NEW ORLEANS, La. (WWL-TV) – Drew Brees in a post game interview said, “Not sure how much longer I can do this, tired of saying, ‘Next year, next year.'”
That quote sort of sums up my feelings on the defense, on Sean Payton rumors, and on 7-9 three straight years. I’m tired of it all. Will 2017 bring something different or more of the same? Hold tight, the answers will probably start coming fast and furious.
Silly me, I thought when Sean Payton signed his five-year extension this offseason that we were done with the ‘Will Sean Payton stay in New Orleans or not?’ rumors. Before the Saints finished 7-9 for the third straight time, the “Is Payton leaving?” industry was already cranked into overdrive. Is he heading to Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter who goes to college at Pepperdine. No wait, San Francisco just fired everybody and needs a name to keep season ticket sales high! Or what about Indianapolis? They might fire the their coach and general manager and they have Andrew Luck! Payton could make Luck the next Brees, if Brees was a giant who looked like a Civil War general. Did I forget anyone? Denver’s Gary Kubiak is retiring and they have a quarterback they drafted in first round and have a great defense already in place. I hear Denver is lovely in the spring.
This is all incredibly absurd and I believe if Tom Benson was 10 years younger none of this Sean Payton nonsense would be allowed. Some of you might not remember, but Tom Benson fired general manager Randy Mueller in 2002 for flirting or at least exploring taking another job with an NFL team.
There are reports the Rams are serious about hiring Payton and will ask for permission to speak to the Saints. At some point don’t the Saints have have to have just a little bit of self respect and not be ok with their head coach, who they pay $9 million per year, flirting with seemingly every NFL team in search of a coach?
There is only so many times in any relationship you can talk about leaving before the other person says, “You know maybe you do need to go.” Are the Saints at that point with Sean Payton? What exactly is a coach who has gone 21-27 the last three seasons worth? A third-round pick? A family pass to Disney World?
As for the Saints final game of 2016? The Saints were over-matched by a superior team focused on getting a first-round playoff bye. The final score of 38-32 makes the game seem closer than it really was. The Falcons offense, when they were fully focused, destroyed the Saints in a way no team has in 2016 since the last time the Falcons crushed the Saints 45-32 in Week 3.
Atlanta scored a touchdown on their final 9 first half possessions against the Saints this year. Read that last sentence again so the sadness of it fully washes over you.
In spite of the Saints defense getting turned to dust against Atlanta, it doesn’t mean they didn’t make real progress in 2016. Dennis Allen crafted a defense that was able to stop mediocre and bad NFL offenses, even with none of the cornerbacks they planned on having in August actually playing most of the season. For the Saints to be able to stop anyone on defense was a massive improvement over 2014 and 2015. The thing is though, against great offenses like Atlanta, you need good NFL players, and the Saints at the end of 2016 had none at cornerback and not enough elsewhere on defense. So they got annihilated.
The Saints offense was amazing this year. Drew Brees threw for 5,000 yards again, Mark Ingram ran for over 1000, and Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas each had 1,000 yards receiving. The Saints are only the second team in NFL history to do that after the 2013 Denver Broncos. Considering the Saints did it with Terron Armstead out for most of the year and with a mostly patchwork offensive line is pretty amazing.
The Saints offensive brilliance has a lot to do with how great Sean Payton is at designing an offensive game plan. So if we are indeed at the end of the Sean Payton, don’t kid yourself that this historic offense will continue in 2017. It won’t. It might still be very good, but it won’t be the same without Payton.
Whether Sean Payton stays or goes, the Saints are poised to try to make one last run with Drew Brees. No matter who the Saints head coach is in 2017, they will have nearly 30 million in salary cap space, so get ready for maybe the most wild and important offseason since 2006.