Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has made it very clear this offseason that he wants a championship, he wants a Super Bowl. Perhaps he’s extra motivated because the big game will be in his home town of Glendale, Arizona, or perhaps he just sees what everyone else does in the 2014 Saints: “I haven’t seen a more promising team since I’ve been here. I just have nothing but great things to say about the team. I think that this fourth year upcoming, we need it. I need it. It’s more personal than anything, and I believe with the team we have, we’ll be able to do it,” Jordan said.
Most professional athletes don’t like talking about championships. Usually we get carbon copy answers like “we just want to win our division and get in the dance, and see what happens from there,” or something to that effect. Jordan doesn’t believe in under-promising and over-delivering. “I’ve always wanted it. That’s what you come here to do. You don't come into work and say, ‘I just want to be mediocre.'
That kind of talk is refreshing; Jordan certainly wears his feelings on his sleeve and I like it. What’s wrong with saying he wants to win a championship? Don’t you want that in a player?
Jordan enjoyed his best season as a pro last year, racking up 12.5 sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl. The three-year veteran says his work isn’t finished: “It’s just personal right now. It’s one thing to have a good year like I did last year, but I have to be better this year. Everything that I do has to be better. Everything that the team does has to be better because clearly it wasn't enough to get to the Super Bowl, and that’s what our goal is.”
Jordan continued his praise for his team and defensive line mates: “The defensive line, I think, is phenomenal - the amount of talent we have with the young guys and even some of the rookies that popped up. But again, it’s only the first week of camp, and we’ve only been in pads for a couple of days. I think with the new additions to the defensive backs and the way the linebackers have been playing, they’re starting to show a little fervor for the game. It’s going to be nice the next week or two.”
The Saints and Jordan certainly have the make-up to push for a Super Bowl, but his comments will be scrutinized pretty heavily if they don’t make it to the dance. Cam is fine with that. He has broad shoulders, very very broad shoulders.
Heated practice: We’re officially in the heart of training camp! That was very clear today, as nearly every offensive and defensive drill resulted in some pushing and shoving or trash talking. The first incident occurred when defensive end Cameron Jordan was matched up against rookie offensive tackle Tavon Rooks in one-on-one pass rushing drills. Jordan thought he was being held during the drill and pushed Rooks, and the two big guys got in each other’s face. Nothing further transpired. “He was wearing a white jersey and got in the way!” Jordan said after practice.
Running back Khiry Robinson and linebacker Curtis Lofton got into a scuffle in the first portion of team vs team drills. Robinson and Lofton went to the ground, but it was quickly broken up by Drew Brees. Once the two were separated, you could hear Lofton chirping to Robinson “I got all you want homeboy!” It was one of the funnier moments of practice. “That kind of stuff is healthy for a team, it means there is real competition out there, and they’re aren’t just going through the motions” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Terron Armstead: 2nd year LT Terron Armstead might have thrown the block of camp in the running game drill. Armstead decleated defensive lineman Glenn Foster, drawing several oooh’s and ahhh’s from the fans and media. “I don’t want to put him in Canton right now, but you can see he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” said coach Sean Payton. Armstead won both of his matches against OLB Junior Galette in 1 on 1 pass rush.
P-Rob: Defensive back Patrick Robinson is clearly having the best camp of his career. The former first round draft pick has made a number of plays on the football deflecting some passes and coming up with two interceptions. “If he would just hold onto the ball, he would have about six interceptions in camp so far,” said Hebert. The Cannon is right, Robinson has missed some opportunities but you can clearly see he feels the urgency to have a preseason and is fighting for snaps and perhaps a roster spot.
The Butler Did It: I’ve been asked a lot about linebacker Victor Butler during the first week of camp. I can tell you, he’s been rotating with the 1st and 2nd team units, and at times he looks rusty. Butler missed all of last season a with an ACL injury and just doesn’t look like he has his legs underneath him yet. I think it will come, just remember he hasn’t worn shoulder pads or a helmet for 18 months.
RG4: Former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin is staking claim to the primary backup quarterback position behind Drew Brees. Griffin has been running with the twos in camp, and has looked pretty sharp with his passes and looks like he has a good grasp on the system. Veteran Luke McCown has more experience, but the Saints want Griffin to win the job, and the preseason games will be huge for Griffin. If he plays well, then he’s virtually assured to get the gig. If he struggles, it will open the door for McCown to take the job back. For now, it’s Griffin’s job to lose.
Byrd Watching: Saints safety Jairus Byrd is officially off the PUP list! Byrd was in full pads today at practice and participated in individual drills, but did not participate in the team drills. The Saints are easing him into the practice participation: "When you rush yourself, it doesn't do anyone any good," Byrd said after practice. The Saints' prized free agent aquisition met with the media and then went back on the field for more work. "I just want to be an impact player," Byrd said. "Yeah I felt good coming back, but like Coach Payton said it was something that we wanted to be smart about. It’s a long season ahead, and I just wanted to make sure that I went through the steps to come back. I wanted to do the process right, and that’s what I did.” Byrd said.
