got to live with it and move on. That's the best thing we can do."
Pash: Saints players have 'share of responsibility'

By Gregg Rosenthal NFL.com

Around The League editor

Discipline for the Saints players connected to their bounty program is coming "soon" according to NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash. It just won't come before the weekend.

"Players were clearly participants and clearly have a share of the responsibility," Pash said to a group of reporters at the league offices on Friday regarding the Saints.

The league's two-year investigation into the Saints bounty programs implicated as many as 27 players. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is bracing for a lengthy suspension. Pash confirmed all 27 players are subject to discipline, unless they are no longer in the NFL. The league believes the scope of the bounty program in New Orleans was unique.

"We do not have evidence of the same character and quality as we had in New Orleans to suggest there was a program where there were specific financial incentives to injure players," Pash said.

It's unclear why there has been a delay in punishing the players. Pash expressed some frustration that the NFLPA has not shared any materials from the union's own investigation into bounty programs. He also wondered aloud about the union's priorities in Monday's meeting with the league.

"The focus was on defending or excusing the conduct of the players who were involved in this program," Pash said. "I think that's unfortunate. The players who could have been injured or maybe were injured are also (NFLPA) members. And they are entitled to protection. Their interests, I think, are entitled to greater consideration and greater protection than the interests of players who may have participated in these programs."

It is not unprecedented for the league to announce punishment just before the NFL Draft; that happened when Ben Roethlisberger was suspended in 2010. It would not be a surprise if the league disciplined the Saints players next week.

Pash's words on Friday made it clear it is only a matter of time.
Saints reportedly restructure LB Vilma's contract

By Marc Sessler NFL.com


As Jonathan Vilma braces for a multigame suspension from the NFL, the New Orleans Saints are preparing to go without the Pro Bowl linebacker for at least part of the 2012 season.

Vilma has restructured his contract with the team, a league source told Larry Holder of CBSSports.com on Friday. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

The move comes as little surprise.

The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker anticipates a league suspension from two to eight games for his role in the team's "bounty" case. Player punishments are coming "soon," according to NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash on Friday, and Vilma's suspension is expected to lead the way.

The Saints have been stocking the shelves at linebacker, signing David Hawthorne earlier this month and Curtis Lofton in March. Lofton started 63 of 64 games mostly at middle linebacker -- Vilma's position -- for the Falcons over the past four seasons.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has talked about Vilma's "ability to play all three linebacker positions," but the team is preparing for a worse-case scenario when punishments drop, likely next week.
A few more black eyes for the organization:

State, feds investigating allegations against Mickey Loomis

By Steve Wyche NFL.com

Reporter, NFL.com and NFL Network

State and federal law officials have opened an investigation to determine if New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis violated wiretapping laws after allegations that a rigged device in his stadium suite allowed him to listen to opposing coaches' conversations.

"The FBI invited us to come into their investigation," Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said Tuesday. "We assigned a trooper that works with the FBI to follow their investigation. These are allegations at this point. We deal with facts. We'll look at everything to determine if there is anything to follow and see if state laws are violated on our end. The FBI is investigating federal laws.

"With all allegations, we'll see if state laws were violated, and if so, we'll visit with the district attorney to see where we proceed."

The FBI declined to say if it was investigating the allegations, which Loomis has vigorously denied. Local FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne would only say the bureau is "in receipt of the allegations" and would "have no further comment." She also declined to say who made the allegations.

ESPN's "Outside The Lines" reported Monday that an unidentified source claimed Loomis ordered a device in his Superdome suite be re-wired so he could listen to opponents' conversations through his own earpiece from 2002 to 2004. The report said it is unknown if Loomis ever used the device, which was located in front of his seat.

The Superdome was re-wired and remodeled, following the damage it sustained after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other upgrades made to the city's landmark domed stadium, so that could make finding evidence of these allegations difficult.

Loomis could have violated state and federal wiretapping laws if he did listen to opponents without their knowledge, but the statute of limitations to prosecute him if he's found to have used the device could have expired, based on the timeframe of the allegations. The federal statute of limitations is five years in such cases, and it's six years according to Louisiana state law.

Even so, Loomis could face sanctions from the NFL if law enforcement or its own investigation finds wrongdoing. The league said the ESPN report was the first notice it had of the wiretapping allegations but declined to say if it's opening its own investigation.

"We heard the reports just as you did yesterday, and it's something that U.S. attorney's office will make a determination on and we'll make a judgment from there," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday on "The Rich Eisen Podcast." "We changed our technology a few years ago to where this would be impossible or near impossible to do in this day and age."

Loomis, the Saints and other former team officials adamantly denied the claims. A team source said he wasn't aware if law enforcement had interviewed Loomis about this recent accusation.

"This report on ESPN is absolutely false," Loomis said in a statement e-mailed by the team. "I have a monitor in front of me in my booth that provides the league issued stats for the game. I have a small TV with the network broadcast and I have an earpiece to listen to the WWL-AM radio (flagship broadcaster) game broadcast. To think I am sitting in there listening ... and or doing something with the offensive and defensive play calls of the opposing teams makes this story and the unnamed sources that provided the false information that much more less credible ... it just didn't happen."

Edmonson said he hasn't put a timeframe on the investigation, but "we owe it to the people involved to do an expeditious investigation but do a thorough investigation and fair investigation that maintains the highest level of integrity and professionalism."

The allegations against Loomis come during an ugly offseason for the Saints, who are embroiled in a "bounty" scandal that resulted in coach Sean Payton being suspended for the season, Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six. The team also was fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks this year and in 2013 for a bounty program that financially rewarded defensive players for hits that injured opponents.
Report: Saints owner Tom Benson questioning his apparent heir

By Josh Katzowitz | NFL Blogger

The Saints organization is in turmoil (in fact, I used almost this exact same lede on Saturday) with coach Sean Payton suspended for 2012, general manager Mickey Loomis suspended for half the season, interim coach Joe Vitt suspended for six games, quarterback Drew Brees not willing to sign his franchise tag and a host of players that could (and probably will) be suspended.

Now comes word that the toxicity reaches into the owner's box, as the New Orleans Times Picayune's Jeff Duncan reports that Rita Benson LeBlanc, Saints executive vice president and heir to the team, is MIA. According to Duncan's sources, LeBlanc has been put on “some form of unofficial paid administrative leave, imposed by [grandfather and Saints owner Tom] Benson."

Considering LeBlanc is seen as the successor to the Saints franchise, this obviously raises plenty of questions. No. 1 being, what the hell is going on with New Orleans' top decision makers?

Apparently, the 35-year-old LeBlanc has raised question marks in her 85-year-old grandfather's mind with a pattern of behavior he deems unacceptable. For Benson, it's been a “pattern of behavior that needed to be corrected.”

More from the paper:

Colleagues and co-workers are quick to compliment LeBlanc for her intelligence, creativity, energy and good taste. However, they're also just as quick to note her lack of focus and abrasive management style, citing the estimated 30 assistants she's gone through in her six-year tenure. She's developed a reputation for stalling projects internally, at Benson Tower and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Her penchant for drivers and world travel has irked colleagues and caused some to question her commitment to the job.

Some close to Benson say LeBlanc's sense of entitlement has been a source of conflict with her grandfather, a self-made billionaire from the hardscrabble 7th Ward who shuns the spotlight and still routinely clocks six-day workweeks.

"She's smart and has talent -- but she's just all over the map," said one source, who has worked with LeBlanc. "I think she really enjoys the glitz and glamour of being the owner, but she doesn't really roll up her sleeves and get into the business side of it."

You really should read the rest of Duncan's article, if only to wonder if LeBlanc can repair her reputation and get set to take over the Saints and the newly-bought NBA Hornets if and when her grandfather retires. But considering LeBlanc wasn't involved much with Benson's recent takeover of the NBA franchise, you have to wonder how long her road to forgiveness might be.As Duncan writes, “it's fair to suggest the succession plan is on hold.”
I am hard pressed to think of an NFL team that has had a worse off-season then the Saints. Hopefully they can start the process of placing the bad news in the rear view mirror once the player suspensions have been announced, and once all of the suspensions have been served.

DE Akiem Hicks

Draft Analysis:

Mayock's take: "He couldn't play at LSU, went back to Canada, and he dominates at every level. He's huge and is stout at the point."


Hicks is an interesting late-riser prospect coming into the draft following a career playing college football in Canada, at the little-known University of Regina in Saskatchewan. He started at LSU, but circumstances surrounding his recruitment led him north of the border. He has the size to play on the front lines and could have late-round value for a team willing to develop him.



Hicks has a promising frame, not only to play at defensive tackle but also outside at end in a 3-4 scheme. He is athletic and shows a strong burst and agility off the snap to get into opposing offensive linemen. He has decent strength to defeat blockers, but he prefers to make an athletic move and quickly get into the backfield. He is athletic in open space, and this is where his value is most evident. He has NFL-caliber size, agility and burst off the ball.


Hicks has been a slow developer who has played two full seasons of junior college ball (Sacramento City College) and then two seasons in Canada. It remains to be seen how readily adaptable his skills are to the pros given that level of competition. While teams might want him as an end based off his size, Hicks can get overwhelmed at the point of attack against double teams, and he doesn't have many moves in his arsenal to counter. He is a decent run defender, but plays too upright at times; technique is the main hitch in every aspect of his game.
Saints' Jonathan Vilma suspended for 2012 season

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the 2012 season, as the NFL handed down its player discipline Wednesday for the Saints' pay-for-performance "bounty" scandal.

