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Jan

18

Back-ended deals leave New Orleans Saints in bad salary-cap shape

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune January 18, 2009 6:00AM

Saints’ 2009 cap breakdown
From July 2005 to June 2008, the Saints doled out the largest contracts in franchise history.

Deuce McAllister signed an eight-year, $50.1 million deal in 2005 that at the time was the most lucrative in club history.

Two days later, Mike McKenzie signed a five-year, $22 million contract.

McAllister’s payroll supremacy lasted less than eight months. In March 2006, Drew Brees signed a six-year, $60 million contract. Two months later, Reggie Bush signed a six-year, $62 million deal.

Those deals were followed by blockbuster contracts for the team’s starting defensive ends. Charles Grant agreed to a seven-year, $63 million deal in 2007, and Will Smith signed a seven-year, $64.5 million the following year.

By Saints standards, the spending spree was unprecedented. More than $321 million in commitments were made in a 35-month span.

The back-loaded deals, with the largest amounts paid in the final years of thecontract, have become a financial reality this year. The golden goose has come home to roost.

The stockpile has inflated the Saints payroll, thrusting it through the ceiling of the NFL’s projected $123 million salary cap. The Saints were $4.6 million above the cap as of last week.

It’s an unfamiliar position for a club that has enjoyed eight-figure shortfalls on the cap in each of the past two offseasons.

It’s also an inconvenient truth for a club in desperate need of defensive improvement. Barring some of the most creative accounting in league history, the Saints likely won’t have the cap flexibility to land a big-name free agent this offseason, the kind the club’s long-suffering fans dream about daily in anticipation of the Feb. 27 start of the signing period.

The Saints will need to get below the cap before that time, and to achieve that goal they’ll need to release players or restructure existing contracts.

Either way, it’s going to be painful.

The prime candidates for both options are McAllister and McKenzie, two of the club’s biggest stars and most respected team leaders.

McAllister’s contract will count $7.3 million against the salary cap next season, an exorbitant price for a player whose role and production have been drastically reduced in recent years because of two severe knee injuries.

Saints officials are expected to meet with McAllister in the next week or two to determine his future. He has indicated he’d be willing to restructure his contract to remain with the team in a lesser role, but it’s unclear if the Saints are willing to consider that option. If he is released, it would create more than $4 million in cap savings.

McKenzie is in a similar to position to McAllister a year ago. He’s carrying a large cap figure — almost $6 million — is entering the final year of his contract and is coming off two major knee injuries. The Saints could save $4.5 million by releasing him, but instead probably will seek cap relief through a restructured contract.

David Patten, Brian Young, Mark Simoneau and Jamar Nesbit also are candidates for release or restructure. All are veteran players nearing the end of their careers that have experienced injuries or suspensions in the past year and seen their roles reduced. Their releases would collectively save the club more than $6 million.

The Saints need the cap room to re-sign some of their top players who are scheduled to become free agents. Unrestricted free agents Jonathan Vilma, Jon Stinchcomb and Devery Henderson and restricted free agents Lance Moore and Jahri Evans head the list.

Vilma’s deal in particular will be expensive. Top linebackers command deals with average annual salaries of $6 million to $7 million.

Stinchcomb and Henderson have been key pieces in the Saints’ offense the past few years but might be too costly, considering the club has young reserves waiting in the wings at their positions.

So specifically, how did the Saints get here? Their cap issues are primarily the result of significant increases in the deals of their star players.

The five highest-paid players — Smith, Brees, Bush, Grant and McAllister — collectively will count more than $21 million more against the salary cap this season than a year ago.

Brees’ cap charge increases from $9 million to $14 million. Bush’s deal jumps from $5 million to $12 million. Smith goes $3.4 million to $9.4 million. McAllister’s deal leaps from $4.5 million to $7.3 million, and Grant goes from $4.2 million to $5.4 million.

The club expected to have more room to absorb the inflation, but an improbable spate of injuries last season ate into their cap cushion. The club was a comfy $14 million under entering last season and still about $10 million under during the season, but a spree of injuries forced the club to sign several replacements late last season. Instead of carrying over the $10 million in cap credits to 2009, the club carried only about $4 million.

Current salary-cap tabulations account for the salaries of only the top 51 players per team under contract, and are fluid because they don’t include players who might be released or restructure their contracts to create cap space. The numbers do, however, provide a general idea of the club’s position as it enters free agency.

There are a bevy of big-name players scheduled for free agency, including Albert Haynesworth, Julius Peppers, Nnamdi Asomugha, Brian Dawkins and Terrell Suggs, but the reality is that most or all of those players probably will end up staying with their current teams. The players who become available aren’t likely to be nearly as attractive.

