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QBREES9 02-24-2010 11:08 PM

World Champion New Orleans Saints positioned to maintain strong roster heading into free agency
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Two and a half weeks into their reign as Super Bowl champions, it’s time for the New Orleans Saints to demonstrate they can handle the aftermath of a championship as expertly as they handled the quest for that championship.

Preparations for free agency and the draft are picking up steam as the deadline approaches for franchise and transition player designations, and the Draft Combine gets under way.

The Saints have 28 players whose contracts will soon expire, but retaining a championship core shouldn’t be difficult. New Orleans will be last in line at the draft, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be able to bolster its roster during the expanded player selection process in April.

Now that the Saints have completed the 43-year odyssey to become the best team in the NFL for one season, it is for the first time tackling the challenge of becoming a perennially elite franchise.

The most immediate task now is for Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, the football operations staff, and Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc to make the franchise more than the 2002 Buccaneers or the 2001 Ravens or even the 2000 Rams.

The goal at this point has to be to become the 2010s version of the 2000s Patriots, the 1990s Cowboys, the 1980s 49ers, the 1970s Steelers, Dolphins, or Cowboys, or the 1960s Packers.

The Saints are in a position that is rare - an opportunity not so much to position yourself to defend your Super Bowl title as to establish yourself as the team, the franchise, the organization, against which all others are measured.

You can’t do that until you win a Super Bowl. Once you win that Super Bowl, you must turn your attention to becoming a consistent contender to win subsequent Super Bowls. There will be setbacks and there will be ups and downs, but you now have to adopt a whole new set of standards.

Super Bowl XLIV should not be the end of a 43-year odyssey, it must be the beginning of a new era of excellence – for this franchise, for this city – that will be the envy of the NFL.

From here on out the Saints’ approach to doing business should be that of a standard-setter not “a small-market team.” Each decision they make must be in the context of what strengthens their chances of ensuring that the 2009 season wasn’t an aberration, that they won’t be a one-hit wonder.

New Orleans finds itself in the unusual position of being one of the most popular potential destinations for free agents. Every player wants to go the Super Bowl. What offensive player wouldn’t want to play in Payton’s offense? What defensive player wouldn’t want to play in Gregg Williams’ defense?

Players also like to maximize their income, but a chance to win a Super Bowl ring can offset a small difference in offers. The potential for playoff money and reaching incentives can also be attractive.

The Saints’ most-pressing personnel issue is whether to place a franchise tag on safety Darren Sharper, which would keep him off the free agent market, but commit the team to a one-year $6.455 million contract. Indications are the organization will not tag franchise Sharper.

I see no reason for the franchise to tag Sharper, who has indicated he would like to return to the team, preferably with a multi-year contract.

As important as Sharper was to the Saints’ success last season, he needs them more than they need him.

He wound up in New Orleans last offseason partly because no one else was eager to have him, and he’s a year older now. Sure, his stock has risen because of his Pro Bowl season, but the fit he had with Gregg Williams’ defense and the personnel around him had something to do with that.

The Saints should be able to lay off the franchise tag and negotiate a deal that’s satisfactory to them and Sharper and is a better value that the franchise tag would require. That’s Loomis’ job.

No one among the Saints free agents is someone the team can’t live without. There are many they would like to have back, but there’s no need to overpay for any of them, especially with virtually all of them being restricted, meaning their departure would bring reasonable compensation.

It’s Loomis’ job to cut equitable deals with the most useful free agents and find adequate replacements for any that may depart. The Saints will have to wait their turn in the draft, but they’ll have the luxury of drafting the best player available regardless of positions of need and regardless of whether the players are ready to have an impact or will require some patience.

Former general manager Randy Mueller, who hired Loomis, used to talk about “churning the roster,” always looking for ways to turn over the bottom of the roster and refreshing it with new blood, often times younger, in a constant effort to upgrade.

The other 31 teams in the NFL are gunning for the Saints, and winning the championship after the 2009 season guarantees nothing other than a greater challenge in 2010 and beyond.

A lot of hard work and astute moves put New Orleans in this position. More of the same can keep it there.

February 7, 2010 was the end of a long, bittersweet journey, but it can also be the start of a much better one.

(Les East’s blog was named “Best Sports Blog” by the Press Club of New Orleans.)

Stealthman 02-26-2010 08:59 AM

Re: World Champion New Orleans Saints positioned to maintain strong roster heading into free agency
Good article.

homerj07 02-26-2010 10:39 AM

Re: World Champion New Orleans Saints positioned to maintain strong roster heading into free agency

Originally Posted by Stealthman (Post 210388)
Good article.

I agree - detailed w/o going into too many stats or things like that.
Good read!!

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