Three other players -- Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith -- in addition to Vilma were notified that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their leadership roles in the "bounty" program that endangered player safety over three seasons from 2009-2011.

“It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.”

The discipline breaks down, per a league release, as follows:

• Linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions.

• Linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games.

• Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games.

• Will Smith of the Saints is suspended without pay for the first four games.

Saints' receiver Lance Moore tweeted: "I wish I could say what I want to say right now, but I know that all eyes are on us right now. I'll just say it sucks, but we'll be fine!

The players are expected to appeal, and will have three days to appeal the punishments.

“In assessing player discipline,” Goodell said, “I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”

“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Goodell added. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”

On April 16, sources close to the linebacker told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that Vilma was bracing himself for a suspension ranging anywhere from two to eight games.

Vilma was the only Saints player involved in the "bounty" scandal to see his name released to the public after the details emerged of a program in which then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams orchestrated a pay-for-performance system from 2009 through 2011 that rewarded players for cart off and knock-out hits.

Williams already has been suspended indefinitely by the league, while Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 season and general manager will miss the first eight games of the season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, suspended six games for his role in the scandal, will serve as the team's interim head coach in Payton's absence.

According to a Sports Illustrated report from March, Vilma allegedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock out then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game. During that game Favre endured a number of gruesome hits, and he suffered a nasty ankle injury late in the game.

The Saints spent a portion of their offseason bolstering their linebacking corps, possibly in preparation for Vilma's punishment. The Saints signed middle linebacker Curtis Lofton away from the Atlanta Falcons in March, and later added former St. Louis Ram Chris Chamberlain.
Drew Brees chides boastful Saints rookie White

By Marc Sessler NFL.com


It hasn't been an easy offseason for Drew Brees, but the New Orleans Saints quarterback isn't about to back down from a challenge, even when it comes from a teammate.

When cornerback Corey White, the Saints' little-known fifth-round pick, was asked about joining the team, he didn't exactly gush with reverence over the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback:

"It's going to be fun picking off some balls from Drew Brees," White told The Times-Picayune. "It is going to be real fun."

Brees lobbed one back at White on Friday:


To my guy Corey White. Love your confidence, but I will throw 10 over your head for every 1 time you get me. Make sure you're workin!

White arrives in New Orleans by way of Samford University and will take part in this weekend's rookie minicamp with the Saints. As Gregg Rosenthal pointed out, this year's draft haul didn't exactly change the landscape of the roster, but Saints coaches love White's 6-foot, 205-pound frame and view him as an athletic, gritty corner with the ability to play press coverage at the line."I am real confident in my game," White said. "You have to be confident to play this game."

We suddenly have a camp showdown to look forward to in New Orleans.
Vilma lawyer: Two 'bounty' hearings set for May 16, 30

By Marc Sessler NFL.com


Peter Ginsberg, the lawyer for Jonathan Vilma, says he still has yet to receive a single piece of evidence from Commissioner Roger Goodell that proves the New Orleans Saints linebacker participated in the team's "bounty" program.

Appearing on PFT Live on Friday, Ginsberg revealed that two "bounty"-related grievances filed this month are set to be heard on May 16 and May 30:

• The grievance set to be heard May 16 centers on the argument that the new collective bargaining agreement forbids the NFL from penalizing players for conduct prior to August 4, 2011. The grievance also argues Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, who are employed by the NFL Players Association and the league, should hear appeals stemming from incidents of on-field discipline -- not Commissioner Roger Goodell.

• The hearing on May 30 addresses punishments around additional "bounty" money distributed to players in violation of the salary cap. The argument here is that NFL special master Stephen Burbank should rule on these issues and not, again, the commissioner.

Vilma, suspended by the NFL for the 2012 season, plans to appeal his punishment. The remaining trio of suspended players -- Anthony Hargrove (currently with the Green Bay Packers), Will Smith (still with the Saints) and Scott Fujita (currently with the Cleveland Browns) -- have reserved the right to file an appeal.

Mary Jo White, a former U.S. Attorney hired by the league to review the bounty investigation, told NFL.com's Steve Wyche the league was "solid" in terms of evidence, saying she had secured criminal convictions with less.

Ginsberg, however, has not gone silent in his request to see evidence from the NFL. As we delve deeper into the case, this is the drum he continues to beat.
Roger Goodell says public will see proof of bounties

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated Tuesday at the Spring League Meeting that the NFL plans to release proof to the public that bounties were paid by New Orleans Saints players.

"Yes, I do," Goodell said when he was asked if he expected the proof to be revealed. Eventually.

Goodell pointed out that the league released facts in March and is going through the appeals process with the NFL Players Association. He indicated that the league won't release any more information publicly until the appeals and grievance processes are finished. Goodell also said that the NFLPA "expressly told the players not to cooperate in the bounty investigation.

"I invited them in and they decided not to do that," Goodell said.

The appeals and grievance process will take more time. In the meantime, Goodell knows he will continue to be a target for criticism from players.

"You don't worry about a popularity contest. You can't. You can't make everyone happy on this," Goodell said.
Yaknow, there are great things on the horizon:

- A Brees return.

- Al Nick Toon drafted.

- Hakeem Nicks Akiem Hicks drafted (supposedly everything Brockers is minus an LSU/SEC competition pedigree).

- Moore, Arrington, Morgan, Toon battling it out to replace Meachem in the gameplan.

- Graham!

- Sproles!

- A new defensive coordinator - Williams, all the other junk aside, had well worn out his welcome with bad playcalling in key situations - and instead Spags, who has rebuilt the LB corps and may finally be educating the front line on techniques other than 'kill the head' to the point that the sack totals go up.

- Carmichael bringing his own twist on the Payton offense back.

- 8-2 at home in 2009 (after a 6-0 start); 7-1 at home in 2011 (by virtue of a single wtf missed FG from point blank range by Hartley); 9-0 at home 2012.

- AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: a shot at the NFL's first HOME SUPER BOWL. All of this other business aside the Saints have won 40 games the last three seasons, two division crowns and basically 2 plays away from three straight 13 wins, three straight division crowns and at least one if not two legit shots to have won it all again. They have been THAT good and THIS YEAR should have been THE BEST. It may still be... if Brees is brought back into the fold soon.

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Joe Vitt, New Orleans Saints ready to focus on football

By Marc Sessler


With the first snap of the ball at organized team activities, the New Orleans Saints were finally able to exhale: Football again.

It's been a dark offseason for an organization that, just months ago, was a formidable playoff entry, a team hailed for its artistry on offense under coach Sean Payton. He's now a man in exile, serving a season-long suspension for his role in the team's "bounty" fiasco. Joe Vitt will take over as interim coach (after serving his own six-game suspension), and spoke Wednesday about the team's progress on the field during voluntary practices.

"Listen, I couldn't be more proud of the guys," Vitt told The Times-Picayune. "We've had a great tempo, we've been in and out of the huddle, we're up and down. We're running hard defensively. We're introducing a new system, but our guys have really responded.

"So, so far, great," Vitt said.

The questions linger: Will this team sail off the tracks, or not skip a beat? Drew Brees and the front office are struggling over his contract; key players will miss games; and the sheen is off a team once seen as the NFL's good guys.

Vitt and the Saints want nothing more than to replace the chatter and long essays about this troubling offseason with the task at hand: Filling in the gaps and going to war with a newfound us-against-the-universe persona. Whether you see the Saints as sympathetic or villainous, they're as interesting as ever heading in to the season.
No Payton, no Brees? Hard to say it's no sweat for Saints these days

By Larry Holder | CBSSports.com

METAIRIE, La. -- It was the third day of the Saints organized team activities on Thursday.

Sean Payton wasn't here.

Neither was Drew Brees.

Instead, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael conversed with now first-team quarterback Chase Daniel with a play-call sheet and runs through the next offensive formation to run on the outdoor practice fields at the Saints facility in suburban New Orleans.

Not Payton. Not Brees.

Meanwhile, Payton's most newsworthy item occurred way earlier in the day. He attended a local prayer breakfast on Thursday morning for former wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who's now Tulane's head coach. Payton spoke to those in attendance saying, "Initially, I made a note here. I'm supposed to say, 'Curtis, we miss you.' "

There was a pause and a bellowing laugh from Johnson and the crowd.

"I mean I miss him, but I'm supposed to be telling him I miss him on Airline Drive [the location of the Saints practice facility]. The receivers ask about you. I can't say any of that," Payton said with a smile and to another chorus of laughter.

And what's the most newsworthy item of the day for Brees other than his lack of contract and absence from the Saints? Arnold Palmer.

Yes, that Arnold Palmer. I received an email on Wednesday that Brees is headlining a faux naming contest by Country Time Lemonade to rename the company's half-lemonade, half-iced tea mix. In other words, Brees is campaigning to rename the drink widely known as the "Arnold Palmer" and change it to a "Drew Brees."

"Summer is about getting ready for football and hanging with friends and family," Brees said in the press release. "Beyond that, everybody loves the feeling of the cool breeze from the ocean. How could you call it anything but the 'Brees?' "

This is the bizarre world that is the New Orleans Saints right now and for the known and unknown future as two of the organization's most important pieces ever are nowhere to be found on the practice field.

Of course, Payton's absence was expected. Expected is one thing. How to handle it once practices commenced was completely different. Acting head coach Joe Vitt said Thursday that he's still trying to sort out how to handle the transition.

New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo poked fun at Vitt last week when Vitt was asked if he found himself thinking about what Payton would do if he were forced into one of the most bizarre scenarios any team has faced in recent NFL history.

"Every day," Vitt said without hesitation.