Considering the Saints’ dire cap situation, it might not matter who hits the market. The club will do well to get Vilma back in the fold and sign a solid safety. Anything beyond that will be lagniappe.

Jan

18

New Orleans Saints’ 2009 salary cap breakdown

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune January 18, 2009 12:04PM

A look at the salary cap and roster status of each player on the Saints’ 2009 roster. This information appeared in today’s editions of The Times-Picayune but was inadvertantly omitted in the nola.com coverage. We’ll have an updated, more readable version online later today but we wanted to get the information to you as promised.

PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT

OFFENSE
WIDE RECEIVER
Player Exp. ’09 base salary ’09 cap figure Signed through
Adrian Arrington R $385K $396K 2010
Marques Colston 3 $2.3M $3.6M 2011
Skyler Green 3 $535K $535K 2009
Robert Meachem 2 $485K $1.4M 2011
David Patten 12 $2.2M $3.8M 2009

QUARTERBACK
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Drew Brees 8 $9.8M $14.0M 2011
Mark Brunell 16 $1.1M $1.8M 2009

OFFENSIVE LINE
Player (Pos.) Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Jammal Brown (T) 4 $2.46M $3.85M 2011
Jermon Bushrod (T) 2 $460K $563K 2009
Jonathan Goodwin (C) 7 $2.0M $3.2M 2010
Jamar Nesbit (G) 10 $1.9M $2.9M 2010
Carl Nicks (G) 1 $385K $424K 2010

TIGHT END
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Billy Miller 9 $920K $1.0M 2009
Buck Ortega 1 $385K $385K 2009
Jeremy Shockey 7 $3.0M $3.5M 2011

RUNNING BACK
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Mike Bell 3 $535K $535K 2009
Reggie Bush 3 $2.6M $12.1M 2011
Lynell Hamilton R $385K $385K 2009
Deuce McAllister 8 $3.2M $7.3M 2012
Pierre Thomas 2 $460K $461K 2009

FULLBACK
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Mike Karney 5 $950K $1.29M 2010
Olaniyi Sobomehin R $385K $385K 2009

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE END
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Jeff Charleston 2 $460K $460K 2009
Charles Grant 7 $1.9M $5.4M 2013
Bobby McCray 5 $1.0M $2.9M 2012
Rob Ninkovich 3 $535K $535K 2009
Will Smith 5 $1.1M $9.4M 2014

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Remi Ayodole 2 $460K $460K 2009
Kendrick Clancy 9 $1.8M $2.0M 2009
Sedrick Ellis 1 $795K $2.8M 2013
DeMario Pressley R $385K $431K 2010
Hollis Thomas 13 $1.4M $1.4M 2010
Brian Young 9 $1.5M $3.7M 2010

LINEBACKER
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Jo-Lonn Dunbar 1 $385K $386K 2010
Scott Fujita 7 $2.0M $4.0M 2009
Scott Shanle 6 $2.1M $3.2M 2010
Mark Simoneau 9 $1.2M $1.8M 2010

CORNERBACK
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Jason David 5 $2.4M $2.8M 2010
Randall Gay 5 $1.5M $2.8M 2011
Mike McKenzie 10 $4.5M $6.0M 2009
Tracy Porter 1 $455K $817K 2011
Usama Young 2 $460K $623K 2009

SAFETY
Player Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Roman Harper 3 $530K $870K 2009
Kevin Kaesviharn 8 $1.5M $2.4M 2010

SPECIALISTS
Player (Pos.) Exp. ’09 base ’09 cap Signed through
Kevin Houser (LS) 9 $745K $795K 2009
Glenn Pakulak (P) 1 $385K $385k 2009
PLAYERS NOT UNDER CONTRACT
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Pos. Player Exp. Status
FS Josh Bullocks 4 Voided final year of original 5-year-deal; future uncertain
TE Mark Campbell 10 Wants to return as 3rd tight end, blocking specialist
LB Troy Evans 7 Mutuel interest likely on keeping special teams ace
CB Aaron Glenn 15 Injury-plagued 2008 might be it for wily vet
PK Martin Gramatica 9 Must look elsewhere after being Wally Pipped by Hartley
KR Courtney Roby 5 Might attract interest elsewhere after solid 2008 performance
QB Joey Harrington 7 Could be less-expensive option than Brunell as Brees’ backup
WR Devery Henderson 5 No. 3 WR who could be replaced by Meachem
SS Terrence Holt 6 Roster spot likely determined by offseason moves
DT Antwan Lake 6 Dependable, versatile reserve at crowded position
CB Michael Lehan 6 Late-season addition probably won’t be back
OL Matt Lehr 8 Return could depend upon Nesbit’s status
DT James Reed 8 Not likely to be re-signed
RB Aaron Stecker 9 Solid career could be coming to end
RT Jon Stinchcomb 6 Locker-room leader might find better deal on market
LB Jon Vilma 5 Re-sign is top offseason priority

