According to a league source, the Saints have released veteran offensive lineman Jahri Evans, LB's David Hawthorne, and Ramon Humber.
Evans signed an extension last year with the Saints. He was orriginally drafted by the Saints in the 4th round out of Bloomsburgh college in 2006 and was a part of the team's first Super Bowl victory in 2009-2010. Evans earned six Pro Bowl trips in his 10 seasons in New Orleans.
LBs David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber both enjoyed some success in New Orleans. Hawthorne was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2012 from Seattle, but never turned into the playmaker the Saints had hoped for. Hawthorne was scheduled to receive $1.9 million in salary this season in part of a salary restructure last off-season.
Humber was used sparingly as a role player this season, filling in for the often-injured Dannell Ellerbe. Humber is a player that was valued on special teams, and as a role player at times in situational defenses, but became expendable this offseason.
Several players are starting to stand out here in Mobile at Senior Bowl. Some are standing out for the right reasons and have caught the interest of the Saints.
Noah Spence OLB (Eastern Kentucky): I wrote about him yesterday and he's continuing to have a solid week. In one on one pass rush drills he's virtually unblockable. Spence has a vast array of moves and countermoves to keep offensive linemen on thier heels. Several scouts have told me he's got early first round talent but his character concerns are unnerving to teams that are picking high in round one.
Kyler Fackrell OLB (Utah State): He's a really interesting player, and he reminds people of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita. Fackrell is huge at 6ft 5 and 250 lbs. He met with Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen earlier this week, to "get familiar" with one another and also the Saints talked a little X's and O's with Fackler, testing his football IQ, and from what I'm told the meeting with the Saints went really well.
Sheldon Rankins DT (Louisville): He has been dominant this week in one one pass rushing drills .He's not huge, and in fact is a little undersided on the inside but he's really quick off the ball with a really nice spin move. He's powerful for a player that is only 6'2 and 303 lbs. Rankins impressed scouts and coaches with his bull rush during practice.
Cody Whitehair OG (Kansas State): Has a mean streak in his play, and really well suited to handle the bull rush at the NFL level from defensive tackles. Whitehair will meet with the Saints tomorrow, and is considered an extremely smart player that uses his intellegence and technique in a perfect blend.
Shawn Oakman DE (Baylor): He's the biggest guy in any room or on any field at 6'9 and 275. Oakman is a physical specimen that will test really well, but on the field he's been less than impressive. For a man that is that size with that much athleticism, he's just a freak athlete on the football field, but has a long way to go. Oakman did meet with the Saints this week. As with all these meetings it's hard to get a true read on the interest level from any teams. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis pointed out yesterday, this process is just a small step in gathering as much information they can on a player.
Impressions: We've all heard the saying "Never fail to make a good first impression," right? Or something to that effect. NFL hopefuls and college seniors are in Mobile, Alabama this week trying to do just that.. make a good first impression in meetings with teams and on the practice field. Saints coach Sean Payton, along with his coaching staff and the teams scouting department, are evaluating every part of the process here. "This environment is different, you really get to see them in contact in one on ones... you get to see a lot more than the combine or the pro day," explained coach Sean Payton. The Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars are the coaching staffs for the South and North squads that comprise the Senior Bowl.
Collecting information: Every team in the NFL is here in Mobile, and while the on-the-field evaluations are important to every club, the one on one interviews are a significant part of the pre-draft evaluation as well. "How do they compete on the field, and how do they interact when they're away from the field? Do they stand out in a good way or bad way?" Payton added. The Saints overhauled the "character" on their team a year ago and it started right here at the Senior Bowl with players like Hau'oli Kikaha. In fact, the Saints drafted four players last year that played in the 2015 game (Kikaha, Stephone Anthony, Garrett Grayson, and Marcus Murphy). "There is something about a senior - if two players were equal - one a junior and one a senior..." Payton hinted the maturity factor for a senior is another factor to consider in the draft.
