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pakowitz 05-05-2003 01:23 AM

Mr, Benson proves his commitment
 
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Sunday May 04, 2003


Jeff Duncan


Miser.

Penny pincher.

Cheapskate.

Skinflint.

Money-grubber.

Tightwad.

No doubt you've heard at least one of the above words used to describe Tom Benson during his 18 years as Saints owner.

I can't vouch for Benson's spending habits off the field, but he's never hesitated to reach into his pocketbook when it comes to improving his football team.

In fact Benson, now in his mid-70s, is spending his money like tap water. Or like a man who wants one realistic shot at winning the Super Bowl before he grows too old to enjoy it.

By the time wide receiver Joe Horn signs a new contract extension -- and rest assured he will soon -- and the club's seven-man rookie class is paid this fall, Benson will have shelled out nearly $40 million in signing bonuses in the past year alone.

That's "up front" money. Cold hard cash.

"In terms of the football operation, Mr. Benson has done everything we've asked," General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "You couldn't ask for a better owner. All he cares about is winning."

The shopping spree started with the two-tiered $10.75 million bonus Benson awarded quarterback Aaron Brooks as part of a six-year, $42 million contract extension last fall.

The spending continued throughout the offseason -- $5 million to Wayne Gandy, $1.5 million to Ashley Ambrose, $6 million to Tebucky Jones, $2 million to Ernie Conwell.

When Loomis and Coach Jim Haslett told Benson their plans to trade up into the top six selections of the draft, Benson didn't ask how much it would cost him; he asked if the Saints could get the player they wanted. He asked if the player could help them win.

"He's never denied this organization anything," Haslett said. "All he wants to do is win games."

He's also invested more than $2 million in the latest digital video equipment and computer scouting technology.

Only last month former left tackle Kyle Turley ripped Benson and the organization for its penny-pinching ways. He accused the club of cutting corners, and said that it wasn't committed to winning championships.

The dollars Benson has doled out this year show he's committed. Just not to Turley.

SAINTS BEAT: In response to legislative criticism of the Saints' decision to move training camp from Thibodaux to New Orleans, Gov. Mike Foster has asked owner Tom Benson to consider holding a week of practices during training camp in Thibodaux this fall. The team is considering the logistics of such a move. . . . The Saints' rookie pool is $4,078,143. That's the maximum amount the Saints can spend on their seven drafted rookies. . . . For what it's worth, a draft value chart scored the Saints a slight winner over the Cardinals in their draft-day trade last Saturday. According to the formula, which assigns a numeric value to every pick in the draft, the Saints' picks at numbers 6, 37 and 102 is worth 2,222 points. The picks the Cardinals acquired from the Saints -- 17, 18 and 54 -- are worth 2,010 points. . . . Deep snapper Kevin Houser will be host of one of the most entertaining charity events of the year -- his annual celebrity softball game May 14 at Zephyr Field. Several Saints players and coaches will participate. Admission is $5. Proceeds benefit the Children's Hospital. For information, call (504) 734-5155.

AROUND THE NFL: Tebucky Jones' tenure as the highest-paid free safety in the NFL didn't last long. Brian Dawkins trumped Jones' seven-year, $29.25 million deal with a seven-year, $43 million deal from the Eagles that includes an $8 million signing bonus. . . . The Falcons are high on rookie cornerback Bryan Scott from Penn State, whom they selected in the second round with the 55th overall pick. He was 24th overall prospect on their draft board. . . . The Jaguars' selection of quarterback Byron Leftwich in the first round of the draft spells the eventual end of Mark Brunell's career in Jacksonville. Brunell will almost certainly be released after this season. He is due a $2 million roster bonus next spring and carries a $10.5 million salary cap figure in 2004. . . . The Chargers are seeking league approval to wear 3-inch by 5-inch patches on their 2003 jerseys that bear the initials JB in honor of general manager John Butler, who died last month of complications from lung cancer.

BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- Chargers' league ranking (among 32 teams) against the pass last season. 4 -- Defensive backs taken by the Chargers in the draft this year, including their first three selections.

AUDIBLES: "There have been some chinks in the armor lately. He has the ability to be a great corner in the NFL. We're going to push him to do that, prod him and keep our foot on the back of his neck. He's not a gang guy." -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby, who was shot as a bystander in what police say was a gang-related drive-by shooting in suburban Los Angeles on Easter.

-- "What happened is very bizarre. In 28 years I've never seen it before. I've seen Al Davis pass down a few rounds so he could pay a guy a little less, but this was real bizarre. Cincinnati didn't take as much time as they could have, and then Detroit didn't waste any time. I think that's probably what happened to Minnesota. Instead of a half an hour, they all of a sudden had the next team on 15 minutes ahead of them, and obviously they were trying to make a trade, and they got caught short. All of a sudden, it just started happening. It's kind of like a bloody nose; all of a sudden you have it, and the next thing you know it's all over you, and you're wondering what to do." -- Seahawks general manager Bob Ferguson on the Vikings' delinquent draft pick in the first round.


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