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Pos. Player Exp. Status
RG Jahri Evans 3 Tender will likely be high to ward off competition
WR Lance Moore 3 Another tricky tender call for management
DT Montavious Stanley 3 If retained, will be at minimum salary
OT Zach Strief 3 Valuable reserve could be Stinchcomb’s replacement
CB Leigh Torrence 3 Same as Stanley

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
Pos. Player Exp. Status
PK Garrett Hartley 1 Cemented job with strong 2008 performance
LB Marvin Mitchell 2 Likely to be tendered at minimum
FS Chris Reis 2 Will compete for roster spot in camp
GLOSSARY
An Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) is defined as a player with an expiring contract who has less than three accrued seasons. He can only sign with his old club, provided that he is offered a one-year contract at the minimum salary for the upcoming year. If the exclusive rights free agent gets no such offer, he is free to sign with any team.
A Restricted Free Agent (RFA) is any player that has completed three accrued seasons and their contract has expired. A RFA must be tendered with an offer on or before the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period begins. The RFA can be tendered one of four offers:
(1) Right of first refusal and draft selection at player’s original draft round but a second-round pick if the player was a first-round pick: This is a one-year player contract at a salary of $1.01 million or 110 percent of the players prior year’s salary (whichever is greater). If another club signs said RFA, the team tendering the offer receives one draft pick equal to the round the RFA was selected in during the draft but in the case the player was a first round pick the pick will be a second round pick.
(2) Right of first refusal and a second-round pick: This is a one year player contract at a salary of $1.545 million or 110 percent of the players prior year’s salary (whichever is greater). If another club signs said RFA, the team tendering the offer receives one second round draft pick.
(3) Right of first refusal and one first round draft selection: This is a one year player contract at a salary of $2.198 million or 110 percent of the players prior year’s salary (whichever is greater). If another club signs said RFA, the team tendering the offer receives one first round draft pick.
(4) Right of first refusal and one first round draft selection, and one third round draft selection: This is a one year player contract at a salary of $2.792 million or 110 percent of the players prior year’s salary (whichever is greater). If another club signs said RFA, the team tendering the offer receives one first round draft pick and one third round draft selection. If no tender offer is made by the start of the Restricted Free Agent Signing Period, then the player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent.

An Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) is any player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. A UFA is free to sign with any team without limitations and restrictions until July 15th.

Jan

15

Gregg Williams hired as New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator

Posted by Mike Triplett and Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune January 15, 2009 9:15AM

The Saints made their first big free agent acquisition of 2009, agreeing to terms with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on Thursday morning. Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

One of the most respected defensive minds in the game and one of the most coveted candidates on the market, Williams will take over a Saints defense that ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed and tied for 26th in points allowed last season.

“A lot has gone into this decision, and we targeted Gregg as the coach we’d like to hire after our first interview because he was so impressive and prepared,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said in a statement. “As an offensive coach, I have game-planned against his defenses in the past, and I know the problems they create. He’s an aggressive coach, but his units are always sound fundamentally. We have some pieces in place for him to work with, and I know he’s excited to get started.”
“Gregg is a tremendous addition to our coaching staff,” General Manager Mickey Loomis added. “We were looking for a coach with experience, a proven track record of success and a clear philosophy on where the improvements needed to be made on our defense and that process.”

Williams, 50, is known for running aggressive, attacking 4-3 schemes that put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That would make him a perfect fit in New Orleans, where the Saints have struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers.

One of his top priorities will be to maximize the talents of defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, both of whom have struggled with injuries and inconsistency since signing hefty long-term contract extensions in the past two years.

Williams built standout defenses as a coordinator with Tennessee from 1997-2000, as a head coach with Buffalo from 2001-2003 and as a coordinator with Washington from 2004-2007. He spent last season with Jacksonville on a one-year contract, but he and the team mutually decided to part ways after a disappointing season, in which the Jaguars finished 5-11 and ranked 17th in the league in total defense.

Williams quickly emerged as the Saints’ top candidate after they fired coordinator Gary Gibbs last Wednesday. Williams flew into New Orleans that night and interviewed with the team a day later. Since then, the Saints looked into other possible candidates but kept their primary focus on working out a deal with Williams.

