With Drew Brees celebrating his 36th birthday last week, the Saints might be in the market for a quarterback this off-season, via the draft. Backup QB Luke McCown is scheduled to become a free agent in March, and Ryan Griffin is entering his third season as a pro QB.
One player to keep an eye on at this week's Senior Bowl is Baylor signal caller Bryce Petty, who says he would love an opportunity to study under Sean Payton and Drew Brees. "If I get that opportunity it would be great! I want to come in and play. At the same time if you can learn from a guy like Brees that knows the ins and outs of the league - that would be awesome." Petty is projected as a second round talent according to NFL analyst Mike Detillier. "He can absolutely throw it, and he's big.. he will likely be the third QB taken in the draft behind Marriota and Winston.
Petty is also out to prove the critics wrong, and show that he's not just a system quarterback. "It's about showing these guys what I can do, and not what I can't do." At Baylor, Petty took most or all of his snaps in the shotgun, but is certainly not short on confidence heading into the NFL. "I plan on taking this thing over, and that's not arrogant. That is just the confidence I have in my ability."
Petty doesn't have any current scheduled meetings with the Saints, but says he would love to talk to them. Petty enjoyed two solid seasons as Baylor's quarterback, leading them to an 11 and 1 record this past season, completing 63% of his passes for 3,855 yards and 29 touchdowns. He's impressively built at 6'3" and 230 lbs. Petty is on several watch lists heading into the draft and he could see his draft position skyrocket with a strong showing in Mobile.
The Saints continue to re-tool their front office, making it official today at the Senior Bowl that they've added a senior member to their football operations/front office. "Jeff Ireland has agreed to come on board. I'm excited about his experience, and his pedigree," explained General Manager Mickey Loomis. Ireland is the former General Manager of the Miami Dolphins.
Loomis made the decision to bring Ireland to the organization "This is my hire, but look, Sean (Payton) and I talk about the personnel we bring to our staff. He's got first hand experience with Jeff (Ireland) and that was great information," Loomis added. Payton and Ireland both worked with Bill Parcells in Dallas.
Loomis said he hopes Ireland can bring some new things to the table. "There is nothing wrong with having fresh ideas. I feel like we're expanding our knowledge exponentially." Loomis wouldn't expand on Ireland's official title with the team, only saying he would head up the college scouting and Terry Fontenot would continue as the teams Pro Scouting director "The titles aren't as important as us getting on the same page," Loomis said. Ireland and Fontenot will both report to Loomis.
The decision to fire Rick Reiprish as the college scouting director yesterday was a little bit of a head scratcher. Why did the Saints wait so long to make a move on Reiprish? "It was tough to let Rick go, he did a lot of great things for us. After losing Ryan Pace to Chicago, I felt like we needed to add some experience, an evaluator from outside the building and I felt it would be good for us to get some fresh ideas," Loomis explained. He also said it is never an ideal time to fire anyone: "That's a process that I had to get through, and it just took a little time." Loomis also said he considered promoting from within the organization but thought it was best to go outside the organization.
The addition of Ireland to the front office shouldn't disrupt the work already done on this year's draft class. "Most of the work on the college process has already been done, and Jeff will jump right in to that, and I don't think we'll miss a beat," Loomis said. The Saints will, however, have a slight adjustment period with Ireland in house now.
Sean Payton and the coaching staff are not currently in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, instead the staff is back in New Orleans doing some "self scouting" as Loomis put it. "Sean felt like his staff would be better served being back in New Orleans working on those aspects opposed to being here," he said. Loomis would also not confirm the addition of Dennis Allen to the coaching staff, deferring questions to coach Payton. Payton and the Saints coaching staff will likely attend the NFL scouting combine next month in Indianapolis.
One final note, Loomis said he has not met with linebacker Junior Galette following his recent arrest on domestic violence charges and simple battery. "I'm concerned about it. We all should be concerned about it, it's a serious matter and we're going to wait until the legal system runs it's course, and the league will do their investigation. I think we're in a waiting manner right now," Loomis said. Galette is a team captain and signed a $41 million dollar contract extension last season.