It was nice seeing him out there, and I'm really looking forward to seeing him work with the entire defensive unit. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan was happy to see Byrd on the field as well: “It’s great to get him out there. He has been great in the meetings. He is a great leader. I think getting him out there with his teammates is always good. We are taking our time doing the right thing. He is working really hard so everything is going really well.”
Crisp work: The Saints probably enjoyed their most efficient and prodcutive practice of camp so far. "I thought this might have been the best practice I've seen from the Saints as long as I have covered the team!" said Saints Color analyst Hokie Gajan. There were a ton of big plays that stood out for both the offense and defense.
Bubbles Screen: I've written a ton about Brandin Cooks, and don't mean to be effusive with my praise of the rookie wide out, but today we caught a sure-fire glimpse of what he can do in the open field. =Cooks caught a bubble screen pass from QB Drew Brees and darted through a hole for the score after nice block from Terron Armstaed for a would-be 70 yard touchdown. "It's like he's shot out of a cannon," said Curtis Lofton when asked how fast Cooks is on the field. "He doesn't go from gear 1 to 2 to 3.. he goes from gear 0 straight to 6."
There is the bubble screen OFF TO the races goes Cooks #Saintscamp
Injuries: The player remaining on the PUP list is NT John Jenkins (pectoral). Jenkins got some work on the sled today during his rehab drills. Rookie OT Tavon Rooks was removed today from NFI (Non-Football Injury). Wide reciever Kenny Stills (quad) and OG Ben Grubbs missed practice again. Stills was moving arond pretty well in some side drills, not at full speed but jogging, so that's a positive sign. WR Robert Meachem returned to the practice field today after missing a couple of sessions with a sore back. The Saints are off tomorrow and are back on the practice field Thursday morning at 7:50 CT.
Sean Payton is measured and controlled during Saints practices, but Joe Vitt (assistant head coach and LB's Coach) is not. He's the fiery coach that is unwavering on rookies and veterans alike, taking every possible moment to coach.
Vitt has an unmistakeable voice. "Get lined up!" he screams when the defense breaks the huddle. He shies away from the media attention, and rightfully so, but he's a riot to talk to if you ever get the chance. You just can't take him too seriously. âVitt is hell on some chewing gum, too!
While it might be GM Mickey Loomis and Coach Payton running the day-to-day operations for the team, Joe Vitt has plenty of input.
"Joe is someone that, daily, he and I will talk about schedule, where our team’s at, you name it. He provides me with things I might not always what I want to hear. That’s pretty valuable… but also what I need to hear," Payton said when asked about Vitt. The fiery coach has been in the NFL for over three decades and has just about seen it all, and he was the first guy Payton added to his staff in 2006. Vitt has been an extremely valuable member of the Saints organization during his run in New Orleans.
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis get a ton of credit for what they do, as they should, but let's throw Joe Vitt a bone too. He's a huge part of the unprecedented success the Saints have enjoyed since Payton arrived.
The Saints have tremendous depth at safety, and an undrafted rookie free agent would be hard pressed to make this team at that position.
Even so, that didn't stop Pierre Warren from choosing to sign in New Orleans after he went undrafted out of Jacksonville State this spring. Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, Jairus Byrd, Marcus Ball and Vinnie Sunseri have the upper hand on making the Saints final roster, but Warren has done nothing but make plays early in camp.
"I just finished talking about this with the whole team: when you’re looking at the safety position, linebacker, tight end… all of these players that are trying to make an impression are having a chance to do that now. Certainly they’re going to have to do that when we start (playing) the preseason games. Every year there are going to be two guys that make it because of the kicking game. Either they cover kicks, they block a kick, (or) they’re smart and know where to be. He’s a player that would fall into that category," Coach Sean Payton explained.
Warren came up with a nice interception in Monday's practice and continues to flash: "He has good ball skills and it appears to be good reactions and someone who’s beginning to pick up what we’re doing. We just keep giving him reps, giving all these guys work. He’s one of those players though where the kicking game is going to be important" Payton added.
The preseason will be huge for Warren, and if he makes some plays on special teams that's when we'll see him get more chances on defense. Pierre Warren has an uphill fight to make the final roster, but so far he's on the right track.
9 on 7: The Saints offensive line set the tone early in practice with a physical "inside running game” drill. Defensive coaches Joe Vitt and Rob Ryan expressed their displeasure through a number of choice words that not suitable for print or the air, but let’s just say the running backs (all of them) were ripping off 5 or more yard runs routinely. Coach Sean Payton looked on with approval after practice. “I thought the pads were much lower today than yesterday,” Payton said.