His agent, Marvin Demoff, said last week that Williams did not know Saints Coach Sean Payton very well before the meeting, but that after coming to New Orleans his interest in the job was “definitely stronger.”

“He was extremely impressed with everything in the organization, from Sean on Down,” Demoff said.

Williams was reportedly on several teams’ radar screens. He interviewed last week in Green Bay, and reports out of Tennessee suggested that the Titans would be interested in re-hiring him if they lost current coordinator Jim Schwartz to a head coaching job.

Jan

14

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jammal Brown added to NFC Pro Bowl roster

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 14, 2009 11:47AM

New Orleans Saints left tackle Jammal Brown was officially added to the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster as an injury replacement. The invitation is fitting for Brown, who was selected as a Pro Bowl starter in 2006 but couldn’t go because of his own knee injury.

Brown, a four-year veteran who started 15 games for the Saints this season, was selected as the top alternate for the NFC last month in a combined vote of players, coaches and fans. He will join quarterback Drew Brees as the Saints’ only representatives in the game, which will be played Feb. 8 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The NFL officially added six alternates to the Pro Bowl rosters on Tuesday – Brown, Tampa Bay cornerback Ronder Barber and Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph, Seattle linebacker Julian Peterson, Dallas offensive tackle Flozell Adams and Denver guard Casey Wiegmann.

Brown and Adams replaced Seattle tackle Walter Jones and Washington tackle Chris Samuels, both of whom are injured.

Jan

13

New Orleans Saints promote Pete Carmichael Jr. to offensive coordinator, hire Northwestern’s Bret Ingalls as running backs coach

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 12, 2009 5:20PM



The Saints completed their offensive coaching staff Monday by promoting quarterbacks coach Pete Carmichael to offensive coordinator, promoting Aaron Kromer to offensive line/running game coach, promoting Joe Lombardi to quarterbacks coach and hiring Bret Ingalls as running backs coach.

Ingalls, a longtime college assistant, spent the past three years as Northwestern University, where he served as offensive line coach and running game coordinator.
“My philosophy in hiring coaches has always been to make finding teachers of the game and enthusiasm the biggest priorities during the interview process,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said in a statement. “Bret is well respected for his knowledge and communication skills with players. He has a wealth of experience working with several position groups and as a coordinator and I am very excited with what he will bring to our coaching staff.”

The promotions had been anticipated since the Saints lost former offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Doug Marrone last month, when he took the head coaching job at Syracuse University.

Carmichael, a rising young offensive mind, has been the Saints’ quarterbacks coach since he joined Payton’s staff in 2006. He twice turned down opportunities to leave for an offensive coordinator job with the Miami Dolphins (first under Cam Cameron, then under Tony Sparano), so he could continue working with Payton and quarterback Drew Brees.

Kromer joined the Saints as running backs coach last year after seven years as an offensive line coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders. Lombardi, the grandson of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, spent the past two seasons as an offensive assistant

“Pete’s promotion is well-deserved and I can’t say enough about his ability, and Aaron did a great job with the running backs last year, particularly with the development of Pierre Thomas,” Payton said in the statement. “Moving to the offensive line, where the majority of his NFL experience is, was a natural progression on our staff, and he’ll also contribute to our game-planning with the running game.

“Joe worked closely with Pete last season and has a strong understanding of our philosophy on offense. I like the way these moves complete our offensive staff, and the promotions from within maintain our continuity on an offense that has been extremely successful.”

Jan

10

New Orleans Saints General Manger Mickey Loomis: ‘We’re right on the cusp’

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 10, 2009 10:52PM


Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis speaks often about the Saints’ “window of opportunity” to contend for a championship with Drew Brees as their quarterback.

That window grew another year smaller in 2008, when the Saints squandered Brees’ best season by finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Loomis said the .500 finish was a “huge disappointment,” especially considering the team’s lofty expectations. But in a wide-ranging interview with The Times-Picayune last week, he said there is still plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2009.

Loomis spoke before the Saints announced the firing of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, though clearly that’s one area in which the Saints feel they can make a significant improvement. He also said he expects a much greater impact from several core players who were hampered by injuries, such as defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, receiver Marques Colston, tight end Jeremy Shockey and tailback Reggie Bush.

Although the Saints have just four picks in April’s draft because of previous trades, Loomis suggested that the team’s 2009 “rookie class” will include players such as cornerback Tracy Porter, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, all of whom had their actual rookie seasons cut short by injury.

Other new building blocks emerged in 2008, such as receiver Lance Moore, tailback Pierre Thomas and guard Carl Nicks.