The Saints have fired Director of College Scouting Rick Reiprish. The team informed him of that move earlier today at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Reiprish has been a member of the Saints organization since 2004, and said he was "surprised" by the move. Coach Sean Payton vowed changes were coming to the Saints organization a day after the Saints wrapped up the 2014 season at 7 and 9. Reiprish didn't want to comment further at the Senior Bowl, saying "Mickey Loomis will have to explain it," and that he was still trying to digest the information.
Earlier in the week I wrote about Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton. He's a massive guy at 6'2 and 339 and a perfect fit for a team that runs a 3-4 defense. NFL analyst Mike Detillier describes Shelton as "A Vince Wilfork type player." Wilfork is a five time Pro-Bowler with the New England Patriots. "Shelton has a huge lower body and anchors well against the run" added Detillier.
Danny is scheduled to meet with the Saints this week at the Senior Bowl. "I'm open (to either position) coach has me jumping from a one technique or a three technique." In other words the Senior Bowl coaches have Shelton working at defensive tackle and nose tackle. Shelton had a solid first day of practice, and powered past several offensive linemen in one on one pass rushing drills.
Another name to keep an eye on throughout the week on defense is Washington Linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha. He's more of a "tweener" player, a hybrid of sorts between a defensive end and outside linebacker in a 3-4. Like his Washington teammate, Kikaha has already met with the Saints at the Senior Bowl and is scheduled for a second visit tomorrow. "This is a great spotlight to be under. It's important to show them what I can do, and how they can use me," Kikaha told me after practice.
I caught up with former Saints tight ends coach Terry Malone today. Malone was let go by the Saints early after the season ended and said he hopes to catch on with another NFL team. He also told me he was "totally caught off guard" when he was informed that he was being released from the coaching staff.
The who's who of the NFL are in Mobile, Alabama this week for the 2015 Senior Bowl, and among them are Saints scouts coaches on the prowl for the senior crop of talent. While many experts feel this might be a heavy underclassmen draft class there is still some solid talent on display here in Alabama. "Make no mistake, the Juniors will dominate this class, but there is usually a big time pass rusher and wide receiver that emerges from this game every year," says NFL analyst Mike Detillier.
Auburn Wide Receiver Sammie Coates is an intriguing player to keep an eye for the Saints. I know the Saints drafted Brandin Cooks last season and already have another young stable of wide outs with Kenny Stills and Nick Toon, but Coates is that big physical receiver that can get down the field and really fits the Saints offense well. Coates made a living on big plays at Auburn, and the Saints are in need of a big play threat on deep balls in their offense.
Two LSU Tigers will participate in the game this Saturday. Fullback Connor Neighbors and offensive lineman La'ell Collins. Neighbors is a third generation senior bowl participant, which is a first for any player. The fullback position is kind of a forgotten position in today's pass-happy NFL but some folks around the league feel Neighbors compares to Green Bay FB John Kuhn.
The senior bowl has produced solid talent in years past, and one player in particular is on his way to a second straight Super Bowl appearance in Seattle Seahawks QB Russel Wilson. I remember Wilson in Mobile back in 2012, and how he took over interviews with NFL teams making strong impressions on several teams aside from the team that drafted him (Seattle). Who's going to be the rising star this week? We'll know more by the middle of the week, but this week in Mobile is one of the more interesting in the NFL.
Saints Quarterback Drew Brees will replace Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger at the Pro Bowl in Phoenix. This will be Brees' ninth trip to the annual all-star game, and his eighth as a member of the Saints. He has made the Pro Bowl more times than any other Saints player (William Roaf went seven times). This will also be the seventh consecutive pro-bowl game for Brees.