Then Spags chimed in without a hitch in his noticeable New England accent as if the two coaches had been coaching together for decades, "We catch him talking to himself a lot."

Vitt nodded in acknowledgement.

You almost wouldn't fault Vitt for walking around the Saints facility mumbling to himself like a lost soul in a padded room. Losing Payton for an entire season thanks to Payton's involvement and/or not stopping and/or lying to the NFL about the bounty scandal may drive someone batty. Losing your Super Bowl-winning leader on the sidelines and in the meeting rooms could be reason enough to drive any NFL assistant coaching lifer like Vitt trying to fill the void into a tailspin. Vitt has been here before, though. He filled in for an extended period for an ill Mike Martz in 2005 while with the Rams and briefly took over for Payton last season after Payton sustained a broken leg on the sideline in Tampa Bay.

So Vitt should settle down, right? You must have forgotten: This is the New Orleans Saints. There's no time to settle down because there has been storyline after storyline resonating from New Orleans and all offseason.

Not having Brees with the rest of his teammates throughout the entire offseason so far is the problem that has a solution and yet appears like there's no end in sight. Brees would be the calming effect a bounty scandal weary team and fan base could hang onto. Instead, Brees and general manager Mickey Loomis are stuck in park with contract negotiations.

Payton and Carmichael had admittedly been tied at the hip since the two arrived in New Orleans in 2006. Carmichael proved he can assume the play-calling and game planning duties last season as Carmichael had more freedom and more say so in the offense than ever. Carmichael can, for the most part, fill Payton's shoes.

Brees' absence matters more to the players than Payton's ban on the field and off it.

No matter how close Brees and Daniel are, and as much as Daniel may try to keep Brees in the loop after practices, no one can fill Brees' shoes. No one in the quarterback meeting room. No one in the organization. No one in the league.

Daniel said he understands his role right now with the Saints is to be a leader in the absence of Brees. But Daniel holds quite loftier goals than that.

"I don't want to step on anybody's feet or Drew's, but Drew knows, 'Hey, I'm coming after you each and every practice and each and every day,'" Daniel told CBSSports.com last week. "We're two of the most competitive people against each other. It will be a little bit weird and sort of an eerie feeling without him being on the field with us, but I've been here long enough and the guys trust me. ... [My role] is to try to get myself ready [for the season] as much as possible, however long this carries on and even when this ends and Drew is back. And when Drew gets back for OTAs, I'm still going to be competing with him for a starting job. That's what I've always taken into camp."

Delusion has at least faded for Daniel after his third OTA session.

"I'd say I'm No. 1B right now," Daniel said after Thursday's session. "Drew, I obviously know what my role is on this team. And right now it's to prepare like the starter and to take the No. 1 snaps. This is Drew's team. I'm just here to fill in and get ready and prepare like the starter, you know, like I have from 2009, when I started here."

Several teammates have said throughout the offseason that Brees is in such a rare situation where he holds almost the ultimate leverage in contract negotiations and that he has to take advantage of that. Considering that Brees is the only player on Payton's original roster in 2006 who played the entire life of his contract to this point without receiving an extension: Marques Colston (two new contracts -- 2008, 2012), Roman Harper (2011), Will Smith (2008), Jahri Evans (2010), Lance Moore (2011), Devery Henderson (2009) and Zach Strief (2011). And Payton has received two contract extensions through that time span.

"Drew Brees is a once in a lifetime kind of player. ... This time last year, Drew was paying for me to be in New Orleans (during player workouts at Tulane), be in a hotel, be with the team. ... To come this year and have him not be here is obviously tremendously difficult." fullback Jed Collins said.

Moore added: "The guy deserves whatever he wants."

You can insert just about any Saints players' name into the quotes above. It's a major bummer without Brees, but it's business.

Then there's the storyline that isn't.

The new Spagnuolo defense would have easily been the most pressing drama for the Saints this offseason had it not been for bounties and Brees contract troubles.

"It's funny," Spagnuolo told CBSSports.com on Thursday. "I'm so enthralled on what we're doing on defense that I haven't thought about it that much, but that's not to say I don't think about it. ... When I think of all of the reasons I chose to come here, those two [Payton and Brees] are the highest. And there not here right now, but things happen. Once I signed on, I was part of an organization and part of a team and you deal with the ebb and flow and you handle the adversity. I'm very hopeful that Drew will be back here. I know at some point Sean will be back here."

Then I pointed out that no Payton and Brees is more than simply ebb and flow.

"I know," Spagnuolo said laughing. "Which one is ebb and which one is flow. But that's OK. It's part of the league. It's been a different kind of offseason, but it's been exciting all the way through.

"Never a dull moment."

Dull is what the Saints could use at this point.
Curtis Lofton fitting perfectly with Saints

By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

At about the time he hit free agency, the whispers started around the league that the Atlanta Falcons no longer thought Curtis Lofton could be an every-down linebacker.

The word was that new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan didn’t think Lofton had the quickness to be effective in pass coverage. True or not, Lofton wasn’t quickly signed to some massive contract. Although the Falcons had a standing offer for him to return, Lofton took his time and eventually signed with the New Orleans Saints at a price that was similar to what Atlanta had offered.

Lofton is a guy with a lot of pride and I think he wanted to go somewhere where he could be an every-down linebacker. I don’t think the fact he went to Atlanta’s main rival was a coincidence, either.

So far, it sounds as if the Saints have plans to use Lofton all the time. It also sounds like Lofton has done some things to improve his speed.

“Number one, he’s lost some weight and body fat,’’ New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt said after Thursday’s workout. “His ability to change direction in space, his ability to drop his weight and burst on the ball, and then his angles to the ball and his closing speed have been shocking to me. They’ve been shocking to his teammates too. We know what we’ve got; we’ve got a thumper. We’ve got a guy who loves the contact, he’s a downhill linebacker. To watch his athleticism in space, his ability to flip his hips and burst, has really been a nice addition.’’

Hmm, the Falcons weren’t raving about Lofton’s athleticism back in February and March. But the Saints are doing that in May.

Assuming Jonathan Vilma’s season-long suspension is upheld, Lofton will be expected to work at middle linebacker and be in charge of the defense.

“In order to be a great signal-caller and in order to be a great teammate, you have got to put the needs of your teammates above yourself,’’ Vitt said. “And that is what Jonathan did a great job of and that’s what I see Curtis doing now. He puts himself in the toughest positions to take the burden off his teammates and that earns the respect of his teammates. Without me ever saying that, you watch him do that and it comes very naturally. I think that’s where his leadership qualities come in and that’s where his teammates being confident in him.”
Darren Sproles still not satisfied with his game

By Brian McIntyre NFL.com

In his first season with the New Orleans Saints, running back Darren Sproles set the NFL single-season record with 2,696 combined yards, including 1,313 total yards from scrimmage. Sproles had a team-high 603 rushing yards with two touchdowns, caught 86 passes for 710 yards with seven touchdowns, was second in the NFL with 1,089 kick-return yards and was one of 12 players to return a punt for a touchdown in 2011.

Sproles wants to do more this season, writes John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune.

"I've just got to work on getting better," Sproles said last week. "There was some stuff that I wasn't good at, that's what I'm working on right now."

At just under 43 percent, Sproles had the highest playing-time percentage among Saints running backs last season. That was largely due to 2010 leading rusher Chris Ivory opening the season on the PUP list and 2011 first-round pick Mark Ingram missing six games with a toe injury that required surgery in the offseason. With Ingram and Ivory expected back, Sproles will likely be the third-down back he thought was signed to a four-year, $14 million contract to be, but he's still looking to improve upon certain things in case his number gets called on a regular basis again.

"It's like, my role was to come in and catch passes," Sproles said. "What I need to work on is more running the ball, like the hard-nosed runners ... I only had certain types of runs, and I want to go in and run power (plays) sometimes. That will keep the defense honest."
Drew Brees absent as Saints minicamp begins

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

Remember when everyone thought that the start of OTAs was the unofficial deadline for Drew Brees' contract negotiations? With all the bad press from this miserable New Orleans Saints offseason, we thought the team and Brees would come to an agreement before the Saints' leader missed any on-field work.

Nope, that didn't happen.

There was also a line of thinking that the team's only mandatory minicamp would help push the two sides closer to a deal. It's the only three days of all-out practice of the entire offseason until training camp. It's the only time that signed players are required to be in attendance.

Well, that day is here. And Drew Brees seems no closer to signing on the dotted line. The Saints and the Cleveland Browns are the first teams to start their mandatory minicamps Tuesday. The Times-Picayune provides a nice preview, with one of the key questions being how backup quarterback Chase Daniel will look running the team.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised in this bizarro Saints offseason. The general manager is evaluating basketball prospects. The leader of the defense might be free agent pickup Curtis Lofton. Joe Vitt is the interim head coach and dance enthusiast.

Last season, Brees and the Saints tried to prove that offseason workouts mattered by organizing the best player-only lockout sessions in the league.

This year, the Saints have to hope that the usefulness of any work before training camp is overhyped. Their leader remains missing. They can only hope that he's there when training camp starts.

As we've learned, it's dangerous to assume anything about deadlines with this negotiation.
Mickey Loomis busy checking out NBA draft prospects

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

It's draft season, which means New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is busy checking out all the best prospects. This is a little different than normal, however, for a few reasons.

It's June. And its NBA Draft season.

The Hornets have the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft and Loomis was part of the group watching draft workouts on Monday in New Orleans. He was seated near Hornets GM Dell Demps, who will be the one making the picks (i.e. selecting Kentucky's Anthony Davis) for the Hornets.

