With one of the wildest off-seasons for any sporting franchise, the Saints have started workouts, played their first preseason game and continue their preparation for the new season which is only weeks away. But one thing will not go away and that is the reality that distractions will continue to follow the team.
Earlier this year the words "Saints and bounty" were used together in a sentence. The NFL had concluded an investigation that showed players were paid to hurt other players.
Soon after that, the NFL announced the suspensions of head coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith.
The team scrambled to name an interim head coach after the NFL committee, lead by commissioner Roger Goodell, denied all appeals by coaches and players. Joe Vitt was tagged interim head coach, but the problem with that is he will serve a six game suspension to start the season.
With all of this going on, the Saints slapped the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees, who was less than enthusiastic to receive that honor. In fact, he let the team know he would not play with the tag. With a deadline looming a deal was struck and a feeling of excitement hit the Saints Nation.
Once in camp, Brees also expressed his feelings about the commissioner stating that "nobody trusts him".
This weekend the Saints beat the Cardinals 17-10 in their first preseason game. The team looked sharp in their first game. Brees marched the offense right down the field for a touchdown. Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram all looked like they were in midseason form. The defense is still learning a new system, but looked good and gave Saints fans hope that the defensive debacle against the 49ers won't be repeated.
As we all sat down to watch the game, the bounty topic came up and probably will for the next 20 weeks. Coach Vitt took questions not just about the team, but about Sean Payton and how his not being there affects the team.
Then came Monday, conflicting reports that the NFL and Jonathan Vilma had agreed on a reduction of his suspension and the suspensions of all other players involved. The NFL and Goodell denied the reports of a settlement later in the morning. Is the commissioner trying to ease the pain for the Saints or is his case against the team weak? Either way it's time for Goodell and the Saints to come to a resolution so this mess can be put in the past.
The Saints practice this week with the Patriots and play New England Thursday night. The head coach will be Joe Vitt and the team will continue to deal with the distractions that follow them and will continue to follow them throughout the year. It looks like the team has become stronger not weaker and the team has come together as a unit. The Saints are missing Sean Payton, but they have Drew Brees and Pete Carmichael. They have a new defensive coordinator that has head coaching experience in Steve Spagnuola.
In my opinion, the Saints are primed for a Super Bowl run. Wouldn't it be nice for the Saints to win the Super Bowl in New Orleans and have Roger Goodell hand the trophy to an organization that weathered an off-season unlike any ever seen in the NFL?
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