The Saints’ New Path

Rick Sarro Monday, July 18, 2022 Comments Off on The Saints’ New Path
The Saints’ New Path

We’ve come to learn that former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was much more popular and in demand than first thought.

Recent reports outlined that the Miami Dolphins were ready to shell out $100 million over five years for the offensive savant. But the Saints denied their request to contact or interview Payton.

That proposed contract would have set an NFL record for coaching pay. 

Atop that pay list sits another Sean, the LA Rams’ Sean McVay, who is pulling down $18.7 million after renegotiating his deal shortly after winning the Super Bowl.

You already know the rest of the story.


Payton retired after 15 years as Saints head coach with one Super Bowl title, a slew of playoff wins, a season-long suspension for “Bounty Gate” and his fair share of disappointments and missed opportunities. The 58-year-old Payton will head to the Fox network NFL studio show this season for what could be a one-year hiatus before he re-enters the coaching fraternity.

Let’s hope Payton performs better in front of the TV cameras than his former quarterback Drew Brees, who bombed on NBC’s NFL coverage after only one year.

TV is not as easy as it looks — not even for future football Hall of Famers like Brees and Payton.

This leads me to my mission of explaining how the Saints have started and navigated the franchise’s journey AP (after Payton).

They stayed in house and promoted top defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach. It was the correct and obvious decision.

They retained the assistant coaches minus one or two.

The combination of Allen and GM Mickey Loomis appears to have repaired the splintered relationship with former All Pro receiver Michael Thomas, who needs to realize that after missing nearly two seasons due to injury he needs to get his head and health right.

The team conducted what I believe was a successful draft, filling the two main roster voids by taking talented Ohio State receiver Chris Olave and Northern Iowa’s massive and mean offensive tackle Trevor Penning.

Then came the home run blasts in free agency signing: not one but two former LSU greats were signed and brought back home to Louisiana to finish their All Pro careers.

Tyrann Mathieu toyed with a few other teams after the Kansas City Chiefs inexplicably decided not to resign the All Pro safety after last season.  But Mathieu had the Saints in his sights the whole time he was a free agent.  

Talk about timing and filling a need. The Saints saw two pretty good starting safeties leave: Marcus Williams via free agency to Baltimore and Malcolm Jenkins to retirement.

In comes a huge upgrade in Mathieu, at a pretty fair price of around $14 million per year. Just think of the emotion and attitude in that defensive backfield now, with the Honey Badger (sorry I had to throw it in at some point), the highly charged C.J. Gardner-Johnson (the same guy who got into Tom Brady’s face), and the confident Marshon Lattimore.

Then came home run No. 2 with the signing of slot receiver Jarvis Landry. The yin to Odell Beckham Jr.’s yang, he and Beckham were both at LSU and, most recently, the Cleveland Browns. How the Browns could not make the Landry-OBJ pairing work wonders is beyond me — but that’s another issue.

Thomas and Olave playing wide on opposite sides gives the Saints a deep threat (Olave) and a possession weapon (Thomas). Now attacking opposing defenses from the inside slot will be the physical and catch-anything-within-reach Landry.

That’s a trifecta of receiving talent that will no doubt improve the Saints’ passing attack, which finished the 2021 season ranked dead last in the NFL.

I never thought I would write or utter such a thing concerning the Saints’ passing game, especially when the team was still being coached by Payton. I know after Jameis Winston was lost for the season during that game 5 knee injury against Tampa Bay there was a revolving door at quarterback. But sinking to the bottom of the barrel amid the Jaguars, Jets and Lions is just unthinkable.

Mandatory mini-camp workouts recently wrapped up with everyone present and accounted for. Defensive end Marcus Davenport even showed up with the top half of a pinkie finger cut off. The former first-round draft pick, who is finally living up to that status, decided to have the tip of a little finger amputated after he injured it in college. 

Davenport did not participate in any on-field work because of surgery to his right shoulder and, of course, the chopped off pinkie tip. He says he is hopeful of a full return by training camp later this July.

Mini-camp saw No. 41 Alvin Kamara on the field after a troubling off-season incident in Las Vegas in which he and some friends allegedly beat up a man exiting a hotel elevator. Of course, there was video that led to his arrest on battery charges after he finished  playing in the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas. Kamara’s court date in Nevada has since been postponed to August 1. The NFL has been conducting its own investigation, as it normally does in these situations.

The league usually doesn’t extend the long arm of its law toward players in trouble until the legal process has run its course. So Kamara and the Saints will move forward as if the star running back will start the season or at least the preseason.

If the battery charges are dropped or reduced to maybe a misdemeanor, Kamara will still likely face some form of suspension by the NFL for violating league conduct rules. I wouldn’t dare put a game count on any possible Kamara suspension at this point because Roger Goodell and his executive suits are still walking the minefield that is the DeShaun Watson case. Come August, though, the Kamara cloud will be following him and coach Allen around through the exhibition games and further on.

And speaking of Watson, you can bet Saints owner Gayle Benson and Loomis have sent Browns owner Jimmy Haslam a thank you note on the side for coming up with that $230 million dollar guaranteed contract that swayed Watson to decide to bypass New Orleans and go to Cleveland.

The Saints made a run at signing the embattled Watson, but were eventually beat out by the Browns for 230 million reasons. Now that Watson is facing even more civil lawsuits, and the New York Times has reported that he used 66 massage therapists over a 17-month period at various Houston hotels, well, that all points to his being neck deep in a swamp of accusations and trouble over alleged sexual misconduct.

I know it’s easy to be tempted, but in hindsight the Saints are lucky and counting their fleur-de-lis blessings that they didn’t signed Watson.

Think of the draft picks and players lost to the Texans in any deal with no return on investment if Watson faces subsequent criminal charges and the NFL buries him with a one- or possibly two-year suspension.

If the suspension, which seems like a foregone conclusion at this point, is anything over eight games, you can bet the NFL Players Association will get involved.

All of that doom and gloom is on the table, depending on where these civil lawsuits go and whether Watson’s lead attorney makes any more outlandish statements in public. Rusty Hardin said during a Houston radio interview that it isn’t a crime for a massage to finish with a “happy ending.”

I can’t make that up.

Hardin backed off his comments, saying he was not referring to his client, but just speaking in general terms of consensual sex.

Watson continues to deny any sexual misconduct, but has admitted to consensual sex with three masseuses. 

What this means for the Saints is they dodged a serious bullet by losing Watson to the Browns.

What this also means is that Winston went into mini-camp, and will enter July’s training camp, as the undisputed starter at quarterback.

Veteran Andy Dalton is there along with Taysom Hill as back-up quarterbacks. If Winston’s knee continues to heal, he is on schedule to start the season.

Now that doesn’t mean Allen and Loomis won’t bring in another veteran between now and, say, mid-August if they are unsure of the quarterback position.

The job is Winston’s to lose.

The way I see it, the Saints’ first steps without Sean Payton have gone very well and as planned. The road forward still has some tricky pot holes to be avoided, along with the twists and turns of injuries and suspensions, but all and all, it’s been a good start.   

Catch Rick Sarro’s commentary and latest opinions on Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tueday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and again Saturday at 11 pm and Sunday at 10 pm.

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