Keenan can: When you think of shutdown cornerbacks, you think of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals. The Saints have their version of a shutdown corner in Keenan Lewis. Twice today during team drills, Saints quarterbacks targeted receivers on his side of the football, and were twice denied. Lewis batted away a comeback pass from Drew Brees to Andy Tanner, and got his hands on another, just missing an interception off Luke McCown. Lewis is also a steady voice in the secondary, mentoring young rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste during timeouts and breaks.
Cooks-ing with gas: Sure, the obvious feature rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks brings to the Saints is speed, but he also runs precise routes. Today in one-on-one CB vs WR drills, Cooks won every match up against various defensive backs. “You can see how smooth he is! He runs great routes and catches the ball effortlessly,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. After one rep, you could hear Drew Brees say “Nice job, nice adjustment,” to Cooks after hooking up on intermediate pass route.
Brandin Cooks having a Hell of day 1 on 1 vs DB WON every match up
Music: The Saints decided to add some music to the practice mix today and you could tell it energized the players. The staff had the speaker system going in the team portion of practice today not only to act as crowd noise, but to test the players focus.
Offensive line vs Defensive line: The one-on-one pass rushing drills are always interesting to watch in camp. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead was matched up against OLB Junior Galette on a few snaps today, and cleary won the battle. Cameron Jordan and Zach Strief had some heated battles on the other side, with Jordan winning a few and Strief winning a few.
Injuries: The PUP players remain the same (OT Tavon Rooks, S Jairus Byrd, and DT John Jenkins). Wide receivers Kenny Stills (quad) and Robert Meachem (back) missed practice and guard Ben Grubbs sat out of practice today as well. Coach Sean Payton didn’t elaborate on Grubb’s injury but said “Both of those players will be back in the next couple of days.” #65 Senio Kelemte (2nd year out of Washington) worked with the 1st team unit in place of Grubbs.
Thud: The Saints finally had the pads on for today’s practice at the Greenbrier. No more shorts and a game of touch. Helmets were cracking, and the pads were popping in 9-on-7 running game drills today. The O-Line got the better of the D-line in this drill, pushing the big guys up front back and creating enough cracks for the running backs to scoot through for positive yardage.
Linebacker Junior Galette and Offensive Tackle Zach Strief exchanged a couple of words after one rep that led to Strief pushing Galette after the whistle. I found it pretty interesting that Sean Payton was keeping a close eye on the developments in the running game drill. Typically he’ll watch the one-on-one DB’s vs WR drills. You could hear the coaches reminding the defensive players “Thud up, put a thud on em and let them run!”
Brandin Cooks vs Patrick Robinson: In the WR vs DB drill, rookie wide out Brandin Cooks matched up against CB Patrick Robinson on one particular play and Cooks beat Robinson by a mile. Robinson missed the jam on the line of scrimmage, and Cooks just flew by him for a deep ball from Brees. Nick Toon also beat safety Rafael Bush on a deep ball in one-on-one drills. The receivers have the advantage in this drill, and it’s hard to tell if a player would have gotten that far open simply because there is so much ground for the defensive back to cover. Rookie WR’s Brandon Coleman (Rutgers) and Seantavious Jones (Valdosta State) received high praise from coach Sean Payton after practice “They’re both doing well, they’re big target areas for our QB's, and we like that.”
Turnovers: Forcing more turnovers has been a focus point for the Saints this off-season, and we’re getting a real taste of it now. Linebacker Ramon Humber reeled in the first interception of camp in 7-on-7 drills today. Luke McCown tried to drop one over his head, but Humber leapt into the air snagged the pass for the INT. “That was a great play from a linebacker. Here is the thing, McCown threw a good ball, Humber just made a nice adjustment and came down with it,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Later, in the team portion of practice, CB Champ Bailey stripped the ball out of FB Erik Lorig’s hands and it was scooped up by safety Rafael Bush.
Injuries: Wide reciever Robert Meachem missed practice today with what Payton described as a “stiff back.” WR Kenny Stills (quad) also did not practice today. Defensive lineman John Jenkins, offensive lineman Tavon Rooks and safety Jairus Byrd remain on the PUP list. Jenkins and Byrd both did side work working on conditioning and some light non-contact football drills.
Offensive day: The Saints' first team offense carved up Rob Ryan’s defense seemingly at will in the team portions of practice today, prompting Ryan to make the declaration “We got our butts kicked today out there, and we didn’t like it. That offense was rolling!” Drew Brees hooked up with tight end Jimmy Graham on a couple of big plays today. Graham also hauled in a nice pass from Ryan Griffin on a big play down the middle. Graham brought the crowd to their feet when he dunked the football over the crossbar on the other end of the field. That will earn a player a fine during a game, but not during practice.
Stills sits out: After injuring his quad in practice yesterday, wide receiver Kenny Stills was a spectator at today’s work out. Joe Morgan and Nick Toon took advantage of the extra reps in his absence. Toon had a couple of nice plays today on two passes from Drew Brees in the team portion of practice. Rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks is in Brees' hip pocket - you can see the two players talking after nearly every play, ensuring they are on the same page.