Loomis is expected to serve an advisory role for the Hornets this year. His presence at Monday's workouts shows, however, that his role with the Saints is changing somewhat.

Being an NFL GM is a full time job to put it mildly. Other NFL GMs aren't moonlighting at NBA workouts.

Loomis is now taking on more responsibility within Saints owner Tom Benson's sports empire. That role only figures to increase when Loomis is suspended for the first half of the regular season for his role in the bounty scandal.

We're not saying this arrangement can't be successful, but it is undeniably different.
Jonathan Vilma getting healthy for Saints

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

The Saints kicked off the first mandatory minicamp of the NFL offseason on Tuesday without their best player. But there were plenty of nuggets from the team's first practices.

1. Linebacker Scott Shanle was surprisingly not with the starting unit in the morning. Chris Chamberlain and David Hawthorne flanked middle linebacker Curtis Lofton in an all-free agent linebacker group.

Shanle is in a battle with Chamberlain for his starting job. Chamberlain knows Steve Spagnuolo's defense well from their days together in St. Louis. (UPDATE: Shanle was back with the first unit in the afternoon. It appears he's sharing snaps.)

2. Chase Daniel continues to take snaps as New Orleans' No. 1 quarterback. Interim coach Joe Vitt lauded Daniel's ball placement and ... said the team's center-snap exchange is "phenomenal." We feel like Vitt was scraping for compliments if he had to start talking about the center-snap exchange.

3. Former Buccaneer Luke McCown is trying out for the Saints as an extra quarterback.

4. SI.com's Peter King notes that Jonathan Vilma was on the field for a walk through before going back inside for rehab. Vitt said Vilma has made a lot of progress physically in the last two weeks.

5. Vitt's words on third round defensive tackle Akiem Hicks are worth remember for almost all players during summer work:

"You can see he's big, he's mobile, he can run, he can change gears, he's got good body control, he's got good balance," he said. "But listen -- we're going to put the pads on, and that's what's going to define him."

6. Our friend Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that Saints practices were a lot quieter without Gregg Williams, Drew Brees, and Sean Payton in attendance. These are strange days with the Saints.

Jeff Duncan


It's intangible, but the intensity of Drew Brees and Sean Payton also seemed to be conspicuously absent. Again, just an observation.
Finding the Fits: Colston-clone Nick Toon could help Saints immediately

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Over the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL draft through a series called "Finding the Fits." The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Though the New Orleans Saints did not have a first round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, they did originally own the rights to the No. 27 overall, which the club traded to the New England Patriots as part of the trade made a year ago for the Saints to draft Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the 2011 draft.

It was only a few years ago when the Saints were the pride of the country. After Hurricane Katrina's devastated much of New Orleans and the greater Gulf Coast, the Saints' inspirational play served as one of the few beacons of light for a region struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy.

Unfortunately, the Bounty-Gate scandal and resulting suspensions have torn away at the foundation of this proud franchise, leaving the team in an awfully tough position to have anything close to the success that fans have been accustomed to seeing since head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, among others, began working together.

This is not the space to investigate the little evidence the NFL has offered as proof of bounties Saints' front office executives, coaches and players are accused of harboring. Needless to say, however, with Payton suspended for an entire season, as well as general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games), starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (entire 2012 season) and the team's productive pass rushing defensive lineman Will Smith (four games) out for extended periods of time, fans might need a program to recognize the names and faces on the sideline and on the field for the Saints this upcoming season. For the first time since 2008, the Saints could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive, especially if the team can't come to a long-term agreement with Brees, who has been skipping OTAs as a deal is worked out after he was designated with the Saints' franchise tag.

Despite the current negativity surrounding the Saints, this remains a very talented team. The Saints addressed two of their bigger areas of concern with the free agent additions of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and run-stuffing defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. While they lost one of the best guards in all of the NFL in Carl Nicks to the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints replaced him quickly with former Baltimore Raven Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs.

For a fan base hungry for positive news, the 2012 draft offered some chance for a distraction. Unfortunately, if the Saints' brass had hopes for a flashy draft that could build up the enthusiasm of their fans, they didn't deliver, instead focusing on mostly developmental prospects, including raw defensive tackle Akiem Hicks from Regina with the club's first pick, No. 89 overall.

The 6-5, 314 pound Hicks is certainly talented. He was highly regarded coming out of high school but was unable to qualify academically, so he played his first two seasons at Sacramento City College. After two impressive seasons there, Hicks was viewed as one of the best JUCO defensive tackles in the country and was heavily recruited by the likes of LSU, Tennessee, Oregon and Arizona before deciding to sign with the Tigers. A mix-up with LSU, however, ultimately led to Hicks signing with Regina, a Canadian college, for his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility.

As one might expect, Hicks dominated at Regina, registering 42 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while starting all eight games as a senior. On tape, it is easy to see that Hicks' combination of size, strength and athleticism was simply too much for opponents to handle at this level. He remains very much a work in progress in terms of his technique but there are some in the scouting community who believe his upside isn't that far off from that of another former LSU Tiger -- Michael Brockers -- who was selected No. 14 overall by the St. Louis Rams. Of course, Brockers demonstrated his ability to take over games against the likes of Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. Hicks did his damage against Manitoba, Calgary and the University of British Columbia...

Hicks is an intriguing developmental prospect but the rookie seemingly in best position to make an immediate impact for the Saints is the club's fourth round pick, wideout Nick Toon from Wisconsin.

The son of former New York Jets' star Al Toon, Nick doesn't have the level of competition or technique concerns that many of the Saints' other picks have. In terms of his 6-2, 215 pound build, downfield blocking and route-running, in fact, he's rated as one of the more pro-ready receivers of the 2012 class.

Often overshadowed by the Badgers' dominant running game, Toon nonetheless caught 171 passes for 2,447 yards and 18 touchdowns over his collegiate career. While he doesn't have elite speed to fill the hole left by free agent defection Robert Meachem (who signed with the San Diego Chargers), he does have the fluidity and quickness out of his breaks to get open, as well as the toughness to hang on while absorbing a big hit. In these ways, he's similar to the Saints' best top receiver Marques Colston, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2006 out of Hofstra.

Pessimists predict that the Saints' 2012 season could be a tough one. This is a club that has proven the ability to fight through unbelievable adversity before, however. As long as Brees is still in the fold the Saints' passing game -- even without Payton and Meachem -- should be able to continue to post eye-popping statistics. Toon, wearing the familiar No. 88 that his father starred in with the Jets, could prove one of the positive stories for which a fan base eager to see their beloved Saints out of the news and back on the field, can rally around.

The rest of the Saints' picks:

3rd Round - No. 89 overall - Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina

4th Round - No. 122 overall - Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin

5th Round - No. 162 overall - Corey White, S, Samford

6th Round - No. 179 overall - Andrew Tiller, OG, Syracuse

7th Round - No. 234 overall - Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska
Ben Grubbs happy to be part of 'big-time' OL

By Brian McIntyre NFL.com

In March, the New Orleans Saints lost All-Pro Carl Nicks, arguably the best guard in the NFL, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the divisional rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To replace Nicks, the Saints quickly signed Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs to a five-year, $36 million contract.

Grubbs, an Alabama native who played his college ball at Auburn, is happy to be playing closer to home and for a team with an elite offense and offensive line.

"It's nice to be on this side of the ball for a change," Grubbs said according to Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune. "Our defense in Baltimore was what the offense is here now. So it feels good to have a guy like Drew Brees at quarterback. And the offensive line that I am a part of now is big-time. So I am just trying to take everything in and help contribute to winning."

The Saints will be paying Grubbs about $1.8 million less this season, but his guaranteed amount ($15 million) is less than half of the $31 million the Buccaneers guaranteed Nicks to change teams in the NFC South. With Grubbs and All-Pro Jahri Evans, the Saints can still boast of having the best guard tandem in the league and shouldn't experience much drop-off from an offensive line that ranked first in Football Outsiders' advanced statistics "Adjusted Line Yards" and "Stuffed," the latter of which is defined as running plays where the running back is "tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage."
Saints still look like contenders despite trying offseason

By Gil Brandt NFL.com

Senior Analyst

METAIRIE, La. -- One of my favorite things to do is visit minicamps in the spring, after the draft and most of free agency have played out. It's a great opportunity to see how teams are attacking the game differently, how rookies are integrating into the NFL and how the pieces are fitting together in a general sense.

This offseason, no team piqued my interest more than the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are the NFL's most embattled team these days. From the bounty scandal to the resulting suspensions to the Drew Brees contract stalemate, New Orleans has become a beacon for drama over the past few months. A lot of folks wonder if this team will crumble under the strain of adversity. Consequently, I didn't know what to expect on my trip to the Big Easy last week and would not have been surprised by a sloppy showing from a depleted coaching staff and dispirited group of players.

I observed just the opposite.

This is a team that has won 41 games (playoffs included) since 2009 -- including the franchise's first Super Bowl title -- and seems destined to continue this successful run in 2012, despite surrounding turmoil. Spending two days at Saints OTAs, experiencing everything from practice to film sessions with the coaching staff to cafeteria downtime, I saw an extremely focused team that should once again be a Super Bowl contender.

Here are five reasons why:

1. The depleted coaching staff's adjusting remarkably well to life without Sean Payton.

Bounty punishments took Sean Payton from the Saints for the entire 2012 season (beginning in April). Assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt has been tasked with filling in for Payton, but he faces a six-game suspension once the season begins. For now, though, Vitt looks like the perfect man for the job. This is a guy who has spent his entire, 33-year coaching career in the NFL, learning from some of the game's finest figures, including Chuck Knox in Seattle. Although he's never been a full-time head coach, his extensive experience, toughness and brutal honesty allows him to form a strong rapport with players. But he also has a fantastic relationship with the rest of the coaching staff, allowing everyone to perform their respective duties without interference.

