Times Pic Mid season Analysis Part 2 (new players)
Saints not afraid to make mistakes, or correct them
Thursday November 06, 2003
By Brian Allee-Walsh
In light of recent events and a disappointing 4-5 start, Saints officials probably should have jettisoned pear-shaped defensive tackle Grady Jackson back in March.
And they probably should never have traded a fourth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for running back Curtis Keaton before the 2002 season.
Keaton, who had difficulty digesting the playbook, lasted one forgettable season and was cut in August. Jackson was waived Monday, following a week's suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Team officials, obviously not in denial, should be commended for cutting their losses in both instances. Previous Saints regimes seldom confessed to their personnel sins even after being shown the door by owner Tom Benson.
Truth is, all pro sports franchises err when it comes to evaluating players. The idea is to minimize those mistakes, learn from them, and keep sawing wood.
"None of the successful teams in the league have ever been afraid to make mistakes," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "You're going to make them. It's inevitable. I don't care who you are.
"But we're not going to change our approach, or let mistakes deter us because we miss on a player. We want to stay aggressive. If we make mistakes they will be calculated ones. We're not taking risks without putting a lot of thought into it. But there's a risk-reward quotient in every player, in every decision that we make. Obviously, some of them are not going to pan out. But we need the majority to pan out for us to be successful."
No truer words have been spoken.
The Saints' current 53-man roster features nearly two dozen new players from the end of the 2002 season, thanks to the collective effort of Coach Jim Haslett, Director of Player Personnel Rick Mueller and Loomis.
Seven are considered full-time starters, including the team's two marquee acquisitions, left tackle Wayne Gandy and free safety Tebucky Jones, and the No. 1 draft pick, defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.
The franchise paid a steep price for the big three, consequently they need to pan out. Consider:
-- For Jones, the Saints sent third- and seventh-round draft picks in 2003 and a fourth-round pick in 2004 to the New England Patriots, then signed him to a seven-year, $30.575 million contract that includes $6 million in bonus money.
-- Knowing they were going to deal disgruntled tackle Kyle Turley to the highest bidder, Saints officials went out and signed Gandy to a six-year, $25 million contract in March that includes a $5 million signing bonus.
-- Sullivan, 22, came on board because of aggressive draft-day maneuvering. Team officials sent their two first-round draft picks (Nos. 17 and 18) and a second-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for the sixth overall pick, plus their second- and fourth-round picks. Sullivan agreed to a seven-year, $19 million contract, including $11.4 million in bonus money.
Of the three, Gandy clearly has provided the biggest bang for the Saints' bucks.
Not only does Gandy still have game at age 32, he's been a strong presence inside and outside the locker room. When he speaks, teammates and Haslett listen.
Gandy is not afraid to get in teammates' faces if the situation warrants. For instance, after the Tampa Bay game, he strongly encouraged an injured player to get well soon. When Haslett considered giving the team a day off recently, Gandy convinced him the younger players needed the work.
"I was with him in Pittsburgh (in 1999), but I didn't coach him," said Haslett, who coordinated the Steelers' defense from 1997-99. "I had no idea what kind of a leader he is. Pound for pound, he's the best thing that could happen to this football team."
Based on nine games, Jones has not justified his contract. He has no interceptions, no fumble recoveries, no forced fumbles and has broken up four passes. He seemingly has missed as many tackles as he's made (28). Where's the impact?
By comparison, strong safety Jay Bellamy, an 11th-hour replacement for injured Mel Mitchell, leads the team with 58 tackles, has broken up seven passes and forced two fumbles.
Saints officials saddled Jones by giving him the kind of money usually afforded shutdown cornerbacks. Now he's not a bust. He has started nine games, seems to be a model pro, works hard, and has helped limit big plays for touchdowns.
But team officials thought they had purchased a home-run hitter. So far, he appears to possess warning-track power.
"He's probably the most scrutinized guy on our football team, besides our quarterback," because of his contract, said Haslett, who reiterated for the umpteenth time that he'd rather have Jones than Pro Bowl safety Sammy Knight, now with the Miami Dolphins.
Although coming off his best game as a pro against Tampa Bay, Sullivan has not progressed as quickly as some inside the organization would like.
In fairness, Sullivan isn't the only No. 1 pick from the 2003 draft class who's struggling.
But at least he's playing on a regular basis. The team's No. 2 pick, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, has been inactive for all nine games. Some fans wonder why the team drafted him in the first place when the defense had more glaring needs.
"If we were 5-3, no one would be saying anything about Jon Stinchcomb," Loomis said. "It's a root of function of what is happening to us now. If we don't have the injuries on defense than there's not a question about taking some other guy in the draft who might be playing for us now.
"Again, we can't let public opinion drive our personnel decisions or coaching decisions; that's not going to happen. We care about what the fans think, and we certainly want to make Saints fan proud to be Saints fans, but we're not going to let public opinion drive decisions for us on personnel or coaching."
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Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3805.
Times Pic Mid season Analysis Part 2 (new players)
I don\'t think he is too fond you you either Loomis. See what you and WhoDat can work out Loomis. Hey WhoDat -- I got your back if you decide to take the job. I\'ll be here defending you when everyone is calling for your head. :P
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