Weather Factor: Much has been made about the cooler climate up here in West Virginia, and the results are visible on the field. You can definitely tell the players are a little more enthused about practice, and lot more frisky. Sean Payton did not cut practice short like he did on day one.
PT Cruiser: Running back Pierre Thomas is entering his 8th season with the Saints. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, but he’s taken a leadership role in the running back meeting rooms. "I’m not the boss, the coach is the boss, but I’m like his assistant, just making sure things go smoothly in there,” Thomas explained. He’s been working with the second team unit, but don’t read anything into that “The younger guys are going have to beat me out. They’re going to have to put me on the bench, I’m not going to just sit on the bench without battling,” Thomas explained.
We all know Drew Brees isn’t in his twenties anymore. Heck when he came to New Orleans in 2006 he 27 years old, so at age 35, Brees is still doing everything he can to prepare and play at a high level.
Brees doesn’t feel close to his current age: “Each and every year I can still get a little bit better. I’m not in the decline like most guys in their mid-thirties, but in my mind, I’m not in my mid thirties; I’m 25 years old." Brees' thinking goes right in line with societal views about age. Age is truly a number, but in the NFL, where Father Time chimes for everyone, how much longer can Drew Brees play?
Brees says “Certainly there are things that come with you getting older, a bit more maintenance, more recovery. Maybe you train a little bit different, but I think so much of it is a mindset.” Brees added that he feels like he could play another 10 years: “That would be my goal, there is no reason why I couldn’t do that."
Let’s all hope Brees turns that mindset into reality. He’s coming off his third straight year of 5,000 or more yards passing, including two rushing touchdowns last season. Let’s also not forget that Peyton Manning set all kind of passing records and lead Denver to a Super Bowl at age 37 last season. It can definitely be done, Brees can certainly play his best football in the back half of his career. I’m a year older than Brees, and maybe he’s right - it is just a mindset. I know I don’t feel 36, but I don’t think I could pass for 25, so lets just say late 20’s. If Brees thinks he can play until he’s 45, I hope that he will!
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham went through what just about every high profile NFL player goes through at some point in their career - a tough negotiation session with the organization.
This offseason Graham didn't reach an agreement on a long term deal with the Saints until around 2 am on July 15th, just hours before the deadline. He didn’t have the benefit of training under the watchful eye of the Saints strength and condition coaches, but he did train with former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma in Miami, and turned in the fast conditioning test time on the team yesterday. “I feel fresh, I was just on extended vacation. I’m back hungry and ready to go!” Graham said.
Graham admitted it was tough to see reports and speculation about an eventual deal with the Saints, not to mention the arbitration hearing process, but the All-Pro tight end says that’s all in the past. “I think it was a great deal for both sides. I just wanted a deal,” Graham said. “What was unfortunate was in the offseason, all the false information that was out there and not being able to say anything about it, especially when you know whats going on. I’m an All-Pro tight end, and I’m going to stay that way.” Graham said he spent his days in the offseason working out, and it showed on the field: “There is no doubt he’s in shape, and he’s ready to roll. I had multiple conversations with him and he’s just glad to be back. I can see it in his eyes, he’s got a little pep in his step, he’s ready to roll,” explained quarterback Drew Brees.
There is no reason to think Jimmy Graham won’t continue his dominance this season and beyond as he said “I’m a hungry player, I always play with a chip on my shoulder” after he was asked if the contract affects the way he would prepare for an NFL season. If rookie wide reciever Brandin Cooks progresses as well as the team hopes, this offense could be extremely scary in 2014, with the best tight end in football as one of their main weapons.
Byrd on PUP: At his Friday morning presser, Saints head coach Sean Payton announced that safety Jairus Byrd has been placed on the PUP list. Payton expects Byrd to come off the list soon and is not at risk of further injuring his back. Byrd had offseason back surgery after signing a 6 year $54 million dollar deal with New Orleans as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills. During the team's practice this morning Byrd was working with a trainer in a helmet and shorts tracking down passes going through individual drills. This is clearly a precautionary move from the Saints. They’re not paying him to practice, they’re paying him to be ready for week one against Atlanta. He’ll be ready in time.
Stills leaves practice early: Wide receiver Kenny Stills injured his leg running a pass route in team portion of practice on a deep ball thrown by Drew Brees. Stills limped off the field and straight into the locker room. Payton said after practice that Stills had been bothered by a quad injury during the offseason.
Bailey and Butler: Cornerback Champ Bailey worked with the first team defensive unit today during the team portion of practice, as did OLB Victor Butler. Butler is coming off an ACL injury that caused him to miss all of last season. Patrick Robinson rotated in at the number one CB spot with Bailey. The Saints will be smart, and not ask Bailey to do to much during camp. Sean Payton said it best yesterday: “We don’t need to see it everyday, we just need to see it once and a while.” "It" being the flashes of great play that have made Bailey a sure-fire Hall of Fame candidate when he hangs up the cleats.