One on one: I mentioned the interviews that teams will conduct with the seniors, and it's something that goes on all week long at different points. Some of the interviews will take five minutes, or chalk talk, or just getting to know a player, but others are more intense. In particular, if a player has a checkered history of off the field, that concerns most teams including the Saints, and they are going to talk to them a bit longer or several times throughout the off-season. General Manager Mickey Loomis says the team places value on those one on one interviews. "We get to get a gauge on personality, and what they know in terms of football. That's an important part of this," he explained. Now with that said, the Saints view this Senior Bowl as a part of an introduction or a first look based on what their scouts have gathered throughout the year. "They can get our attention by the way they practice, by the way we see things collectively and the interview process," Loomis added, but he also stressed the team doesn't come to any finite decisions based on the Senior Bowl.
Coaching Clarity: Sean Payton acknowledged some coaching staff changes, and hinted at one more vacancy possibly being filled this week. Dan Campbell will coach the Tight Ends and hold the title of "Assistant Head Coach" on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Vitt will maintain his linebackers coaching title along with "Assistant Head Coach" on the defensive side of the ball. Dan Roushar will move from Tight Ends coach to offensive line coach, after the team dismissed Bret Ingalls earlier this off-season as the teams O-Line Coach. Ingals held two posts with the Saints under Payton, coaching running backs and Offensive Linemen during his time in New Orleans. Joe Lombardi will re-assume the QB coach roll, after Mike Nue's departure for Ball State (Head Coach). The Saints still have to replace Greg Lewis (offensive assistant) who left for a promotion with the Eagles. Aaron Glenn was added to the defensive staff this off-season along with defensive assistant Peter Giunta.
Players to watch: The Saints visited with Eastern Kentucky Linebacker Noah Spence today, and from what I understand it was a long meeting, but not unusual. Spence is considered a possible top 10 pick in the draft, but comes with a buyer beware label because of his off the field problems that eventually landed him at Eastern Kentucky after getting booted out of Ohio State. "We're going to have a chance to spend time with every player here, it's all important, collecting information and analyzing that information," said Loomis when asked about the meeting with Spence.
I caught up with Spence earlier today and he acknowledged the meeting with the Saints and described it as "fun" and said "it went well." Spence is considered a dynamic player and could really provide some juice to the Saints pass rush off the edge, but the character concerns are obviously there and would be considered a bit of a risk with the 12th overall pick this year for the Saints.
Another player that is getting a lot of attention this week is Penn State Defensive End Carl Nassib. First of all, he's huge at 6 ft 7 and 272, and he has the size and wing span NFL teams love. One scout desribed his body type in the same way he would describe Houston Texans DE J.J Watt - "long Arms, long body that can create problems for any player." The same scout prefaced his comments with "I'm not comparing his ability or future to Watt, I'm simply making a body type comparison." That's pretty impressive to be metioned in the same breath as Watt, and Nassib could be a middle or late first round draft choice.
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan is headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Patriots DE Chandler Jones.
Jordan had 10 sacks on a defensive unit that ranked last or next to last in just about every category. He did, however, rank near the top defensive players in pressures this season. This will be Cam Jordan's second trip to the Pro-Bowl in his career.
Saints QB Drew Brees was probably an injury replacement option as well but because he's dealing with an injured foot from this season he likely wasn't a viable option.
The off-season scouting process is well underway for the Saints and the rest of the NFL, following last week’s East vs West Shrine game last week. This week the Saints and others will flood Mobile, Alabama to check out the top seniors in the country that have promise in the pros at this year’s Senior Bowl. Last year the Saints got a good look at LB Hau’oli Kikaha in this game, and then ended up drafting him in the second round last May. The Saints are in need of some defensive line help, and fortunately for them, it’s on display this week in Mobile.
Austin Jones (Penn State), Bronson Kaufusi (BYU), Carl Nassib (Penn State), Shawn Oaklman (Baylor). Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Jarran Reed (Alabama), Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky), Charles Tapper (Oklahoma), Lawrence Thomas (Michigan State), Aldophus Washington (Ohio State), are among the top players along the defensive line that could end up on the Saints radar.