And best of all, Loomis reiterated, the team still has Brees, who firmly established himself as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

“There’s some signs. There’s some good things there,” Loomis said. “You know, we all tend to look at an 8-8 season and say, ‘Woe is me.’ And I’m more inclined to look at, OK, what were the reasons behind the 8-8? And hey, I need to take some responsibility. You know, if we’d have had John Carney as our kicker, we might have won two of those games. Then we’d be talking about a whole different dynamic here. That was not a good move on my part (releasing Carney in 2007). That’s my responsibility, along with some other ones.

“But there’s a lot of really good things to look back upon and say, ‘Hey, we’re right there. We’re right on the cusp. And I wouldn’t say that we can point to one thing and say, ‘This is the reason we’re not 8-8 or 10-6 or 11-5.’ And frankly, I think anyone who witnessed our games would say at Carolina and at Atlanta were the only two games where we really got beat. The other games, we had opportunities to win.

“So that’s what we’re looking at, saying, ‘What can we do to push us from .¤.¤. to nudge us from 8-8 to a playoff team?’¤”

Loomis, who is heading into his eighth season as the Saints’ general manager, quietly signed a contract extension at some point in the past year. The Saints didn’t release information regarding his contract status — at Loomis’ request, because he prefers to keep that information private. But the team likely locked him up into the future around the same time it signed Coach Sean Payton to a five-year deal in early September.

When asked what gives him the confidence that the Payton “era” will turn out differently than the previous regime — during which the Saints never capitalized on their early promise under Coach Jim Haslett — Loomis said:

“I believe this coach, and this quarterback — and we wouldn’t have this quarterback without this coach — will win a championship for the Saints. I believe that. I think he’s the right guy at the right time with the right team. Period.

“We’ve got some work to do here, as a whole, to get over the hump. Not just coaching, not just players, not just the personnel department. But I believe we’re on the cusp of that.”

Complicating matters, Loomis revealed, is that the Saints will be more confined by the salary cap than they have been in the recent past.

Loomis said the Saints have the means to re-sign all of their own free agents if they choose to do so — unrestricted free agents Jonathan Vilma, Jon Stinchcomb and Devery Henderson and restricted free agents Moore and Jahri Evans are the most prominent names.

But he said the Saints won’t be able to make a splash in free agency unless they sacrifice elsewhere.

“We’ve been one of the higher-paying teams the last couple years, so that’s catching up to us,” Loomis said, pointing out the big-money deals doled out to Brees, Smith, Grant and top-10 draft picks Bush and Sedrick Ellis. “So we’re not going to have the ability cap-wise to go out and make a significant one-guy, big-time deal and still have the ability to sign our own unrestricted free agents.

“We have to pay attention to the resources. I think this is different than maybe the past four, five years. We’re going to have some cap pressure on our team.”

Loomis said all teams will face new limitations on how they can structure contracts because of the possibility of an uncapped year in 2010, meaning it will be harder to backload contracts for future years. And he said the Saints lost some of the surplus they could have carried from this year because of the money they had to spend on injury replacements.

Technically, the Saints are over the projected $123 million cap figure for 2009 at this point, though teams’ cap numbers are fluid and can be altered significantly by releasing players or restructuring their deals.

Although Loomis didn’t specify any such players by name, some likely candidates for release or restructure based on their scheduled salaries include tailback Deuce McAllister, receiver David Patten, guard Jamar Nesbit, defensive tackle Brian Young and cornerback Mike McKenzie, depending on his health.

Loomis acknowledged that the Saints have an important decision to make with McAllister, one of the most popular players in franchise history who is due to earn $5.3 million in salary and bonuses this year.

“It’s something we have to review, no question. It’s not a given that he’s going to be here, and it’s not a given that he’s not. But we need to evaluate it,” said Loomis, who said the Saints intend to make a decision before the start of free agency in late February so McAllister isn’t left in limbo.

“We’re going to be very respectful to his wishes. He’s going to be part of the process,” Loomis said of McAllister, who played a limited role in 2008 after two major knee surgeries. “The first step is to get a real good medical evaluation. Then after we get that, let’s review where we’re at, where he’s at and his contract and what his entire circumstance means to our team.”

Among other topics Loomis discussed:

He said there is “no question we need to play better defense” and said improving that side of the ball is one of the key issues the Saints are evaluating right now. He said that evaluation is difficult because the Saints lost so many key players to injuries, including Grant, McKenzie, Porter and Smith, who played through the pain of a “significant” groin injury.