Play of the day: We got a good taste of the speed WR Brandin Cooks brings to the Saints offense. QB Drew Brees hooked up with Cooks on a nice deep ball for a score. Cooks made a nice adjustment on the throw from Brees and out jumped a defender for the reception. Another rookie wide out raised some eyebrows with a leaping grab - undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Coleman climbed the ladder for nice reception, making it look easy by going over the top of the defender without touching him to make the catch. Man, it pays to be 6’6" - it’s hard to compete with that size.
Conditioning test: Saints players took their conditioning test ahead of Friday's first practice of training camp. Head coach Sean Payton even decided to put his physical fitness to the test and went through the test with the players. “I just wanted to finish!” Payton joked afterwards.
Payton was unwilling to share the results from players that came into camp with an injury, such as safety Jarius Byrd. He did share that wide receiver Joe Morgan was a go for camp: “There was a lot of things he couldn’t do during OTA’s. Now we just got to transition him back to football. He’s done well.” As for Byrd, it’s hard to tell whether or not he’ll be place on the PUP list. General Manager Mickey Loomis said a decision on Byrd’s PUP future “likely” be determined in the next 24 hours.
WR Kenny Stills did not participate in the team's walkthrough in the afternoon after he injured his leg in the morning practice.
Best Test: Payton did share this interesting nugget. Tight End Jimmy Graham had the fastest conditioning test time. Graham signed a 4 year deal with the Saints on July 15th, just hours before the deadline. If you were concerned about Graham not being in shape following an offseason contract dispute with the Saints, no need to worry there.
Greenbrier facilities: Jim Justice and the Greenbrier staff are doing everything within their power to make the Saints feel right at home. Four months ago, the practice fields the Saints will call home for three weeks was a forest. The fields look incredible. Two fields are set at the bottom of a hillside with bleachers and VIP seating areas on one side of the field. If you go down a hill, the Saints have another field equipped with synthetic turf (the same surface they have in the Superdome). Advocare chipped in for a sprawling office building for the team to use. This is without question one of the nicer 'home away from home' set-ups in the league.
The Saints have arrived in West Virginia. Every player is expected to be at camp on time with no hold-outs, as every player on the team is under contract. The players officially report to camp Thursday and will take a conditioning test and hit the field for the first practice of camp on Friday morning.
New Orleans has a few injuries to monitor during camp. Wide receiver Joe Morgan is coming off an ACL injury and was a limited participant in the team’s offseason program. Linebacker Victory Butler is also coming off an ACL injury suffered last season, and was much further along and pretty much at full speed during the offseason. Butler could be the wild card at outside linebacker this season for the Saints. The key player to focus on is safety Jairus Byrd, who is coming off back surgery. Defensive tackle John Jenkins will start camp on the PUP (Physically unable to perform) list. Jenkins can come off the PUP list at any point prior to week 1 of the regular season.
Three key position battles loom for the Saints at cornerback,center and wide receiver. Jim Henderson pointed to the cornerback spot saying this: “They have to find someone to compliment Keenan Lewis on the other side.” Champ Bailey, Corey White and Stanley Jean-Baptiste are the top three players competing for that second cornerback spot. Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin will compete for the starting job at center. The wide receiver spots are up for grabs with three players will likely competing for three spots. And Robert Meachem, Joe Morgan, and Nick Toon are the three candidates for the final two spots.
Protection was an issue last season for the New Orleans Saints offensive line. After Terron Armstead got his first start in week 16 against the Panthers, I thought the big guys up front played much better down the stretch, creating running lanes for the 'backs and protecting Drew Brees. Here's how things look now in the final days before training camp.
Left Tackle: Terron Armstead returns as the incumbent starter this season. It appears to be Armstead's job with little to no competition. The coaching staff loves Armstead's athleticism and power. Marcel Jones is considered the primary back-up to Armstead at left tackle, but the versatile Bryce Harris could play there in a pinch.
Left Guard: Ben Grubbs returns for his third season with New Orleans. Grubbs made the Pro Bowl last year and helped make the transition from Charles Brown to Armstead at left tackle a little easier. He's one of the quiet leaders on the team, and really excels in the run blocking game.
Center: Tim Lelito will likely open camp with the first team unit. The second year man out of Grand Valley State was a valuable swing offensive lineman last season, spot starting for Jahri Evans due to injury. The Saints brought in some insurance in case Lelito isn't ready to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of starting center. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin will push Lelito for the starting gig. The Saints are in a really good spot with Lelito and Goodwin. If the team suffers an injury at either of three interior O-line positions, they'll have a plug-and-play guy at guard or center. Lelito can swing over to one of the guard spots, and Goodwin can take over at center.
