Loom-ing Problems

Rick Sarro Friday, March 3, 2023 Comments Off on Loom-ing Problems
Loom-ing Problems

I have always likened New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis to Steph Curry at the free throw line.

He hardly ever misses.

Uh, until 2022 or thereabouts.

I wouldn’t say Loomis, the consummate professional, who is considered one of the top five GMs in the NFL, has the yips like a certain Dallas Cowboys kicker. But he has been on more of a miss than a hit streak.

Loomis’ latest shank is the Sean Payton “trade” to the Denver Broncos. Loomis had no power or sway about where the former Saints head coach decided to resume his coaching career other than granting teams permission to interview Payton.

What Loomis and owner Gayle Benson did have control over is what Denver offered and ultimately compensated the Saints with in exchange for Payton, who was still under contract with New Orleans for the next two years.

Simply put, the Saints got robbed in this deal and I can’t believe Loomis agreed to it.

Denver’s 29th pick in the first round this year, along with a second round pick in 2024, is a hijacking — especially when you toss in that the Saints are giving the Broncos their 2024 third round pick.

A late first-rounder this April and an anyone’s guess second-rounder next year are pittance for a Super Bowl champion coach and the biggest fish from the coaching pool.

I just don’t see how Loomis thought this was a good deal for the Saints, and I would bet the majority of NFL pundits would agree that this was highway robbery and the Broncos got a Pass Go and a Get Out Of Jail Free card in the process.

The Payton move looks even more like a deep discount deal when you compare it to the NFL’s other high profile coach’s trade.

In 2002, Al Davis, the late mercurial owner of the then-Oakland Raiders,  traded head coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay and in return got two first-round draft picks and two second-round picks along with $8 million in cash!

And Gruden had not won a Super Bowl. Not yet anyway.

He did end up winning the championship in Tampa, ironically, that very season, crushing the Raiders 48-21, which had to make the deal all the more more palatable to the Bucs.

 I can’t believe that 21 years later the value for an offensive savant; a detail-minded, culture-building, competitive-control-freak, Super Bowl-winning coach like Payton, didn’t at least match or exceed the value in the Gruden deal.

Loomis is smarter than that, so I have to believe he had no other choice, short of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sticking his nose into the affair.

Clearly, it would have been better for the Saints if Payton was seeking the then-vacant job in Houston. The Texans’ draft capital includes the 2nd and 12th selections in the first round this spring and two first-round picks in 2024.

Now that’s some chips on the table for wheeling and dealing. But unfortunately Payton had no interest or intention of taking the Texans job.

I’ve said all along the 59-year-old Payton should have hung out with the Fox Network with his cushy studio analyst job for another year and waited for the Cowboys, Chargers or Rams to come knocking after next season.

The assertion that Payton’s value or the Saints’ leverage would have weakened by waiting another year is flat out nutty. Creative offensive coaches like Payton are generational and hard to come by. The bidding would have been even more aggressive.

So Payton got what he wanted: a five-year contract that will probably pay him upwards of $20 million a season from the NFL’s richest ownership groups in Denver.

The Saints didn’t get enough and Loomis has left the team in a bind, still seeking a franchise quarterback who can’t be found with the 29th pick this April.

Loomis’ other whiffs plagued the Saints this season. He bypassed Doug Pederson for head coach and hired then-defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Loomis sided with a failed head coach in Allen (who has worked less than two years as head coach in Oakland) instead of a Super Bowl winner in Pederson.

I have to think Loomis watched the same putrid Saints offense we all saw last season. But he still opted to bring back offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael. He should have cut bait on Carmichael.

About the only thing the Saints could hang their helmets on last season was defense. I’ll give Allen credit for some of that, as he still made the in-game defensive calls. But how on earth does their best unit lose its top two defensive assistant coaches?

Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen left to become the new DC with rival Atlanta, reuniting with Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, a LaGrange High grad and Lake Charles native.

Then came the surprising news that the Saints’ other co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Kris Richard have parted ways. Whether Richard was fired or wanted out is up to interpretation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in Denver with Payton.

When it’s all said and done, Loomis and Allen are in need of three new top-level defensive assistant coaches and possibly a new quarterbacks coach if Ronald Curry decides to leave.

After 25 years in executive type NFL jobs, is Loomis sleeping at the wheel?

He’s been the Saints’ GM since 2002, and has been very successful over most of those 21 years.

