Trouble ain't over for Saints

Published Mar. 5, 2012 12:00 a.m. EST



New Orleans has the NFL’s most inappropriate nickname following news of the bounty scandal that has rocked the league. It’s time to revive the old “Aints” moniker from the early 1980s when the franchise was the pits.

That’s because these Saints ain’t headed in the right direction either.


Head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis assuredly face suspensions. The duo didn’t wear bags over their heads like Aints fans, but they certainly stuck them in the sand when it came to the bounty system that the NFL alleges former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams orchestrated.

A hefty team fine and the stripping of draft choices also appear in the offing when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ultimately announces penalties against the Saints. Plus, New Orleans is embroiled in a contract standoff with its marquee player that could have a disastrous trickle-down effect on the roster.

All of this has the Saints feeling like an overzealous reveler the morning after Fat Tuesday. Only the hangover isn’t fading any time soon.

Start with Payton and Loomis. They are two of the NFL’s best in their respective jobs. They built the roster that won Super Bowl XLIV and reached the playoffs three other times in the past six seasons. But it appears neither acted responsibly when refusing to stop the bounty system, especially after the NFL got wind of what was happening.

Loomis, Payton and possibly some Saints players who allegedly participated in the bounty program, such as middle linebacker Jon Vilma, are now expected to pay the price with suspensions. Even when reinstated, the reputations of Payton and Loomis are soiled like Bill Belichick’s after the Spygate scandal in New England.

As for Williams, his name is forever mud.

Williams was reportedly the ringleader of a scheme that paid his charges for hits on opposing players between 2009 and 2011. In light of media reports that claimed he did the same during previous coaching stops, Williams was summoned to league headquarters Monday to discuss the issue with NFL security.

Goodell will not take kindly to those who tried to undercut the player safety concerns he has made a cornerstone of his commissionership. The St. Louis Rams — which hired Williams in January — would be wise to immediately start making plans to name a new defensive coordinator.

The Saints must not only clean up the mess but mend fences with the team leader who players joke helps the janitor because he’s the last one to leave the building each day.

Drew Brees isn’t just one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He sets the pace for the entire squad with his leadership and work ethic.

Brees thought that combination makes him worthy of a massive contract extension. The Saints, though, feel his financial demands are exorbitant.

The impasse after more than a year of negotiations doesn’t speak well for either side. And now the Saints will pay the price.

As first reported Saturday by NFL insider Jay Glazer, New Orleans was forced to use the franchise designation on Brees because they weren’t close to an agreement to be done by the 4 p.m. ET Monday deadline for clubs to utilize the tag.

By naming him an “exclusive” franchise player, Brees won’t have the ability to negotiate with other teams but he will earn a 2012 salary of at least $16 million. That’s great for Brees personally but rough professionally because of the impact it makes on the team’s salary cap.

Using the franchise designation on Brees also means the Saints can’t tag another one of their unrestricted free agents. New Orleans now has eight days to strike new deals with three of their other top offensive players — left guard Carl Nicks and wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem — or risk losing them on the open market.

But even if offered acceptable Saints contracts, those free agents must ask whether they want to return to the Big Easy. Brees himself might want out if his contract talks don’t get back on track.

Besides major issues to overcome in 2012, the penalties involving future draft picks provide a significant obstacle in remaining a legitimate Super Bowl contender in years to come. And who knows if Goodell will go even further by placing restrictions on other player transactions New Orleans can make in hopes of creating a permanent chill on NFL bounties.

Divine intervention might be the only thing that would allow New Orleans to overcome this situation with relatively minor short- and long-term damage. But these Saints shouldn’t be expecting any after the devilish deeds the NFL says were perpetrated.

Ain’t that a shame? Not under the circumstances.