Right Guard: Jahri Evans was hampered by leg injuries last season, but still managed to make the Pro Bowl; and while he might not be the same player he was from 2006-2012, he's still one of the best in the game. As I mentioned, his back-up will be Lelito. Evans is the longest tenured offensive lineman on the team.
Right Tackle: Zach Strief was brought back this offseason on a long-term contract, and he might have been the team's most consistent offensive lineman last season. He's not flashy, and at times looks like he's getting beat, but Strief is a team captain, and the coaching staff knows he will have his assigment down pat. Bryce Harris will be the back-up to Strief.
If you asked me where are the Saints are the thinnest in terms of depth, it would clearly be the offensive line, namely at either tackle spot. Strief and Armstead have to stay healthy, or else the O-line could be in trouble if the injury bug bites at this position.
According to the league transaction report, the Saints have placed nose tackle John Jenkins and Linebacker Cheta Ozougwu on the PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform). A player can be removed from that list at any point in training camp prior to week 1.
In addition, the Saints waived defensive lineman Moses McCray. How big of a concern is it for John Jenkins? "If it's a long term PUP situation for Jenkins, then yeah, I'm concerned. The Saints are counting on him to be big part of the nose tackle rotation this season," explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
The Saints might have one of the deepest teams on paper, and certainly one of the more talented rosters in the NFL. However, with some changes on defense and offense, there are some pretty interesting battles shaping up in camp. Several other teams are wondering who their starting QB might be; that's not the case in New Orleans as we know, but nonetheless here are some key areas to watch. Let's look at cornerback first.
Who's going to line up opposite of Keenan Lewis at Corner when the Saints are in their "base?" Being a starter at cornerback in the NFL is sometimes misleading, or maybe not always important. For the Saints the cornerback is up for grabs, but so is nickel back and dime back. The Saints have tremendous flexibility with Kenny Vaccaro at safety, with his ability to play inside on slot receivers.
Champ Bailey: Champ certainly has the experience element in his favor. The future hall of famer came to New Orleans to win a championship, and brings a ton of knowledge to a relatively young group. Bailey was one of the first shut down cornerbacks in the NFL. He's played 15 seasons in the league with the Redskins and Broncos. If he has the gas left in the tank, he'll likely be the starter opposite Lewis this season. Teams will test him early and often to find out if he's even close to 100% recovered from his foot injury that plagued his play last season.
Corey White: White was thrust into the starting line up last season after Jabari Greer went down with an injury in the middle of the season. The 3rd year pro played well at times, but was clearly the target of offensive game plans during the back half of the season. Let's be clear, the Saints wouldn't have added two players to the position group if they had complete confidence in White. NFL analyst Mike Detillier thinks White is more of a complimentary guy than a starter. "He's a nickel player; he can help you in the slot but he's vulnerable as the starter. White's not dominant in one particular area but solid in most." White will likely make the final roster, but as a nickel or dime back.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste: The Saints followed the trend and went for a super sized cornerback in the 2nd round of 2014 Draft, grabbing Jean-Baptiste. First, when you have a hyphened last name it's always cool. The Saints have typically brought rookies along slowly and I expect that to continue this year with Stan. The Saints love his size, but will find a very safe role for him this season in the nickel and dime packages. He's a future starter for New Orleans, just not the 2014 future. He's a monster at 6'3" 200 lbs, but still has some things to learn.
Rod Sweeting: Sweeting saw his role increase from special teams to more and more snaps on defense last season. He'll scratch and claw his way to the final 53 roster, but his impact will be felt on special teams. Sweeting is a good insurance policy if the Saints suffer some injuries at CB. He's got good size at 6' and 190, but lacks the ideal tools to be starter in the league according to Detillier: "He's tough, and he's smart but doesn't lack the elite skill set to make him one of the starters. He could be a nickel guy or spot starter if needed, but you will see teams test him every time he's in there until he proves himself." Think special teams with Sweeting.
Patrick Robinson: It's amazing to think Robinson is the teams former first round pick in 2010. Robinson's season was cut short last season with a knee injury in week 2 of the season. P-Rob is a bit of an afterthought in this conversation. He's never really lived up to his 1st round status, but at the same time, he hasn't been terrible either. Robinson is fighting for his roster spot in this training camp. Consider that White and Sweeting are both cheaper to keep, and that could be the deciding factor if the play on the field is equal.
As I mentioned before, the Saints are going to keep three safeties and that will impact how many cornerbacks they'll keep in 2014. Kenny Vaccaro's versatility provides the Saints with great flexibility in terms of the numbers they operate with this season. I expect Lewis, Bailey, White, Jean-Baptiste, and Sweeting to make the final roster. The Saints need some roster depth for special teams and offensive line.
Yeah, yeah, general managers are never in the running for Most Valuable Player in the NFL, and Saints GM Mickey Loomis isn't a player in the traditional sense. He doesn't block, he doesn't tackle, he doesn't catch or throw touchdowns. What he does do, however, is negotiate contracts and select the players that block, tackle and score touchdowns for the team. He enjoys his role as the team's GM, and stays out of the spotlight.