Nassib is a player to watch. He was highly valued coming into his senior season by draft experts and battled some injuries and his production dipped a bit, but a scout I talked to said “He’s projected to be a really good player at the next level and if you can get him late in round one or top 15 picks of round two, you’re going to be very happy.”
The Saints need a player that can eat up space in the middle of the defense, I expect them to take a hard look at Alabama defensive lineman Jarran Reed.
Another position group the Saints will likely scout pretty hard this week is at inside, outside linebacker, and wide receiver. Reggie Ragland (Alabama) is a player to watch at outside linebacker. Saints coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis are expected to talk to the media on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl.
Follow me on twitter @KristianGaric all week for inside updates on the Saints during the week. Players will typically meet with teams later in the evening all week so when I hear about the meetings, then I’ll pass them along.
This is one of my favorite off-season events of the year, it usually produces some pretty good nuggets of information!
The AFC and NFC title games are set between the Broncos vs Patriots in the AFC and Panthers vs Cardinals in the NFC. New England is making their 10th appearance in the conference championship game since 2001. Let me says that again, 10 trips to the conference title game! Immediately the question becomes obvious: Does parity really exist in the NFL? I would argue that it doesn’t. Parity is defined as “The state or condition of being equal.” Is the NFL really on equal footing? The NFL is clearly a league that is not on equal footing.
The NFL has touted parity claims for the better part of the Patriots dominance over this time frame. In a league where coaches and players alike are defined by championships, think about this for a minute. Since 2001, the New England Patriots have won four SuperBowls. The Steelers have won two, the Ravens one… the Seahawks have won one, and been to three in that span. Remember - equal footing right? The Giants have won two. The Packers, Saints, and Colts have each won a title in that span. Since 2001 we’ve seen three franchises that have won multiple Super Bowls; Patriots, Steelers and Giants. What’s more? Look at the playoff appearances for each franchise.
Pittsburgh has made the playoffs 14 times
Ravens 15 playoff appearances
Patriots 16 times in the post-season
Colts 15 post season trips
Broncos 10 times
Packers 15 times
During this stretch the NFL has seven teams with playoff droughts of seven seasons or longer. Equal footing right? Hardly! So now let’s define equal shall we? Equal “being the same, in quantity, size, or value.” Every team in the NFL is clearly not the same. Not the same value either. The illusion of parity was created to generate excitement in belief for the teams that really don’t have a chance to win a Super Bowl as a grand way of marketing.
If you’re still not convinced in my argument, try this one on: Only one time since 2001 either Patriots, Ravens, Broncos, Steelers or Colts were not featured in the AFC title game. I don’t know that we can fix the parity disparity because it’s all about the teams that have a franchise Quarterback and the teams that don’t.
I just encourage you to look closely and ditch the argument dispensed from the NFL that every team is equal and that “your team has a chance.” Your team only has a real chance if you have a franchise QB and you live in Pittsburgh, New England, Denver, Baltimore, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Green Bay, Seattle, New York (Giants), Carolina, and Arizona. The rest of the teams are just on the hamster wheel.
At the risk of sounding like a groupie, I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. It’s the music I grew up on in the 90’s, along with a little Nirvana. I usually don’t get star struck or giddy about meeting/seeing celebrities but when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival announced the 2016 line up with Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam included, I literally got butterflies. I’m a huge music fan, and if I had my druthers, and perhaps won the lottery, I would be a concert junkie traveling all over the world seeing any and every band I enjoyed. That is a little be strange to hear perhaps, because after all, my job is sports radio!
My idea of a relaxing night is not in front of the TV, but in front of my sound system blasting my favorite songs as loud as I (and my neighbors) can stand. I don’t watch a lot of television and would prefer to walk around with earbuds. I mix it into just about everything I do. When I’m not in the mood to listen to Tommy Tucker, Scoot, Garland, or Bobby and Deke, I’m in the car jamming. If you’ve ever pulled up to me at a red light in all likelihood you’ve seen me playing the air guitar to some song or another. If Pearl Jam is on, DON’T TALK if you’re in the car with me.