“It was just a lot of shuffling in and out on defense. And we’ve got to factor that in,” Loomis said. “For example, (free agent newcomer) Bobby McCray was expected to be our third-down edge rusher, and he got thrust into an every-down role. And he did some good things for us. But we’re not getting that specialty pass rusher. You know, all those pieces are connected.”

He said the Saints are interested in signing Vilma to a long-term contract extension after his first year in New Orleans was such a success. But they won’t pursue any agreements before the start of free agency because of a contingency in the deal they made with the New York Jets when they traded for Vilma last year. It’s not clear if the Saints would be allowed to place the franchise tag on Vilma under the parameters of the trade, but Loomis suggested the Saints aren’t interested in doing that anyway.

Loomis didn’t let the offense off the hook, pointing out that it failed to convert some key third downs in several losses and that the unit failed to either close out some close games or come from behind to win them.

“Our offense wasn’t infallible, despite the fact that it was No. 1 in the league,” said Loomis, who said he is looking forward to the healthy returns of Shockey, Bush and Colston.

“Marques is a big part of our offense,” Loomis said. “He’s a big part of our third-down conversions. He’s a big part of our red-zone offense. He brings a lot of things to the table other than just having 90 receptions for over 1,000 yards, which is our expectation for him at the start of the season.”

Loomis said he still feels good about the Shockey trade, in which the Saints sent their 2009 second- and fifth-round draft picks to the New York Giants. Shockey’s season was plagued by a sports hernia injury, but he still has three years remaining on his contract at a reasonable salary.

“Whether that’s a good deal or not will be determined over the next three or four years, his total performance,” Loomis said. “But he had (50 catches and 483 yards in 12 games). If you drafted a tight end in the second round that had those numbers and impacted the game like he did, you’d feel pretty good about it. So I feel pretty good about that trade at this point. But again, whether that’s a good deal or not a good deal remains to be seen.”

Loomis said the Saints will strive for a better run-pass balance on offense, though he said that can sometimes be affected by the health of the tailbacks and the situation of the game. “Look,” he said, “We understand that running the ball and stopping the run are important elements of winning football. Sean certainly understands that. And so it will be reviewed, we’ll talk about it. And I felt like the last half of the season, the last six games, we did a better job of that. We did a much better job.”

He said Thomas, who emerged as a go-to guy late in the season, has the talent to be a starting tailback in the NFL, though the question will be, “Can he hold up over an entire season?”

“I don’t have an answer to that, but you wouldn’t have an answer to that for a rookie either,” Loomis said. “You have to go through a season of doing that before you know. But he’s talented enough, and we got a lot of production from Pierre, as evidenced by his yards per carry. And he was one of the league leaders in fewest stuffs (being tackled for a loss).”

He said he is not frustrated by the lack of draft picks, because he has high hopes for the players the Saints acquired with those picks (Shockey, Vilma and Arrington). The Saints are slated to have the 14th pick in the first round, two fourth-round picks and a seventh-rounder. He said it’s “way too early” to decide if they want to trade down to acquire more picks.

“We’ve got a lot of work to see how this draft shapes up, what kind of players are available, what’s our ability to move backward or move forward,” Loomis said. “Look, we’ve done everything, moved back, moved up, traded picks for players, moved for players. And I think we’ve had a pretty good rate of success. So we’re pretty open-minded about that, but we don’t have any preconceived plan.”

Jan

09

New Orleans Saints tailback Reggie Bush downplays significance of procedure

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 08, 2009 11:22PM

Saints tailback Reggie Bush said he was surprised to see how much of a stir was created by the news of his recent knee surgery.

Both he and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis insisted the surgery was less serious than perceived because of the negative connotation associated with the term “microfracture.”
Bush said he was off crutches less than two weeks after he had the arthroscopic procedure performed in mid-December, and he already is working out.

“I feel like I’m right on track,” said Bush, who expects to fully participate in the team’s offseason training program, beginning in mid-March.

Bush said the surgical procedure, performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., was a chondroplasty, which is a cartilage repair. Bush and his agent, Joel Segal, described it as a “clean-up” procedure to smooth out some cartilage.

Although some microfracture techniques were used, it wasn’t a full-blown microfracture surgery, which is typically used to cure exposed bone. Bush said there was no exposed bone in his knee.

Loomis this week first described the surgery in vague terms, labeling it as a microfracture procedure but stressing that it wasn’t the most serious type of microfracture.

“I wouldn’t want to call it minor, because he’s got a pretty significant period of rehab time,” Loomis said earlier this week. “But at the end of it, he shouldn’t have any issues.”