He hired Sean Payton; agreed to secure Drew Brees when no other team wanted his damaged right shoulder.  Loomis has had numerous marvelous drafts for the record books, including the 2017 haul that brought such starters and stars as Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams and Trey Hendrickson to New Orleans.

  But lately the Loomis golden touch has lost its luster.

  Just how badly have the Michael Thomas and Jameis Winston situations been handled?

  Thomas should have been traded after his first ankle injury, which was followed by pouting and a dose of diva drama from the former All Pro receiver. Now the Saints are left with an aging, injury-prone, expensive Thomas who has played in … hold on … wait for this … it’s coming … be patient … 10  of 50 regular season games over the past three years.

While Thomas has missed 80 percent of his games, Loomis has kept him under contract at $20 million a year and, as far as we know, never seriously tried to move him. No other team will have any interest in Thomas until he can log a full, productive season with no injury.

Unbelievable: 10 of 50 games and they are still waiting for his body to heal.

Good luck.

Winston, with those mysterious vertebra breaks in his back, is now a shell of his former self. He played the first two or three games last season. He was sidelined to rest and heal but never made it back under center, relinquishing his job to veteran journeyman Andy Dalton.

Loomis is now stuck with Winston buried on the depth chart, with no confidence and little to no trade value.

And speaking of little to no trade value, how about former first-round draft picks defensive ends Payton Turner (2021) and Marcus Davenport (2018)?  

And then there was one defensive star Loomis wasn’t patient with, didn’t see enough value in keeping and chose to trade to Philadelphia.  

Safety/nickel back C.J. Gardner-Johnson, a fan favorite and opposition nemesis for his brash in-your-face style of play, helped make the Eagles defense one of the top two in the NFC and played in Super Bowl 57.

Win some, lose some, I guess. 

The Saints’ bigger financial picture, which falls in Loomis’ wheelhouse, is in dire straits. 

Even though the NFL raised its salary cap total figure to nearly $225 million dollars, guess who is still dead last with the highest dollar number over the cap right now?

Yep, the Black and Gold — at $59 million over the limit.

Loomis and his brain trust have until mid-March to get that $59 million in line with the cap space. And they seem to work their financial wizardry every year. In doing so, there is always collateral damage with roster talent and depth.

Loomis and the Saints have been like the federal government managing the debt level. It keeps going up and they keep kicking the can down a pothole plagued road.

Don’t get me wrong. Loomis, NFL Executive of the Year in 2006, has done many great things over his long tenure with the Saints. But his low points have been doozies.

His role in the infamous Bounty-Gate scandal rose to the top when an NFL probe found that Loomis ignored directions from then-owner Tom Benson to end the pay for pain system which resulted in the GM’s suspension for the first eight games of the 2012 season.

Then came the allegations that Loomis had listening devices installed in the opponents’ Super Dome coaching suites from 2002 to 2004. This one got all the way to the FBI, which investigated and found no evidence of wiretapping shenanigans.

I don’t hold any of that against him, especially after Spy-Gate, Deflate-Gate and the NOLA No Call debacle that the NFL totally botched. But I’m a forgiving sort.

What is a troubling trend is a run of questionable decisions by Loomis on coaches he has kept and others he chose not to keep (Richard) or hire (Pederson). Same for players and draft moves.  

He went into the 2022 season with a roster capable of winning the NFC South if they were just solid at quarterback. But Loomis decided to push his chips and go all in on either Winston or Dalton and he lost the bet with a 7-10 record.

Now the Saints have no real prospects at the moment for improving at quarterback unless they figure out that salary cap dilemma and get in line for veterans Lamar Jackson (do they have $280 million lying around?), Derek Carr (I would take him for the right price), Jimmy Garoppolo (oft injured) or Baker Mayfield (yikes).

The one-sided Sean Payton deal with Denver is the latest Loomis maneuver that shortchanges the Saints now and going forward.

The only one getting paid well is Payton, who got exactly what he wanted: a year off to play TV and build his brand; a new start with a multi-year deal that will surely make him the highest paid NFL coach; and a shot at winning a Super Bowl with a second team.

I’m not saying Loomis’ job should be in jeopardy.

But I would like him to start hitting some of those gimmes.

Catch Rick Sarro’s commentary and latest opinions on Soundoff on CBS Lake Charles Tuesday and Thursday nights at 10:05 pm and again Saturday at 6 pm. Follow Rick on Twitter @ricksarro.

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