I’ve never seen Pearl Jam live in my life and it’s always been a bucket list band for me, and this April I’ll get to cross that off my list at Jazz Fest. Full disclosure - I ran into Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis earlier this season at a Saints game, and I was half joking when I said to him “I would love to see Pearl Jam at Jazz Fest” with a smile. Quint looked at me and laughed and said “Kristian, you have a million dollars?” I replied “of course not” and the conversation kind of ended there. I thought that it was going to remain just that a bucket list item I might never ever see.
I ran into Quint two weeks later again at a Saints game, and he said “I’m working on Pearl Jam for you!” I laughed and said “No you’re not, I mean you’re kidding right? because I didn’t win the lottery...” Once again the conversation ended just like that.
Earlier this week, lo and behold, Pearl Jam was announced as one of the headliners to the spring music event in New Orleans. When I heard the news my reaction was “No way, huh?”. So at WWL we put in a request to have Davis on Double Coverage with me and T-Bob on to talk about the action packed schedule that also includes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mystikal, Snoop Dog, and more great artists.
Quint obliged and joined us last night. “Kristian, we did it, right?” he asked when he first joined the show, and then went on to say “You got the credit! You're the reason they're there... it cost me over a million dollars just to make it happen!” While it was a cool moment, I’m not naive to think that it’s just for me, but to Quint I say THANK YOU! You’re going to help me see my favorite band on the planet. I’ll live in my world though and think that for one moment that Quint really did do it for me. I mean I am the only fan of Pearl Jam in all of the world.
So if you’re at Jazz Fest this year for Pearl Jam, come find me. Let’s rock out to the sweet sounds of Eddie Vedder and company. I’ll be the guy with stars in his eyes, and perhaps a tear or two and definitely playing the air guitar to “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Black.” Quint, you knocked it out the park this year, thanks once again! If you’re trying to find or reach me on April 23rd, there is only one place to look. Jazz Fest at the Fairgrounds! Who's on your bucket list of bands?
The Saints are parting ways with offensive line coach Brett Ingalls.
That's according to ESPN's Adam Caplan.
He served on the Saints coaching staff for seven seasons starting as a running backs coach in 2009 before taking over the offensive line coaching responsibility in 2013.
The Saints added a couple of coaches this week - Dan Campbell, who will coach the tight ends. Current tight ends coach Dan Roushar will take over for Ingalls as the offensive line coach according to the report from ESPN. Roushar spent several years coaching the offensive line at Michigan State before joining the Saints.
The decision to move on from Ingalls is not that surprising. While the Saints offense has been highly effective during Ingalls' time as the O-line coach, the unit has had some struggles protecting Drew Brees and running the football. Roushar should be able to provide a seamless transition.
The Saints never shopped their coach to other teams, that’s what General Manager and Executive Vice President Mickey Loomis said today. Loomis sat down with the local media for his end of the season review following last week's press conference from Head Coach Sean Payton. Loomis reiterated that he's “100 % confident” in Sean Payton. “He's a great head coach, a great head coach. Just look at his record," Loomis stated.
Payton is 87 and 57 as the Saints head coach in 9 seasons, with a 6 and 4 playoff record for those keeping track at home. Loomis also said he "never had a discussion with another team about the availability of Sean Payton. No one called. I didn't call anyone."
Well, I guess that settles that.
In fact, Loomis said Sean Payton walked into the Monday meeting after the season and told him the same thing he said in the press conference, "I want to be the coach here. I want to be the coach of the Saints."Loomis explained, "It never really went beyond that."
Loomis described his relationship with Payton as solid, "I'm the General Manager, and he's the head coach. From the beginning we have come to a mutual conclusion. We've never had to say 'it's my final say' or 'it's his final say' - we've never had to get to that."
As I talked about repeatedly since the Saints ended the season almost two weeks ago, the number one priority now for the Saints on the check list of offseason items is the contract of Drew Brees. What will the Saints do with his $30 million dollar cap figure? "I know this, Drew is going to be our quarterback," Loomis explained. "We'll figure out how we're going to handle, the contract whether it remains the same or whether we do something different. That's all a part of what we have to figure out in the next several weeks."