The Saints signal caller wrapped up the 2015 completing 69.2 % of his passes for 4,952 with 33 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions with a QB rating of 97. Brees ranked second in the NFL in completion percentage, fifth in touchdown passes and sixth in passer efficiency. Roethlisberger will likely have off-season knee surgery instead of playing in the Pro Bowl, thus creating the opportunity for Brees.
The Chicago Bears announced today on their website that they will hire Saints Director of Player Personnel Ryan Pace as their new general manager. Pace is replacing Phil Emery, who was fired by the Bears a few weeks ago after the team posted a dismal 5-11 record, their worst under Marc Trestman, who was also fired. It's a great hire for the Bears but a significant loss for the Saints.
Pace started out with the Saints as an assistant during training camp and on game days. He is extremely intelligent and has a keen eye for NFL talent. It is a well-deserved promotion, but creates a huge vacancy on a front office staff that has already seen turnover early this off-season.
Pace has received lofty praise from head coach Sean Payton in the past for his ability as a talent evaluator - he and General Manager Mickey Loomis leaned on him heavily in evaluating college players. Loomis said Tuesday that Pace is ready to be a general manager: "He's talented. I would expect to lose him at some point. It is a good thing, no different than the coaches over the past that we've lost to other teams who've had opportunities, it is a good thing when your people are being asked to interview for jobs and promotions and he is no different in that regard."
Pace also turned down an opportunity to interview with the Miami Dolphins last year. Of all the off-season moves the Saints have to make in hiring coaches or executives before free agency, filling Pace's shoes is a top priority.
Saints offensive lineman Jahri Evans will not play in the upcoming Pro Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona due to surgery on an unspecified injury according to ESPN.com. The recovery for Evans is not expected to hold him out of spring workouts and organized team activities.
Evans took every snap this season for the Saints, but was hampered by an unknown injury in training camp that caused him to miss the Saints first preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. Evans is 31, and elected to his sixth pro-bowl this season.
The Saints are scheduled to pay Evans $6.8 million dollars in 2015 season, if the two sides don't restructure his current contract that has two years remaining. While his play might have dipped this year, the unknown injury could be a glimpse as to why Evans wasn't his usual dominant self. I expect Evans to return to New Orleans next season, but after he and the Saints re-work his contract this off-season.
Lyons Yelling of WWLTV reports the Saints will indeed retain defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for the 2015 season. Ryan's 2014 unit suffered a rash of injuries, particularly at the safety position, and finished near the bottom of the league in several significant league rankings. Ryan guided the Saints to a fourth overall ranking in his first season with the Saints in 2013.
Bringing Rob Ryan back is the right choice. If the Saints had made a move at defensive coordinator it would have been their fourth in five years. Sean Payton values stability on his team and this gives them just that. Ryan, will in all likelihood be surrounded with a better support staff both in coaches and personnel.
After finishing 7 and 9 in 2014, the Saints face a very important off-season in 2015. A number of questions await answers this spring, that will help to avoid a repeat in 2015. Listed below are a few areas the Saints have to address..
Offensive line: The number one off-season issue the Saints have to address this spring is upgrading the offensive line, in particular at center and guard. Jonathan Goodwin is scheduled to become a free agent in March, and the Saints appear to have their next center already under contract in Tim Lelito. Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are aging veterans with high price tags. Grubbs is scheduled to make $6.5 million dollars in base salary for 2015, and Evans is scheduled to earn $6.8 million in base pay. Evans was selected to the Pro Bowl, Grubbs was not after being named to the 2014 all-star roster. The Saints struggled to protect QB Drew Brees this off-season, allowing thirty sacks in 2014. New Orleans has significant cap space tied up in Brees, with $26 million of the 2015 cap dedicated to him. If you have that much invested, you have to protect your investment, and that is to upgrade along the interior offensive line. I expect two of the three interior offensive line positions to be occupied by new players next season. Evans and Grubbs or both will likely be asked to restructure their contracts this spring.
