Following a major shake-up of the Saints’ coaching staff on what’s being called “Black Thursday”, what are the next moves for the Black and Gold heading into the off-season?
Finally, late Friday afternoon, word officially came out from the New Orleans Saints, and was attributed to Sean Payton, that five coaches would no longer be with the team following a day of media reports from numerous sources:
“I would like to thank all of these coaches for the work they have done for this club, specifically, Bill, Greg and Joe played a key role on teams that helped create a very special time in franchise history. They played an instrumental role in the development of countless players both on and off the field. I appreciate the contributions that these men have made to this team and wish them continued success.”
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Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Joe Vitt during the first half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Those released were defensive line coach Bill Johnson, assistant special teams coach Stan Kwan, special teams coordinator Greg McMahon, assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt and defensive assistant/linebackers James Willis.
The fact that the press release came from Sean Payton would seem to indicate that he agreed to the firings, and to signify that his position is assured for the 2017 season at the very least.
Conflicting reports from other media sites claim that Bill Johnson was already leaving and that had been a mutual decision between him and Sean Payton. The others, especially Vitt and McMahon who have been with Payton for years and are very close with him were surprises. But fans and media had been calling for a move like this for some time.
Dec 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New Orleans Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 48-41. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
What’s next is interviewing replacements and looking at some possible in-house candidates to move up in the coaching ranks.
Number one among those in consideration will be current defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, or “AG” as he’s referred to by Saints players. Glenn, a former Texas A&M and NFL standout is a team favorite and has showed much promise working with a cobbled together secondary in 2016. You can look for him to move up as high as defensive assistant coach.
Other positions will likely be filled by poaching other teams’ coaching rosters and by looking through the collegiate coaching ranks. Dan Campbell, a former Saints tight end and also current assistant head coach will likely retain that title and be the only one with it following Vitt’s departure. He had a brief stint as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
Other changes on the way will be the release of some free agents and underperforming players currently on the Saints roster.
Chief among these will likely be safety Roman Harper, defensive end Paul Kruger, defensive end Darryl Tapp, and guard Jahri Evans.
Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive guard Jahri Evans (73) and quarterback Drew Brees (9) talk against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints would certainly like to hold on to Evans but, as a free agent, he’ll surely be looking for a multi-year deal which the Saints are unlikely to give him given his age. He’s 33 and will be 34 in August. If the Saints could talk him into another 1-year deal he’ll probably remain. The free agent market is fickle but somebody out there is sure to be willing to take a chance on him given his play in 2016.
Next up is the NFL Draft and free agency where the Who Dats will attempt to put the remaining pieces in place to make a run at a the playoffs in 2017, what could be the last season quarterback Drew Brees will be with the team.
He’s already stated that he’ll honor this final year of his current contract but, after that, would desire to go year to year if he doesn’t retire or go to another franchise.
What’s certain at this point is this has got to be a make or break year for Sean Payton. The unfulfilled promise of 2016 has seemingly been forgiven but another losing season will leave the Black and Gold front office no recourse but to chart a new path. The moves made on Thursday are encouraging.