However, Bush said he is taking seriously his recent rash of injuries to his left knee, and he plans to do whatever it takes this offseason to prevent future setbacks.

Over the past 14 months, Bush has suffered four separate injuries to his left knee — each one of them minor. But together, the trend is unsettling.

“I think it has been unfortunate mishaps these last few years, but it’s definitely something I can’t ignore,” said Bush, who has missed 10 of the Saints’ past 20 games, dating back to December 2007. “I need to focus on strengthening my knee to the point where it doesn’t happen again. I’ll work with the doctors, trainers and weight staff, doing everything possible to get ready for this season.

“This is my job, this is what I love to do, so it’s frustrating. It’s nobody’s fault, but I won’t allow it to happen a third time. Two times is enough. I’ll do everything possible to make sure I’m 110 percent. I’ll push my butt more this year than I ever have, because of the injuries, and because I owe it to the city, I owe it to the team. I don’t feel like I’ve lived up to the expectations that I have in my own mind.”

Bush first tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in December 2007. He missed the final four games of the season, but the injury healed soon afterward without surgery.

Then he began experiencing swelling and soreness in the knee during training camp this past summer — a condition described as a “bone bruise,” which was aggravated by a hard hit against Tampa Bay in Week 1. He later suffered a torn meniscus at Carolina in Week 7, which required arthroscopic surgery and sidelined him for four games. Finally, he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in Week 15 at Chicago, which landed him on injured reserve for the final two weeks of the year.

“The toughest thing for me is that I’ve never been injured before, where I’ve had to miss games, until the last two years,” said Bush, who turns 24 in March. “I’ve always prided myself on being a durable back, being a durable player. I honestly believe it’s just been two minor procedures, and thank God it hasn’t been anything major. Up to this point, I’ve always felt it’s something I can get past as long as I rehab properly.”

Bush’s durability always has been something of a question mark, simply because of his build. At 6 feet, 203 pounds, he’s built more for speed and elusiveness than for the every-down pounding of a prototypical tailback.

He also puts a good deal of stress on his knees because of the quick, sharp cuts he makes in the open field, both on offense and as a punt returner.

But so far, he has shown an ability to bounce back from each of the previous knee injuries. He was playing at perhaps the highest level of his career through the first seven weeks of this past season, leading the Saints with 660 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.

He was consistently rattling off breakaway runs and receptions of 20-plus yards, and he returned three punts for touchdowns — one at Washington in Week 2 and two against Minnesota in Week 5. He was well on his way to All-Pro status as a return specialist and likely would have made his first trip to the Pro Bowl as a return man if he hadn’t been injured.

Both Loomis and Coach Sean Payton have expressed their high hopes for Bush in the past two weeks, saying they expect him to continue to be a featured attraction in the Saints’ top-ranked offense.

Jan

07

Gary Gibbs is fired as New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator

Posted by Mike Triplett and Teddy Kider, The Times-Picayune January 07, 2009 3:24PM

The Saints fired Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs on Wednesday, 10 days after finishing the 2008 regular season ranked 23rd in the NFL in total defense.

“This was a very difficult decision to make,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said in a statement. “Gary Gibbs is a fine man and football coach who has worked diligently during his tenure with the Saints. I thank him for the many contributions that he has made to this team and wish him continued success in his career.”

Gibbs joined the organization three years ago, when he followed Saints Coach Sean Payton from Dallas to New Orleans. And Gibbs’ defense ranked 11th in the NFL during his first season with the team.
But Gibbs’ unit fell to 26th in the league in 2007, allowing 348.1 yards per game, and while the Saints finished with the No. 1-ranked offense in 2008, the defense saw little improvement.

Gibbs’ defense allowed 339.5 yards per game in 2008, struggling to cope with injuries and constantly giving up big plays in the secondary. The Saints also never seemed to find the production they were looking for from their defensive line, which has two highly paid defensive ends in Will Smith and Charles Grant but struggled in pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

Jan

07

New Orleans Saints’ Reggie Bush had microfracture surgery on injured knee

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 06, 2009 11:00PM

Reggie Bush’s knee surgery was more serious than the Saints initially indicated last month, but General Manager Mickey Loomis said the team still expects the running back to be ready for minicamp in early June.

Loomis said Bush had a microfracture procedure performed on his left knee after he was placed on injured reserve in mid-December. Bush’s injury initially was reported as a sprained medial collateral ligament, which doesn’t usually require surgery, but Coach Sean Payton indicated last week that Bush had an arthroscopic procedure performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

Loomis did not give details about the surgery, but he said it was not a “major” procedure.