You could make the argument Loomis is the most valuable "player" in the organization. Sure, Sean Payton is the head coach, and without him the Saints wouldn't be the force they are.. but where would the Saints be without Loomis? I shudder to think of it.
The one-time "cap guy" has turned moving money around into an art form. How many times over the last three offseasons have you said "How are the Saints going to pay (insert players name here?)" I know I've said it a bunch. Let's take a look at the work Loomis has done in just that short span.
Sign Drew Brees to a long term deal (check). Bring free agents Ben Grubbs, Keenan Lewis, and Jairus Byrd (check) lock up tight end Jimmy Graham to a smart but fair deal (check). Oh, did I mention working out a 7-year contract extension for coach Sean Payton?
For kicks, what about the discovery of Sean Payton during the coaching search in 2006? Loomis doesn't look for the credit; he rarely appears on national radio or TV interviews. He's got a poker face that would intimidate the best of them.
And for all of that, Loomis gets my vote for MVP in the salary cap game!
Prior to the Jimmy Graham contract, New Orleans had about $1.7 million in cap room. After the Graham contract, the Saints saved roughly $3 million in cap space with Graham's cap hit for this season sitting at roughly $4 million dollars. The Saints are clearly "in the now" with the cap. Next season, the new TV contracts kick in and the salary cap is expected to skyrocket, creating significant money for teams. The Saints don't have any top tier players scheduled to become free agents next offseason but could still be tight against the cap in 2015.
Drew Brees' cap figure is in excess of $23 million dollars and 2014 free agent signee Jairus Byrd accounts for $10 million dollars against the cap, along with Guard Jahri Evans carrying an $11 million dollar cap figure. General Manager Mickey Loomis has been like Houdini, finding cash to distribute to key players with the Saints scratching for salary cap space. Loomis has found a way to not only pay their own players, but bring in the likes of Byrd, Erik Lorig, Keenan Lewis, and Ben Grubbs.
What about next offseason? The Saints likely won't have a franchise tagged player, or contract dispute to deal with. 2015 might usher in a contract re-structuring for Drew Brees. The first three years of Brees' deal that he signed in 2012 were guaranteed. Brees has always said "I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win, and keep a championship roster intact."
Cameron Jordan might be the next player in line for a payday. In three seasons, Jordan has asserted himself as one of the top defensive ends in the league, with 12.5 sacks in 2013 and his first Pro Bowl appearance. Jordan will be on a club option 5th season in 2015. The Saints won't have to pay Jordan until 2016, but might be looking to avoid another drama-filled offseason and pay him a year early. If Brees restructures they might be able to do that next offseason.
Ot's hard to get a read on exact cap numbers for next season and predict the TV contract impact on the salary cap, but for now, the Saints will be in decent shape heading into next season. Count on Mickey Loomis for shrewd but necessary moves to keep the Saints sustainable and free to spend money in effort to compete for championships.
The NFL Network has reported that Saints tight end Jimmy Graham will appeal the ruling from arbitrator Stephen Burbank, with less than 24 hours to go before the deadline to reach a long-term deal with the Saints.
Andrew Brandt, an NFL Business analyst for ESPN, joined Sports Talk to explain how the appeal strengthen's Graham's negotiating position and at the same time makes it more likely that a deal will be reached for Tuesday's 3pm deadline.
"Perhaps this gives the Graham camp a little more leverage to say, 'hey, we can negotiate this deal, but if we don't get the deal we want, we still have this appeal.'" Brandt said.
The appeal would be to a three person panel in the NFL; however, that panel has to "accept" the case if Graham and his camp can prove erroneous facts in the first hearing, or a procedural error in his initial hearing.
I don't expect this development to really change much, this is a power move by the Graham camp to ultimately drive up Graham's price. Ultimately, the appeal has no ramifications for the long-term deal getting done, at which point the appeal would be moot. So why not do it?
After a long off-season filled with conjecture and speculation, the Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham have ironed out a new contract making him the highest paid player at his position in league history. “Really, after the Saints had the leverage, I don’t know what else he was going to do,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert after Jimmy Graham announced the deal via Twitter. “He’s a $10 million dollar a year tight end, and he deserves that. This gives the Saints some flexibility - because of his age, he could parlay this contract into another one down the road if he stays healthy.”
Graham’s deal will average $10 million per season over four years, worth $40 million with $21 million in guaranteed money. Now the Saints and Graham can focus on making a run at another Lombardi trophy. Hebert didn’t express any concern over Graham’s lack of participation in the team’s offseason condition and workouts because of the contract dispute: “I think it will take about one day for Graham to be on the same page with Brees and the offense. If he had showed up before the first game against the Falcons, Graham would be ready to roll without even playing in training camp. Graham is going to be in shape.”