Despite a brand new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo, the defense looks very much in sync. After running an extremely aggressive defense based on man coverage under Gregg Williams, the Saints are settling into more quarters (zone) coverage with Spagnuolo at the helm. And the players have responded very well to this change in philosophy, particularly safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, who have both immediately picked up the new scheme. New middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a man with increased importance due to Jonathan Vilma's season-long suspension, looks 10 pounds lighter from a season ago. Lofton's playing quicker in general and performing better in pass coverage. After observing practice, I joined the defensive staff for a film session and was amazed to see how well the unit's already operating. I was shocked by how few mistakes/corrections were being made. It was not an intense critiquing session at all -- just some tweaks here and there. Spagnuolo and Co. are very well-organized, presenting a clear game plan for a defense eager to improve on last year's lackluster showing. (From 2010 to 2011, New Orleans fell from fourth to 24th in total defense.) The Saints' defense looked above average for this time of the year.

Offensively, with Payton out of the picture, this is Pete Carmichael's show. Just 40 years old, Carmichael has the makings of an NFL head coach going forward. He's a very bright, forward-thinking offensive mind. Clearly, this is a completely different team without Drew Brees at the helm, but Carmichael has done a nice job orchestrating the offense with Chase Daniel behind center. The Saints are even incorporating some of the things Daniel excelled with during his college days at Missouri -- half rolls, generally moving the pocket -- as an emergency plan, just in case Brees' holdout continues. All in all, the offense is in good hands with Carmichael.

With Spagnuolo, Carmichael and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer essentially vying for a six-week head coaching position (once Vitt's suspension begins), it's easy to imagine this staff fracturing. But that's not the case at all. This is a very cohesive bunch that doesn't have trouble dividing up duties.

2. New Orleans has received enviable player commitment this offseason.

As mentioned before, the Saints' contract dispute with Brees is ongoing. But of the players under contract and healthy, the Saints report 100 percent attendance at offseason workouts. The general training regimen has been stupendous. One player who particularly stands out is Will Smith. The ninth-year veteran defensive lineman has been suspended for the first four games of 2012 for his involvement in the Saints' bounty system. A lot of times, when players are put in tough positions -- whether they're going through divorce or, in this case, a league reprimand -- they tend to slack off. But Smith has responded by getting in the best shape I can remember since he first entered the league in 2004 out of Ohio State. He performed fluidly in drills and generally looks like a man on a mission. Smith has responded admirably to difficult circumstances -- a common quality on this Saints roster.

Brees received great praise -- and rightfully so -- for organizing Saints workouts during last summer's labor dispute. But he's certainly not the only leader on this Saints roster, so nothing's breaking down in the absence of the franchise quarterback. Smith, Harper and Jenkins continue to carry the torch on the defensive side of the ball, while the offense has a number of true professionals, including running back Darren Sproles, who displays a quiet leadership. This team has a very strong core, which is a godsend with all the distractions that have presented themselves. Through all this turmoil, the Saints have really come together as an organization.

3. The Saints remain focused on the task at hand, not outside distractions.

Despite the emotional toll this team has taken, there are no lingering effects from the NFL's unprecedented punishments. Contrary to what many may think, it's not even a topic of conversation around camp. Spending time in the locker room and cafeteria, I didn't hear a single mention of "Bountygate." This team has not gone astray at all. There's no feeling of gloom and doom. Just a group of single-minded players going about their business.

On the field, the team's focus was outstanding. During the two days I attended practice, I didn't witness a single false start, offsides or failed QB-center exchange -- three things that can go awry at this time of year. The season's still three months away and the temperature's in the triple digits, but nobody's lollygagging at the back of the line or halfheartedly going through the motions. This team is locked in.

4. Chase Daniel is doing his best Drew Brees impression.

One thing I'll always remember from my Cowboys days is how much Tom Landry stressed QB-WR harmony. He thought this was the most important relationship on the entire team, having quarterbacks and receivers annually report to camp three days before everyone else for "Quarterback School." The main focus was to develop proper timing.

For this reason, Brees' absence is certainly not ideal. That being said, Daniel looks as close to Brees as you can get for a stand-in. He's worked hard to improve his upper-body strength and throws a very nice ball. Daniel routinely hit the back-shoulder fade that Brees has mastered over the years and reacted well to the blitz. Thus, despite Brees' absence, Saints pass catchers are getting a lot out of these workouts with Daniel at the helm. Daniel's certainly not Brees, but he does a fantastic job playing Brees' role in this offense.

Of course, Daniel was involved in a bit of a scuffle with Lofton that drew national headlines. Truth be told, it's very seldom that a day goes by without a little dustup in team workouts -- especially when it's 100 degrees outside. These things happen. And three plays later, I noticed Daniel and Lofton joking around with each other. No big deal.

5. Jimmy Graham displays unlimited upside.

No player was more impressive than third-year tight end Jimmy Graham. The former Miami Hurricanes basketball player is still just scratching the surface of his potential. He's unbelievably fluid for a guy who stands at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and makes outstanding adjustments on the ball. A lot of people compare Graham to Antonio Gates because of his basketball background, but his body type and smoothness are more reminiscent of Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow.

Graham broke through last season with 1,310 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 99 catches. This year, I can see him eclipsing 100 receptions. He's that good. We're looking at a perennial Pro Bowler for years to come.

* * * * *

The drama swirling around New Orleans this offseason could bury some organizations, but the cohesive effort I witnessed last week couldn't have been more encouraging for the team's prospects in 2012. It goes without saying that everything relies on Brees returning to the team. So long as No. 9 is behind center, though, this team will remain highly formidable in the fall.

While the NFC South looks to be one of the toughest divisions in football, I predict the Saints will take their third division title in four years. Despite what some may think, this team will be in the hunt for Super Bowl XLVII, which just so happens to be in New Orleans ...
Adrian Arrington vies for Saints' No. 4 WR role

By Brian McIntyre NFL.com

How deep is the New Orleans Saints' roster? Even after losing wide receiver Robert Meachem to free agency, one of key position battles this summer will be the one determining the No. 4 receiver, writes Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune.

Marques Colston has been re-signed and will continue as the No. 1 receiver, with Devery Henderson continuing in a starting role and Lance Moore as the No. 3. Wide receiver Courtney Roby is a special teams ace -- he has just one reception in 49 games with the club over the last four seasons -- so the battle for the fourth receiver role will be between Adrian Arrington, Joseph Morgan and 2012 fourth-round pick Nick Toon. With the Saints investing a mid-round pick on Toon, he's all but assured of a roster spot, which brings the competition down to Arrington and Morgan.

After being on injured reserve or the practice squad for much of his first three seasons in the league, Arrington has nine receptions for 110 yards in five games in the last two seasons. The Saints signed Morgan as an undrafted free agent out of Walsh last year, and the 6-foot, 184-pound receiver showed some big-play ability, returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown and catching two passes for 77 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. Morgan needed minor knee surgery and was stashed on injured reserve in September.

With a group this deep, Arrington knows that the Saints coaches aren't the only ones he's looking to impress.

"Not only are we competing against each other, we're competing against other wide receivers from other teams around the league," said Arrington. "That's just how the business goes, so we all have to go out and perform every day."
Greg Romeus injures ACL and MCL, Saints' Vitt says

By Marc Sessler


A tumultuous offseason for the New Orleans Saints has spilled over onto the practice field this week. We first learned Wednesday that Chase Daniel went down with a broken right thumb. On the heels of losing their backup quarterback, the team announced defensive end Greg Romeus injured the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Interim coach Joe Vitt told The Times-Picayune that Romeus will be sidelined six to eight months, which likely means he'll be placed on injured reserve for the 2012 season. Vitt didn't elaborate on whether Romeus tore the knee ligaments.

"He was just running down the field and his non-surgical knee gave on him," Vitt told the newspaper. "This kid has really worked hard. The whole team feels bad for him, the coaching staff feels bad for him. It's part of the game. This kid has put in the time, he has put in the effort and he has to go through the whole process all over again. So we're going to be there for him and we're going to support him."

Romeus' early NFL career has been sidetracked by injuries. After missing chunks of his senior year at Pittsburgh, Romeus spent his 2011 rookie season with the Saints on the physically-unable-to-perform list and IR recovering from a knee injury. Romeus isn't a household name. He was battling for a roster spot at end alongside linemen Turk McBride, Junior Galette and converted linebacker Martez Wilson behind starters Cameron Jordan and Will Smith (the latter who faces a four-game suspension for his role in the team's "bounty" program).
Chase Daniel brushes off injury, wants to lead Saints

By Dan Hanzus


New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt alerted the media Wednesday that Chase Daniel will be shut down for a few weeks after suffering a thumb injury in practice, but the quarterback doesn't have any concerns.

Daniel told the Saints' team website that the sprain and hairline fracture in his throwing hand aren't something that would keep him out of a game. His focus was on the opportunity he has received with the first team as Drew Brees continues his contract-related phantom act.

"I think it went as well as it could possibly go for me," Daniel said of the Saints' offseason program, clearly not factoring in a broken thumb. "I think the main thing that I was wanting to do was to get the confidence of my teammates. I think without a doubt, I've done that. The guys believe in me. They know I can run this offense and win in the NFL. Quite frankly, I think I can, too."