The Saints are projected to be $10 million dollars over the cap at the start of the league year on March 9th, but Loomis says he'll find a way to work around that. "It's not a great cap situation. It's not as dire as sometimes made out to be. We know where we're at, and what we have to do. It's definitely a factor though," Loomis added. "I don't like be up against the cap or being over the cap, but I'm comfortable in that area. When you're a good team and you're paying guys that circumstance is going to happen."
There is a school of thought that Payton and Loomis aren't held accountable by anyone in the organization because of perceived notions about the health of team owner Tom Benson. Loomis sets the record straight, "There is accountability. I answer and we answer to Mr B. I can't help perception.
Look, he entrusts the football people to make football decisions. Are there mistakes? Yeah, but we always own them.”
The General Manager also touched on the recent misses the team had in free agency. "You know what makes it hard to build depth, is having two second round draft picks taken away from you,' Loomis said in a clear way of voicing displeasure about the NFL’s punishment for the bounty scandal.
"Making a mistake with a contract with a player that's harmful. We all do it, though, we all have those. Just like we have draft picks that don't work out. We have other guys that work out, so we're all focused on the ones that don't work out," Loomis added.
I've been asked several times about how Loomis' role with the Pelicans affects his ability to manage the Saints. I've always maintained that theory is a little overstated and that it really doesn’t impact Loomis’ role as General Manager of the Saints. Loomis confirmed, "I gotta pay attention to that. I'm fully engaged in the Saints and getting us to the next level. My role with the Pelicans is a little overblown. We've got a general manager and head coach that we have a lot of confidence in to get that ship righted. I don't feel that way, and yet I gotta pay attention and make sure that's not happening." Loomis really isn't that involved in the day to day operations of the Pelicans. Look at it as a over-arching approach to some business decisions and stepping in when he feels like he needs to with the Pelicans.
Last off-season the Saints were highly aggressive in trying to change the culture of a team that lost some character, and it affected the locker room and ultimately the play on the field. How did it get away? "It's Sean and I, and our responsibility is to make sure we're bringing the right guys into the building. You have to pay attention to the garden," Loomis explained. However, the team feels like it's headed back in the right direction. "We do feel really good about the flip in culture in the last year. The group we brought in, regardless of the end result, was really good in our locker room." Going forward, the leadership and character aspect will remain significant parts of the Saints evaluation strategy. "We still have to evaluate each player based on how can they help our team going forward. It's a factor, it's a variable. Leadership and the intangibles are definitely a factor in the evaluation, but it's not the only factor."
The Saints decision to move training camp away from New Orleans to West Virginia at the Greenbrier two years ago was met with pretty significant pessimism by fans and the media. The decision has come under even more scrutiny after the Saints finished both of those seasons with 7 and 9 records.
The decision about going back again this summer is one of the big discussions the team will have this off-season.
"There is a team building aspect to training camp. There is the mental aspect to training camp and the physical aspect to training camp. You're just looking for the best environment for all three of those factors," Loomis explained.
Over the next several weeks Loomis and Payton will begin laying out the off-season plan for the Saints to improve for the upcoming season. Loomis said the team will comprise a list of "musts, needs, and wants." Loomis stressed the importance of continuing to draft well, as he & Payton believe they did last year.” It will determine what we need and then we have to figure out where we are going to go to get it. Whether that's the draft, free agency or some sort of trade possibility."
Remember, at the start of the league year in 2015 Loomis and the Saints started off the rebuilding project with a trade, sending Tight End Jimmy Graham to Seattle for C Max Unger and a first round pick. In the prior off-season the Saints landed the biggest free agent on the open market, Safety Jairus Byrd. Loomis expects the Saints to remain aggressive, but also stressed the importance of operating with a degree of caution in free agency. "I think on the surface you would say we're probably not going to be as aggressive this off-season, because there are a lot of younger players in the pipeline that we like the prospects of more so than a year ago."