Money Back: As I mentioned above, Saints QB Drew Brees is scheduled to count $26 million dollars against the 2015 salary cap. When Brees signed his $100 million dollar contract ($60 Million garuanteed) in 2012, experts immediately pointed to the fourth year of the five-year deal as the one to renogiate. Brees has always been a "Team Guy" and while giving money back won't mean a pay reduction, it could serve the team well in giving him the protection he needs to bounce back from a sub-par 2014 campaign. I don't expect Brees to take a pay cut, but rework his deal in order to clear cap space for the cash-strapped Saints. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady freed up $24 million in cash recently, and Brees is not above pulling off a similar move in order to improve the talent around him.
Leadership has to lead: Coaches are only a small part of the leadership dynamic on a team, at some point the players in the locker room have to take ownership too. Captains Drew Brees, Zach Strief, and Curtis Lofton have to impress upon the young players what it takes to be a Saint. The Saints had a proven method as to what it takes to win in the NFL, and the veteran leaders have to re-establish those principles to the incoming rookies and crop of younger players. Captains, you're on notice!
Defensive re-tool: It's not going to take a total re-construction of the Saints defense to improve on the 2014 rankings (at or near the bottom of the league). I think the Saints need to improve at the linebacker position. The Black and Gold lack a real difference maker at the second of the D. Curtis Lofton had a solid 2014, but isn't a difference maker at middle linebacker. I don't expect the Saints to spend a first round pick on the middle line backing spot, but certainly an early round pick.
Payton edge: I want to see the "Payton edge" back on this team. A team with a drive that is noticeable, a drive that is unmatched. Sean Payton had previously been an expert communicator and motivator in getting the message to his team in previous seasons. That has to return in 2015, or the Saints will likely suffer the same fate as 2014.
Saints linebacker Junior Galette's arrest on domestic violence and simple battery charges are disturbing on a number of levels. Sure Galette has the right to due process, and he'll have his day in court, but it calls into question his judgment in so many ways…first as a professional. Is this what pros do? Also, Galette is a team captain, and like it or not "leaders" are held to a higher standard. Furthermore, Galette signed a 4 year $41 million dollar contract extension at the start of the 2014 season. How is this giving the Saints what they paid for?
In the wake of high tended awareness about domestic violence in the NFL, Junior Galette has to be smarter and not put himself in a situation that could involve the law. Galette is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but in the court of public opinion and judgment Galette's decisions are highly questionable. Galette claims that the victim was a "dancer" and not a girlfriend might be true. I'm not judging him for potentially having a "dancer" at his house. I'm judging him, and the public will judge him, for putting himself in that compromising situation.
I'm not afraid to admit that I've been to a gentlemen's club at one point or another in my life. However, I've never invited a dancer back to my house and proceeded to get into an alleged altercation with them. If it was indeed about "cab money" and you've just signed a big money contract, what's $50 for a cab ride?
We can't judge Junior Galette's guilt on the domestic issue, but we can judge his decision making, which is poor at best. This isn't the first time Galette erred in judgment. Late last season when the Times Picayune asked Junior about former leaders and playmakers on the Saints defense, Junior said, "Here, the guys that replaced them are better than the guys we had. It's not even close. Across the board." Galette was referring to former Saints Jon Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins. Why say that about four guys who helped the Saints win a Super Bowl? Is that being "team" guy? Is that being a leader? Lack of perspective and judgment can be the only reason.
If I were the Saints, I would consider revoking Galette's captain's status. Leaders can't afford egregious judgment errors, especially when they are fairly prominent names attached to the franchise or organization. Galette's lack of accountability speaks volumes about the maturity issues that plagued the 2014 Saints.
Why not call the police when this incident started to unfold? Was there a reason Junior Galette didn't want the police there? Galette's lack of judgment can be categorized as troubling, disturbing, and pretty dumb. What a way to start the off-season for the Saints. How has this team leader helped his team?