"Do I have a long way to go? Absolutely, but I think this was the perfect opportunity for me to get into the type of offense we have, show the coaching staff and show my teammates, the players, that I can do it in a season if my name is called upon."

Daniel still is keeping in close contact with Brees.

"I got off the phone with him a couple of days ago when this happened to talk to him about everything and how practices were going, really just to set my schedule for this coming month out in San Diego with him," Daniel said.

We must call into question Daniel's belief that his teammates know he can win in the NFL. Drew Brees? The Saints know Drew Brees can get it done. But Daniel only represents a hope, and we're guessing no one on the roster wants to find out.
Drew Brees vows not to skip season, despite dispute

By Marc Sessler


We're mere weeks away from the start of the New Orleans Saints' training camp, and Drew Brees remains in limbo.

Brees said Tuesday he's "confident" a long-term contract will be worked out with the team. We've heard this for months -- and so have the fans -- but Brees took things one step further in a subsequent conversation with ESPN.

"I would never sit out a football season," Brees said on "Outside the Lines." "I love this game too much, I love my team too much, but obviously there's a lot that can happen between now and then, so let's just hope we can get a long-term deal done ... Over the last month, (talks have) picked up. There was a dry spell there for a bit."

Saints faithful are trapped in the middle of a mess. They've been yanked all over town this offseason.

If it weren't for the "bounty" drama, we'd have spent this offseason talking about the Saints streaming toward February with a chance to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. You don't hear that thrown around much these days, but we shouldn't forget how talented this team is; how close it came a season ago.

If the Saints are tainted, the play of Brees is not. Without him, this wayward ship will disappear into dark waters.
NFL players union asks league to investigate protracted Brees negotiations

By Jason La Canfora | NFL Insider

As Drew Brees engaged in a media blitz Tuesday, bringing awareness to concussion-related issues and being asked obligatory questions about his contract status and the ongoing Saints "bounty" investigation, the NFLPA was continuing a more private inquiry of its own into such matters.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA recently submitted a letter to commissioner Roger Goodell regarding Brees' contract impasse with New Orleans, asking the league to launch a probe into whether the Saints were acting in good faith in negotiations with the star quarterback. Some within the NFLPA believe that Brees' work on behalf of the union last year, as one of the name plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the league during the lockout, might be held against him as the sides remain unable to work out a long-term deal. (The NFLPA is also closely monitoring the lack of negotiations with the Saints' draft picks -- they are the only team yet to sign a single selection -- in regards to possible action, as well).

Brees has yet to sign his one-year franchise tender, worth roughly $16.4 million, and has shown no indication of doing so, though he did confirm publicly Tuesday he would not sit out the season. The team and the player have made some incremental progress, though many in league circles are surprised the issue has lingered as long as it has, with Brees skipping all of the offseason work, as is the case in virtually all of these situations regarding players yet to sign their franchise tender. The sides have until July 16 to work out a long-term deal, and, should the NFL not launch an investigation into the union's claims regarding Brees' negotiations, then the NFLPA is prepared to file an unfair-labor practices claim with the National Labor Relations Board, the sources said.

The NFL declined to comment for this story. The Saints declined public comment as well, though a team source discounted the veracity of the contents of the letter.

The NFLPA opted to pursue this matter with Goodell on its own, and was not probed by Brees. The quarterback did not play a role in the decision, sources said, with the union moving forward of its own accord. NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith would not discuss the specifics of the matter but said the union was acting as it would to protect any member and that Brees did not have a say in any of the actions the union might take.

According to sources, the NFLPA is asking the league to investigate possible negative comments members of the Saints management or ownership might have made regarding Brees' involvement in union matters during the lockout. In the letter to the NFL, sources said the NFLPA cites CBA provision, Article 49, Section 1: "No Discrimination: There shall be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA."

In the letter, the NFLPA asks the NFL to respond in a timely manner. If the union does not believe the matter is being taken seriously, then making a claim to the NLRB would be the next step.

Brees was very vocal during the lockout, and he was one of a contingent of players involved in negotiations who were fighting against the franchise tag. The union wanted the tags eliminated at one point, or at least players being limited to being tagged only once in his career. However, the new CBA not only does not include those restrictions, but the adjustments in the calculations of the franchise figures resulted in the tags falling dramatically in 2012, making it easier for the Saints to afford Brees (while his bloated cap figure counts against them, the team has not had to give him any upfront money, and if Brees played under the franchise tag, that salary would be paid out over the 17 regular-season game checks).

It is indeed strange that the situation has come to this, as Brees became the savior of Bayou football post-Katrina, and the love affair between player and city and team was robust, culminating in a Lombardi Trophy only a few years ago. But the business side of the football has a way of intervening, particularly when you are talking about what has the potential to be the biggest deal in NFL history.

While contract-demand figures reported in the past -- with Brees then said to be seeking $23 million per season -- struck me as inflated, the magic number has always been about $20 million per season, and I suspect he ends up right around that mark (maybe 19.5/year). Figuring out how much money is paid out in the first three years, how much is fully guaranteed, and what that fully guaranteed figure is (somewhere around $55 million to $60 million, I suspect) is where the real work remains to be done on the contract.

Brees, making the rounds on morning shows Tuesday, expressed surprised that the talks have dragged on this long, and he made it clear having to play out one year on the franchise tag is not his cup of tea. "I've played under the franchise tag before," he told ESPN's Mike and Mike. "That did not end well for me." (The NFL and NFLPA have a hearing Wednesday to clarify what Brees' hypothetical 2013 franchise tag would be, with the NFLPA contending it should be a 140 percent raise as a third-time franchise designee, and the NFL maintaining it should be 120 percent).

Brees also continued to take issue with the NFL's investigation into the bounties during his media tour, and few players have been as outspoken on this issue on Twitter and otherwise. He has challenged Goodell directly on the matter with his remarks, asking for "proof" of money changing hands and attributing a lot of what has been reported or heard on audio tapes as "tough talk" that was not meant to be taken literally and was not done so by his teammates.

The standoff between the Saints and Brees is not the only New Orleans situation being monitored by the union.

New Orleans is the only team yet to sign a pick and, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation, Saints officials have yet to even enter into negotiations with their five selections, informing their agents that talks would likely begin in July. Obviously, that's not what any rookie, looking for his first NFL cash, wants to hear, and though it does not explicitly violate the CBA language, the union believes such a delay violates the spirit of the agreement and does not meet the threshold of "good-faith negotiations" as espoused by the CBA.

The new system was put in place to avoid protracted negotiations or holdouts and to get players signed quickly and with less drama. Indeed, there are only 37 unsigned draftees in the entire NFL as of Tuesday, and the Saints, despite not having a first- or second-round pick, accounted for five of them.

A Saints source pointed out that neither the NFL nor NFLPA has broached the matter with the team and that there are no rules on when talks must begin. Furthermore, the Saints, for years (except last year, which was unusual due to the lockout), have not begun negotiations until July and this is their common practice. The less money a player has in his pocket, the less he is prey for hangers-on and friends and family members looking for loans, cars, etc. And the less money in his pocket, the less likely he is to act recklessly during this dangerous, unsupervised period in the NFL calendar before camp, so the thinking goes. As an organization, the Saints have long thought that signing players early might not be of much benefit, and they also figure that they can get the entire class signed in the matter of a few days next month.

The Saints are the only team in the NFL yet to sign their seventh-round pick and are the only team without its sixth-round selections under contract, as well. The Saints and Raiders are the only teams yet to sign their fifth-round picks, and New Orleans is the only team with an unsigned fourth-round pick. Of the 37 unsigned picks, 32 of them came in the first three rounds; New Orleans made only one selection in those rounds.

Some have speculated perhaps the Saints are doing so to save money -- it's a theory some agents have put forth. However, New Orleans' rookie pool for 2012 is only $2.27 million (no picks in the top two rounds, remember), so while the team would be hypothetically earning interest on that money, it will eventually have to pay its draft class between May and before camp opens in late July, the lump sum by NFL standards is negligible.

It certainly makes the Saints "outliers" in their approach to negotiating with draft picks, as one agent put it -- most teams jumped in right away and got them signed ASAP -- but then again, in this of all offseasons, I suppose we would come to expect nothing less.
NFLPA butting into Brees negotiations with Saints makes absolutely no sense

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

I find it strange that the NFLPA is so concerned about the Saints' negotiations with Drew Brees that it apparently notified Roger Goodell. If it's true that the NFLPA did that without permission from Brees but under the logic that they are protecting a member of their union they are in an area that could actually hurt negotiations.

I was involved in negotiating close to 300 player contracts, renegotiations, rookie deals and franchise tags. At no time did the NFLPA feel compelled to intervene on any level. There were holdouts, trade demands and all the normal issues clubs and players face, but the business was always between me and the agent.

There are almost three weeks left before Drew Brees and the Saints reach the July 16 drop-dead date -- which is plenty of time -- when Brees has a new deal or plays on the $16.4 million franchise tag.

Any negotiator will tell you that time and deadlines are the best mechanism for getting a deal done. To my knowledge both sides are interested in a long-term deal, which is a good start. July 16 was agreed upon by the NFL and the Union in the new CBA and will act as the trigger it was intended to be to get the deal done. No intervention is required by any outsiders (League or Union).

The idea that the Saints are being punitive because Brees was deeply involved in the labor deal last year as one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the league is almost laughable.

Why? Three reasons:

[*]The Saints are in the business of winning football games and need Brees to accomplish their primary goal.

[*]The Saints -- like many other teams -- probably love the new labor deal and would like to thank Brees and Co.