The Saints have used all three phases to try and acquire talent in building their team through trades, the draft and free agency. "I believe in using all of them, but you've gotta be pretty cautious when you’re signing the high end free agents." The Saints are determining what resources they'll have at their disposal.
The bottom line, I wouldn't rule out anything with this team. Every year we say the Saints don't have the cap space, yet they figure out a way to add to their team in free agency. I do, however, expect the team won't be as active this off-season in trades and free agency as we've seen in the past. Loomis and Payton were really energized by the future of the team. They’re energized by the way the team finished down the stretch, and excited about the young players currently on this roster mixed with some of the veterans currently in place.
Sean Payton said last week in his press conference it was time to start looking at the check list of things to get done this off-season in order to deliver on his promise for more moments and playoffs. Payton said he and General Manager Mickey Loomis usually talk about ‘musts’ - things that must happen in order improve the team. We’re not privy to those conversations, but here is the list as I see it.
1. Extend Drew Brees: That’s very simple and shouldn’t be deliberated very much on Airline Drive. Brees will be 37 by the start of the 2016 season and clearly has three to four more years of football left in him. The extension would provide some significant salary cap relief for a team that is already projected to be ten million over the cap. The Saints will have be under the salary cap by March 9th. Brees is currently scheduled to count $30 million against the cap this season in his final year of a five year contract he signed back in 2012.
2. Coaching staff changes: The Saints lost their quarterback coach Mike Nue to become the head coach at Ball State. Wesley McGriff is going back to college, and left the Saints to join the defensive staff at Auburn, so Sean Payton has some coaching voids on his staff. However, the QB coaching position is an easy one to fill with Joe Lombardi likely returning to that spot after a failed stint with the Lions as the offensive coordinator. Dan Campbell is another coach that Payton would love to add to his staff in some capacity. Campbell was the interim head coach for the Dolphins this season, and has some ties to Payton, having played with the Saints in 2008. The Saints want Campbell on the staff in just about any capacity, but they would likely have to shuffle some positions on the staff to accommodate him.
3. Strief, Colston, and Evans: The Saints have some tough decisions to make with three players that were a part of the 2006 foundation that would help them win the Super Bowl in 2009. Strief is 32 years old with three years remaining on his contract and his replacement is in house (Andrus Peat). Strief has been an instrumental leader for the team and while I don’t see them parting ways with him I do think the Saints will ask him to restructure his deal and he could return this season.
Jahri Evans is the player I feel the safest in saying will return this year. Evans restructured his contract last off-season and tacked on a final year (2016) and in terms of what it would cost the Saints to keep and what it would cost to cut him doesn’t make a lot of sense towards the cap. It’s a better idea to keep him instead of creating more dead money for a player that can still get it done in the NFL.
The big question mark is WR Marques Colton. He’s been an incredible player in New Orleans but counts for $5.7 million against the cap this year and is not the player he was, plus we have to consider the fact he might not want to do it anymore. I could see Colton stepping away this off-season. I mean after all, he’s had a hell of a career for a player that was selected in the 7th round out of Hofstra. Of the three aforementioned players, I think Colston is the biggest question to return.
4. Draft well: Sean Payton eluded to it several times last week. By and large the 2015 class looks solid, with the addition of Delvin Breaux as a free agent last off-season. Hau’oli Kikaha, Stephone Anthony, Breaux, and Andrus Peat could turn out to be similar to the 2006 class in terms of contributions. The Saints have to replicate that approach for the 2016 draft class and get another solid foundation of players regardless of position. The theme last year in the draft was targeting players that had a proven track record of success in college, not the potential guys that got them in trouble for three previous drafts.
5. Free agents: Stop playing in the murky deep end of the NFL in Free Agency. Even if the Saints could afford (had the money) to make some moves, they haven’t made the right ones lately with several bad free agent decisions in the last few years. Stay out of it! Take the approach of the Packers and Steelers, and build through the draft. If the Saints create money, save your money and get value players in free agency - don’t break the bank on a player that only might be a good addition.