“I wouldn’t want to call it minor, because he’s got a pretty significant period of rehab time, ” Loomis said. “But at the end of it, he shouldn’t have any issues.”

Bush was not reached for comment.

It’s hard to predict a recovery timetable on microfracture surgeries, because some are more elaborate than others, but they have become more common and effective in recent years. Typically, several small holes are drilled into the knee to promote cartilage growth.

Saints tailback Deuce McAllister had a microfracture procedure performed on his right knee in September 2007 while also undergoing an anterior cruciate ligament repair in his left knee. McAllister, who was on the field for the start of training camp in July, indicated that his right knee recovered faster than the left. The left knee continued to swell at times throughout the season.

Bush has had a series of issues with his left knee the past two seasons. He missed the final four games of the 2007 season with a torn posterior cruciate ligament, which required a couple months of recovery.

Then, he experienced swelling and soreness in the knee in training camp this past summer — a condition described as a “bone bruise, ” which was aggravated against Tampa Bay in Week 1. Bush then suffered a torn meniscus at Carolina in Week 7, which required arthroscopic surgery and sidelined him for four games. Finally, he suffered the latest injury in Week 15 at Chicago.

None of the injuries were too serious, but the repeated trauma to the knee is concerning, especially for a player who relies so much on his speed and explosiveness.

Loomis expressed high hopes for Bush while discussing the team’s general outlook Tuesday. He said the Saints were “clearly” close to tapping into Bush’s full potential before he suffered the injury in Week 7.

At that point, Bush led the Saints with 660 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns, including three punt returns for scores. He was effective, but inconsistent, after returning from the injury in Week 13.

“He made some spectacular punt returns and some spectacular explosive plays on offense, and that’s what we envisioned for him, ” Loomis said. “And he was feeling good about his season, we were feeling good about his season, then he had a setback with this injury.

“But the good news is that the injury has been repaired, and he had a good repair surgically, and the prognosis going forward is very positive. So, our expectation is he’ll have a good offseason and pick up where he left off at the beginning of next year.”

Asked if the Saints had figured out the best way to use Bush, Loomis said he thinks the third-year running back’s unique role will continue to evolve. He was paired more often with tailback Pierre Thomas this season.

“I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to limit ourselves to that, because maybe there’s some new things we can do, ” Loomis said. “Maybe as he develops, he brings some new wrinkles to his game. I wouldn’t want to limit him.

“I think what Reggie has proven is that on the football field there’s not too many things he can’t do, although clearly he hasn’t been the traditional tailback that many people want to judge him by.”

NO DECISION ON COACHING STAFF: Loomis and Payton remained non-committal on the future of defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs and the rest of the coaching staff Tuesday.

“Sean and I will talk about all our coaches’ evaluations this week, offensively and defensively, ” Loomis said.

The entire coaching staff returned to work Tuesday to begin thorough player evaluations after assistants were given the week off. Loomis and Payton also took some time off during the past week.

Jan

06

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees named NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year

Posted by Mike Triplett, The Times-Picayune January 06, 2009 11:24AM


Drew Brees’ prolific passing season earned him the Associated Press’ 2008 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award on Tuesday. The Saints quarterback received 22 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the league.

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, who won the league MVP award last week, tied with Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson for second place with nine votes apiece.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Brees, who became just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards this season.
Brees was shut out in last week’s MVP balloting because of the Saints’ disappointing 8-8 record. But voters recognized his historical achievement with the top offensive honor. Brees threw for 5,069 yards – 15 yards shy of the single-season record set by Miami’s Dan Marino in 1984.

“When (I heard the news), I guess I was a little shocked, because when you looked at the MVP deal, no votes,” Brees said. “And hey, I can swallow that because we were disappointed we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.

“Obviously there were so many other guys that were very deserving of the award as well, so many guys that had great seasons, especially the fact that we didn’t make the playoffs. But I think really it’s just a testament to what we were able to accomplish this year. Certainly it’s an award that so many people were a part of, from the coaching staff to the offensive line to the receivers to the skill position guys – and the defense and special teams have to set us up with opportunities. It really is a team award.

“We led the NFL in just about every offensive category. As disappointed as we are when we look back on the season, having gone 8-8 and not making the playoffs, this is something we can look back and say we did accomplish something.”

Brees also broke his own team record with 34 touchdown passes – tying San Diego’s Philip Rivers for the league lead. He threw 17 interceptions and finished fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 96.2.

Brees is the first Saints player ever to win the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award. He finished second in both the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year voting in 2006, when he led the Saints to the NFC South title in his first year with the team. He finished behind friend and former San Diego teammate LaDainian Tomlinson in both categories that year.




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