[*]Vincent Jackson and Peyton Manning were named plaintiffs and even though they were free agents it didn't stop the Bucs and the Broncos from signing them to big deals because -- you guessed it -- those teams are interested in winning.

I spoke to high ranking members of the Saints in March and they had a solid offer on the table back then. It may not be what Brees wants but it wasn't a low-ball offer that would cause a supposed "impasse." I'm not a lawyer, but an impasse is a deadlock -- a predicament affording no obvious escape.

To my knowledge an original offer -- averaging $18 million a year -- is not a situation affording no obvious escape. The two sides on their own will get to a deal or Brees plays on a one year tag for a little more than $1 million a game.

But neither side really wants the one-year tag, especially since the Saints believe Drew has enough high-level play left to warrant a long-term deal.

Finally, if I were Drew Brees, his agent or the Saints I would not want any outside intervention. Drew can stand on his own two feet and get a deal done.

As I said in May and will say again in July: Brees will get a deal averaging just under $20 million a year if everyone not in the negotiations stays out of he way.
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Martez Wilson, Saints DE, sees himself in Hall of Fame

By Brian McIntyre

Around the League writer

Even with Jo-Lonn Dunbar headed toward free agency, and Jonathan Vilma showing a drop in on-field performance -- not to mention facing potential league discipline over the team's illegal "bounty" program -- the New Orleans Saints followed through on their plan to move Martez Wilson from linebacker to defensive end this offseason.

The Saints spent nearly $25 million in guaranteed money on free agent linebackers Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain.

Wilson, a 2011 third-round pick, saw limited playing time as a rookie, recording six tackles and a sack in just over 60 regular season defensive snaps before adding 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in a starting role in the Saints' playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Wilson has not played defensive end since high school, but he flashed enough pass-rushing potential during OTAs and minicamp to allow the experiment to continue in training camp, according to Brian Allee-Walsh of sportsNOLA.com. Wilson had nine sacks in his 39-game career at the University of Illinois, but he feels that rushing the passer is his top skill.

"I'm at my best going after the quarterback -- not just from the end spot -- but just going after the quarterback. Period," Wilson said. "They can line me up at end or at linebacker with a hand down or from an upright position outside. But I get to go after the quarterback every play."

With contact limited during the offseason, we won't find out until August if Wilson can physically handle playing defensive end at the NFL level. Wilson is confident he can make the transition and has lofty goals for himself.

"I think I'll grow into the spot," Wilson said. "I'm not even close to where I see myself being. No matter what position I'm playing down the road, I see myself just making plays. Making plays is what keeps you on the field.

"I see myself being a Hall of Famer one day."
Drew Brees ruling should push Saints to a deal

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

We learned Tuesday from NFL Network's Albert Breer that Drew Brees won his franchise grievance appeal.

This is clearly good news for Brees, but it's also good news for New Orleans Saints fans. It should help push the Saints closer to finalizing a contract with Brees by July 16. After that date, Brees can only play under the terms of the franchise tag.

The news helps to clarify the contractual playing field between the Saints and Brees. It gives some leverage to Brees in contract talks, but fans shouldn't forget that a deal was widely expected even before this news. Brees doesn't want to play under his one-year franchise tag number of $16.37 million. The Saints want Brees locked up. A long-term deal by mid-July makes too much sense not to happen.

So what does Tuesday's ruling mean?

1. The Saints would have to pay Brees $23.574 million in 2013 (144% of his 2012 tag) if they were forced to use the franchise tag on him next year. If you include this year's $16.4 million tag, that would put his two-year total at $39.945 million. That's a lot of money, but not a crazy amount from the Saints perspective.

Brees argued that the next franchise tag he's assigned should count as his third because the San Diego Chargers tagged him in 2005. Arbitrator Stephen Burbank agreed because of vague language in the NFL.

2. It means, for now, that a player can only be franchise tagged three times total regardless of what teams they played for when they were tagged.

3. It gives Brees and his agent some help in structuring a long-term contract. The Saints and Brees don't sound too far apart in total money. This helps to put the onus on the Saints to include more guaranteed money in the first few years of the deal.

4. If the Saints don't get a deal done by July 16, Brees would have all sorts of leverage in 2013 provided he doesn't get injured this season.

What doesn't Tuesday's ruling mean

1. It doesn't mean that Brees suddenly holds a hammer in negotiations. It doesn't change the fact Brees has no interest in playing for "only" $16.37 million this year. That would put him at risk of a career-altering injury. He still needs the long-term deal more than the Saints do. That's why it makes so much sense for the deal to happen.

2. It doesn't have far-reaching effects for other NFL players. Only two players in NFL history have received the franchise tag from two different teams. (Brees and former New York Jets/Arizona Cardinals receiver Rob Moore.) This is ultimately a decision should only matter to Brees.

Tuesday's ruling is only one relatively small factor in a complicated negotiation between the Saints and Brees. With any luck for Saints fans, it will be the factor that helps to close a deal.
Saints' Cameron Jordan can add balance to game

By Gregg Rosenthal

Around The League editor

As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Next up: the New Orleans Saints.

Unsung hero Cam Jordan will get his due

Setting the edge doesn't get headlines. Neither does stopping the run. Those are the strengths that defensive end Cameron Jordan brought to the table when the Saints took him out of Cal late in the first round last year.

Jordan played right up to expectations. He started 15 games and was easily the best run-stuffer on a weak Saints defense. ProFootballFocus ranked Jordan as one of the 10 best run-stopping 4-3 defensive ends in the league. But Jordan was a total non-factor rushing the passer, and that's why he has received more criticism than praise for his rookie season.

Look for that to change in Year 2. Jordan is just the type of versatile defensive lineman that new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves. Look for him to go inside at defensive tackle plenty, ala Justin Tuck with the New York Giants.

"I am excited to get moved around from end to defensive tackle in different packages and this should give me an opportunity to get to the quarterback more," Jordan told Houma Today. "It was a learning curve for me and getting off of blockers quicker is key in this league. Last season, I think I did pretty well in stopping the run, but there is still work for me in that category also. I like the dual role position, and it gives me some freedom to get that pass rush not only from off the edge but also from the interior."

Jordan is a heady player who knows the game inside and out; his father Steve had a great career in the NFL. A full offseason should do him wonders.

The Saints' front seven has been a weakness for too long. But Jordan, free-agent pickup Brodrick Bunkley, and Sedrick Ellis (another former first-round pick) could make the group far more formidable if they live up to their potential.
Brees signed!!!

The last three years the Saints have won 38 games (has any team won more?), they have gone 24-3 in meaningful home games and they have obliterated offensive records (most points at home, most yards gained, passes completed, passing yards, first downs, first downs passing). They are one missed gimme field goal from three straight division titles.

Offense: They have lost Nicks and Meachem. They have gained Grubbs and Toon (and have had Arrington and Morgan waiting in the wings). David Thomas returns but his post-concussion ability remains to be seen. Possible Wash - but then we are talking about the most prolific yardage offense in NFL history and one of the best scoring teams of all time. That Wash is a hell of a Plus.

They have lost Rogers and Franklin on the line, and gained Bunkley and Hicks (Ayodele returns). Possible Minus - but let's see Bunkley's effect if any. Martez Wilson is also an important wild card who could be a terrific weapon if Spags can figure out how to make it so.

They have lost Dunbar and possibly (to probably) Vilma, but gained Lofton, Chamberlain and Hawthorne. Major Plus.

They have lost Porter but Robinson is emerging while Patrick returns. Possible Minus.

Payton will be out, out, out but in a weird twist of fate the Saints already had a dry run with Carmichael and Vitt running the show and calling plays. The bumps of the Bucs and Rams games were largely forgotten on the way to a season ending 9 game win streak.

Negatives from last year include (again) a lack of sacks and a bizarre inability of the DB's to catch balls (meanwhikle the Saints set an NFL reciord with the fewest own-fumbles recovered, one all year.). With Spags in as DC these factors seem highly likely to improve. Plus.

In general the offense should be just as good but the defense should be better.

The Saints with home playoff - and HOME SUPER BOWL - advantage are something to fear.

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Things to watch at Saints' camp

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will be hitting the field for their first practice of training camp late Thursday afternoon.

I’ll be out there gathering information for my Camp Confidential profile on the Saints, which is scheduled to run Monday, as well as stuff for our season preview that will be running late in the preseason. I’ll also be providing some live updates after practice and interviews.

This will be one of the more unique seasons in NFL history, because coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season and other members of the organization will serve suspensions at various times. So let’s run through a quick preview of some of the things I’ll be watching.

The chemistry of the coaches: Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been running things during the offseason, and will continue to do so during training camp. But Vitt will have to serve his suspension during the first six games of the regular season. It has been reported that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will take over for Vitt, but the team hasn’t made any official announcement. Putting Kromer in the top spot makes sense, because it allows coordinators Steve Spagnuolo and Pete Carmichael to focus on the defense and the offense. Vitt has been Payton’s right-hand man since their arrival in New Orleans in 2006, so training camp is likely to look like business as usual for the players. But it’s going to be different for the coaches. After a bizarre offseason, the coaches have to use training camp to prepare for what will be a major change at the start of camp.

Running back Mark Ingram: He didn’t have a huge impact as a rookie because of injuries and a steady rotation in the backfield. But Ingram was a first-round pick, and the expectations are high. We’ll first find out if he’s healthy. If he is, then we’ll start to see how he will fit into a backfield that’s crowded with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.

