It was September of 2007. Week two of the NFL season. Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots has just been fined $500,000 and the team $250,000 and its 2008 first round draft pick for illegally videotaping the defensive signals of their opponents. The media scrutiny was fast and furious. They questioned the legitimacy of the team, its record, its character. How did the Patriots respond? They finished the regular season undefeated, won two playoff games, including the AFC Championship, and lost their only game all season to the New York Giants in Superbowl XLII.
It is April of 2012. The New Orleans Saints find themselves amid a mounting scandal over illegal bounties paid by the team for injuries to opposing players. Head Coach Sean Payton is suspended for one year, Assistant Coach Joe Vitt suspended six games, Linebacker and Defensive Captain Jonathan Vilma is also suspended for the entire 2012 season, Defensive End Will Smith is banned for the first four games, General Manager Mickey Loomis suspended for eight games and fined $500,000, the team is fined $500,000 and loses its second round pick in 2012 and 2013. Former players Anthony Hargrove (now signed with the Packers) will miss eight games and Scott Fujita (now with the Browns) will miss three games. Former Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams, signed by the St. Louis Rams in the offseason, is suspended indefinitely.
Can we expect the Saints to come out of bountygate much like the Patriots emerged from spygate? With a collective chip on their shoulder and a “prove it to the world” attitude? Nope. For one, the Saints are also in contract talks with team captain and star Quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has been tagged as a franchise player and is reportedly “livid” about it. The tag gives the Saints until July 16 to sign him to a long term deal. If they don’t, Brees will have to decide whether to sign the franchise agreement, which would pay him the league average $16.3 million for next season, or hold out. After which, the then 34 year old Superbowl winning quarterback could be tagged once more or become a free agent. The two sides are reportedly millions of dollars apart but are said to be communicating again as of recently.
This Saints team has been dismantled by the fallout from the bountygate scandal and really has no choice but to sign Brees to the long term deal he wants. Down two coaches and a defensive captain, Brees is the only real leadership the team has until Assistant Coach Joe Vitt comes back in week 8 (following their week 7 bye). To have Brees playing under a short term bargain deal or worse yet, holding out, would be suicide for a team already reeling from the bountygate fallout.
So no, don’t expect a repeat of the Patriots 2007 season. Don’t expect these Saints to come out with a perfect season and make a run at the Superbowl, which is hosted in their hometown this year. Not this team. Not this time. The best the Saints can hope for is for Brees to hold them together through a so-so season and look to rebuild in the near future.
As for the Saints, there’s not much they can do but write a blank check to Drew Brees, then sit around and wait for the next gate…to take the spotlight off of them. Lord knows it’s already in the works.