WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis doesn’t buy the notion that the uncertainly surrounding his club at the opening of training camp this year has reached some unusual level.
Not even as the club works to figure out who’ll replace last season’s most productive receiver, tight end Jimmy Graham, and last season’s sack leader, Junior Galette.
”We have a lot of question marks every year,” Loomis said Wednesday evening, after the Saints had finished reporting for training camp at the Greenbrier Resort. ”We had a lot of questions after we won the Super Bowl.
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”You’ve always got question marks,” Loomis said. ”We’ve got hopes and dreams for this team … and I think we’ve got the best coaching staff out there that can evaluate and prepare a team.”
At least Graham’s departure was by design. His trade to Seattle brought a new starting center in Max Unger and a first-round draft choice that was used to select Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony.
Galette’s release on Friday resulted from a painstaking evaluation of whether his recent behavior off the field would be detrimental enough to overshadow not only his production as a pass-rusher, but the cost of releasing him in the context of the NFL’s salary cap.
Ultimately, New Orleans cut a player who recorded 22 sacks during the past two seasons combined – including a team-high 10 last season. And because of guaranteed bonuses associated with an extension Galette signed last September, his departure is expected to cost the Saints more than $5 million in so-called ”dead money” against the salary cap this season and around $12 million in 2016.
”We can’t turn the clock back. We have to make decisions with our eye going forward and that’s what we’ve done,” Loomis said. ”We signed that contract last September and with the information we had I thought it was a good contract. … At the time I thought this was a good deal for us. It’s unfortunate what happened and we’ve just got to move forward from that. We’re equipped and accustomed to dealing with adversity and overcoming it, so I’m pretty confident that we can do that.”
In January, Galette was arrested on domestic violence charges that were later dropped, although the league continues its own investigation.
Also during the offseason, Galette’s cousin was found in possession of drugs while using Galette’s car. Galette was not present for the traffic stop, but the incident raised more red flags with Saints management.
Later, the Saints came upon an Internet video that appeared to show Galette striking a woman with a belt and punching another man during a 2013 melee at a Miami beach. The NFL is also reviewing that.
And earlier this month, the 27-year-old Galette was cited for driving with an expired license and no inspection sticker.
Saints coach Sean Payton said cutting Galette was not easy, but that a ”mistake magnified” would have been ”pretending that it doesn’t need to be done if you feel like it needs to be.”
”Obviously, it became a decision about the team,” Payton said.
Asked to elaborate, Payton responded, ”I’m being specific when I say it’s best for the team. … I can’t be any more clear than that.”
The Saints have several players that will try to show they are best suited to fill the void. They include former Dallas outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, brought in as a free agent this offseason.
Also in the mix is rookie outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, a second-round pick who had a nation-high 19 sacks with the Washington Huskies last season.
The Saints also will have to replace Brodrick Bunkley, a three-year starting defensive tackle, who was released on Tuesday after failing a physical. Bunkley left on good terms, said Payton who also didn’t rule out bringing back Bunkley when he is fully recovered from a quadriceps injury.
”I think the world of him. It had nothing to do with us saying we’re going to move on,” Payton said. ”We were pulling for him as much as anything because he does have a presence and he’s so well respected.”
The Saints this offseason brought in veteran tackle Kevin Williams, who was with Seattle last season, to add depth, but Payton and Loomis said Williams’ arrival had nothing to do with Bunkley’s departure.
Still, it appears Williams is now in line for some significant snaps in a rotation that could also include third-year pro John Jenkins.
”We’ve just got to be smart about how many snaps that is,” Payton said. ”It’ll be up to us to get the right combination on the field.”
The Saints start practice at the Greenbrier on Thursday. They return to their New Orleans-area headquarters on Aug. 21.
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