Junior Galette: New Orleans fans have had a fascination with this guy since he arrived in 2010. It’s understandable, because the defensive end has a unique combination of size and speed, and has shown flashes of promise in the past two training camps. That didn’t translate into much in Galette’s rookie season, but there were some signs last season, that he could be an impact player. Galette produced 4.5 sacks as a part-time player. With Will Smith expected to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season, the Saints are looking for a pass-rusher. Galette and second-year pro Martez Wilson, who is making the transition from linebacker to defensive end, have the most upside of the younger players in camp. If they continue to develop, they could take on major roles in the regular season.

The young cornerbacks: Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick are a lot like Galette and Wilson. They’re young, have a lot of potential, and likely will get a lot more playing time than they have in the past. With Tracy Porter departing as a free agent, the Saints are expecting Robinson to step into the starting role opposite Jabari Greer, and Patrick to become the nickel back. This is all part of a master plan. The Saints were preparing for Porter’s departure when they drafted Robinson and Patrick.

The changes at linebacker: No position received more attention in the offseason. Knowing Jonathan Vilma could face suspension, and realizing that the linebacker play wasn’t great last season, the Saints added Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain as free agents. They still have veterans like Scott Shanle, Will Herring and Jonathan Casillas. Other than Lofton in the middle, no one is guaranteed a starting job. The Saints are going to throw all the other linebackers out there in camp, let them compete and see who steps up to earn starting jobs.
Saints cap good stay with 17-10 win over Cardinals

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - The bronze busts were impressive. Willie Roaf was magnanimous. And Drew Brees? Same as always.

It added up to a great weekend for a team that really needed one about now.

Brees produced a touchdown on his only series in the Hall of Fame game Sunday night, leading the New Orleans Saints to a 17-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that topped off a fine time.

"Just to be up here and see all those guys get inducted and take a tour of the Hall of Fame, that was really special,'' said Mark Ingram, who scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard run. "For us to all be here, it puts a lot of things into perspective going into this football season.''

It wasn't perfect by any means. The reserves were sloppy, as expected. And the fill-in officials had some bad moments, too.

The game was canceled last year for the first time in 45 years, a casualty of the NFL's lockout of the players. Labor issues also came into play in Sunday night's game - the seven officials were replacements.

It showed.

The referee announced the result of the coin flip incorrectly - Craig Ochoa said the Saints won the toss and deferred, then caught his mistake and said the Cardinals had won the toss. There were some other communication problems as well for the first-time crew.

No one was too hard on them.

"Hey listen, it was their first game, just like it was my first game, just like it was our team's first game,'' Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "Everybody's getting the rust off. I thought the flow of the game was good. Hey, it was fine.''

The weekend was especially nice for the Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32), whose offseason was dominated by their bounty scandal.

Suspended coach Sean Payton got the league's permission to attend a dinner for Saints tackle Wille Roaf and the other five Hall of Fame inductees on Friday night. Payton isn't allowed to have any contact with the team this season as punishment for the team's bounty program.

Players got to tour the hall and sat in the back three rows of the stadium for Roaf's induction on Saturday, wearing black t-shirts with his No. 77. It was a proud moment for a franchise that's been overshadowed by the bounty scandal all offseason.

Then, Brees showed that the Saints offense is still a point of pride as well.

Brees was sharp on the 10-play drive, completing 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards with one off-target throw. Brees skipped offseason workouts and minicamp because he was unhappy getting the team's franchise tag. He later agreed to a five-year, $100 million deal.

Nothing has changed.

"Drew was Drew,'' Vitt said. "That's the first unit. There's high standards here.''

The Cardinals (No. 23 in the AP Pro32) are using the preseason to pick a quarterback, with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton competing for the starting job. Kolb got to start the game but had a tough time, throwing an interception on his first pass and leaving after bruising his ribs on the third series.

"He has a bruise in his chest and that makes it kind of tough to rotate, move,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I think he'll probably be practicing sometime this week.''

Skelton took over and completed 4 of 6 for 32 yards.

"You never want to have an injury in the preseason, especially an early game like this, having to play that fifth preseason game,'' Skelton said. "But he will be OK.''

The Cardinals finished 8-8 last season, Kolb's first in Arizona. He started nine games and threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions while learning a new offense on the fly because of the lockout. Skelton filled in when Kolb was hurt and went 5-2 as a starter.

After the opening series for each team, the backups got into the game and things got ragged.

The fill-in officials had a few rough moments, too.

Ochoa, who has eight years of experience with BCS leagues and 16 years at Division III, flipped the coin and announced that New Orleans had won and deferred. As he started walking away, he caught his mistake.

"Correction,'' he said. "Arizona won the coin toss.''

After New Orleans scored on its first possession, several Saints came in to block for the extra point and gestured to the officials to point out that they had reported for the play. Coming out of the 2-minute warning in the first half, Ochoa announced that the previous play was under review, then corrected himself and said it was not.

The officials had trouble spotting the ball after a punt that involved a penalty, repeatedly moving the ball after consultations.

The league has locked out its officials and hired replacements in case the labor dispute extends into the season. They've trained them for the last two months. The league used replacement officials for the opening week of the 2001 season before reaching agreement with the union.

Notes: It was the Saints' fifth appearance in the Hall of Fame game, their first since 2007. The Cardinals made their fourth appearance, their first since 1986. ... Arizona's Dave Zastudil had a 79-yard punt, a record for the Hall of Fame game. ... Saints rookie Laron Scott had a 67-yard kickoff return.
With both Vilma and Smith out, Porter gone, it feels like all Saints games will be a high scoring affair as long as the other teams can keep up with Brees and crew. And they'll have to. If so would it be a good assessment to say all Saints offensive players will see an uptick in production to keep their defense off the field and all capable offenses going against the Saints should see an uptick in production as well? Or the Saints defensive starters coming into Sunday won't miss a beat? I haven't seen any of the preseason game, any input appreciated.

With both Vilma and Smith out, Porter gone, it feels like all Saints games will be a high scoring affair as long as the other teams can keep up with Brees and crew. And they'll have to. If so would it be a good assessment to say all Saints offensive players will see an uptick in production to keep their defense off the field and all capable offenses going against the Saints should see an uptick in production as well? Or the Saints defensive starters coming into Sunday won't miss a beat? I haven't seen any of the preseason game, any input appreciated.
I wish I had something definite here, but I can tell you what I've seen so far.The D-Line is more emphasized. So are the LBs. The word is less predictability as Gregg Williams full out constant hellpellmell blitzing is out, freelancing d-linemen and LBs is in.It's been too vanilla in the preseason to say anything definite but so far:Former 1st round pick DE Cameron Jordan looks terrific. They have been playing Jordan in several positions, both sides and apparently he is loving it, he should be a 3 down player. So has this years top pick 3rd rounder DT Akiem Hicks, he looks like a serious find, just a rook but he will have an impact. Junior Gallette played lights out in preseason. - All three of these guys were in the opponents' backfield for much of their time this preseason.Will Smith will be suspended of course. That's a hit but Gallette will be in there and they will use a rotation to fill in and that has worked well in the past. The "losses" on the line include Rogers (Giants, but now injured and out for year) and Franklin (Chargers, he did not live up to hype, good to see him go).Ellis remains in the middle and he is just damned good.Vilma is out but the feeling here is that while everyone loves the guy and the defensive leadership he has brought (plus a SB ring) he's on a bum wheel and probably facing his last year.......which brings us to CURTIS LOFTON. If Joseph for the Texans was the free agent signing of the year last year, Lofton might be that guy this year. Great speed, at every tackle, great skills, he's been awesome. Martez Wilson is no longer a hybrid LB but he will be on the line; he and Lofton may be the two biggest stars on this defense and if they are effective the defense could truly improve for the first time since 2009.The Saints lost Chamberlain, expected free agent starter OLB, that's a hit (the Saints basically exchanged Dunbar with the Rams for Chamberlain, oh well). Ruud was brought in to shore up depth, that should help but Ruud who used to be damned good might have lost some speed, especially after last year's injury, but supposedly he's good to go (we'll see). Shanle and Casillas may be filling in at OLB and both have started there before. Shanle's a bit of a weakness, especially on the pass but reliable. Casillas has a good rep. David Hawthorne comes in from Seattle as the other OLB, again should be an improvement over last year and for the first time in years, and I'm talking the 90s the Saints really seemed to invest time and effort and money on the LB squad. Hopefully this is a major upgrade over last year.DB's: well the safeties Harper and Jenkins appeared to be at the ball and occasionally catching them in the preseason and at camp so that is a heck of an improvement right there. Porter's gone but the idea there is that Patrick Robinson is now due and in his prime. He used to get shook out his shoes but now he is looking more and more legit. Greer is as always reliable and cagey. Backups are kind of shaky, they just (and I mean like this week) brought in a couple journeymen at corner (Murphy and Bush). The backup CB situation is questionable: Johnny Patrick is often hurt and when not he's very inexperienced, plus there's another rookie draft pick Corey White so again very inexperienced.You have a new Defensive Coordinator Spagnuolo, but the head coach and the interim head coach (who is also LBs coach) are suspended.The biggest deficiency on defense last year was the total inability to get turnovers. That has to change.What you said about the Saints being in shootout situations has been the case for a number of years now. Ideally if all goes well there will be an uptick in the running numbers (they were No. 6 in rushing last year anyway, which is nice), and hopefully the defense plays well enough to ensure they do not have to gun it constantly, but facts are the Saints had big leads last year and gunned it anyway, I don't think that will change. The Saints had more yards and more first downs and more passing yards than any team in history, literally; it seems pretty hard to bet against that.
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