With the deal done, Graham is the highest paid tight end in the NFL (as he should be) and we can all exhale and look to 2014 with great anticipation and excitement!
Think about this: the Saints have now doled out a number of record-breaking deals at quarterback, guard, safety, and now tight end. The team will continue their push for another Lombardi trophy in just over a week when they report for training camp in Greenbrier, West Virginia.
It's official I'm bleeding black and gold this morning! Thank you WhoDatNation for all the support.
The second biggest decision of the summer might be on the way - or it might not. Now that we know where Lebron James is going, what about Jimmy Graham and the Saints working out a deal before the July 15th deadline? "It's 50/50 at best - I'm actually going to be a little surprised if they do it. But I do know through experience that deadlines make people move," ESPN's Chris Mortensen told me.
Mortensen wouldn't speculate on what the details might look like on a Graham/Saints deal when (and if) it comes in. "It's about guaranteed money, Gronkowski did not get a good contract. Nobody should use that as a comparison. Tell me what the guaranteed money is," Mortensen explained.
New England Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski inked a contract extension two years ago worth $54 million dollars over 6 years. Gronkowski was given an $8 million dollar signing bonus in that deal, and a $13.1 million in guaranteed cash. Gronkowski's deal with New England averages out to $9 million per season.
Graham and the Saints have talked about a $9.5 million dollar per year average early in the spring. As I've said before, if the Saints can promise Graham $28 million in up-front cash in the first three seasons, the deal gets done.
Hold your breath just a little longer. I think it's better than 50/50 chance that a deal gets done by the deadline on Tuesday.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has until Monday to file an appeal of Steven Burbank's ruling last week that he is indeed a tight end for the purpose of a franchise tag salary. The appeal would be to a three person panel in the NFL; however, that three person panel has to "accept" the case if Graham and his camp can prove erroneous facts in the first hearing, or a procedural error in his initial hearing.
The panel is basically supposed to accept Burbank's ruling as fact unless it was clearly erroneous in it's finding of facts, incorrect application of the law, or abuse of discretion, according to the CBA. Simply put, if they think Steven Burbank's ruling wasn't based on the fact or "law," the three person panel can accept and overturn the ruling. In this case the law is the CBA.
It doesn't appear Graham will file an appeal, at this point it would certainly interfere with Tuesday's deadline (July 15th) for getting a long term contract worked out with the Saints. The more logical option for Graham is wait and see what the offer is like from the Saints.
As I said a few days ago, I still feel really good about Graham and the Saints working out a long term contract on or before the July 15th.
After last week's ruling by system arbitrator Stephen Burbank, the Saints not only claimed a small victory, but also a ton of leverage where negotiations with Jimmy Graham are concerned. Graham flat-out stands to lose too much money if he doesn't work out a long term deal before the July 15th deadline. The Saints hold the cards in this one, as is the case with most contract negotiations. The case is simple and the contract is not difficult for the Saints or Graham.
I fully expect a deal to be in place with Graham and the Saints on or before July 15th. Pay particular attention to the first three years of the deal. The magic number(s) for the Graham and the Saints are $10 million per season average with $28-30 million in guaranteed money over the first three years. The upfront money is what Graham and the Saints ultimately care about.
When I say the Saints hold the leverage, it doesn't mean Graham doesn't hold any leverage. He knows the price range that is market value, and if the Saints don't make him an offer in that range, then his best option is to hold off on a deal and drive the price up. The closer it gets to the deadline, the better it is for the Saints.
On July 16th, another episode of "Saints Contract Saga" will end happily ever after!
Arbritrator Steven Burbank ruled against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in his grievance against the Saints and the NFL. Burbank ruled Graham is a tight end instead of a wide receiver. Graham was franchised tagged as a tight end this past March, and he and his agent contended the Saints used him more as a wide receiver.
If Graham and the Saints do not work out a long term contract before July 15th, he will be forced to play under the 1-year designation, earning just over $7 million dollars this season. The franchise designation for a wide receiver would have come in just over $12 million dollars this season.
Graham and his agent Jimmy Sexton will likely file an appeal to a three person panel, but that appeal could linger past the July 15th deadline for a long term deal. The most logical option for Graham would be to go back to the negotiating table with the Saints and hammer out a long term contract if he receives a fair offer. I fully expect that to happen. I think you can look for a deal in the neighborhood of $60 million dollars with a $10 million per season average, on or shortly before the July 15th deadline.
Steven Burbank’s ruling ultimately gives both Graham’s camp and the Saints a real working barometer to iron out a contract. At the end of the day I’m extremely optimistic Graham will be with the Saints in 2014 and beyond. Once again, the Saints roll the dice a bit, and come out smelling like a rose. It’s been their hallmark, their penchant over the last 8 years or so.
Give General Manager Mickey Loomis credit, he’s one tough negotiator and plays hard ball with the best of them!