Last year after the Saints got destroyed 41 – 10 at home against the Carolina Panthers I said in an article I wrote for this website that for the very first time Sean Payton had lost his football team, I was wrong – Payton had lost it before that.
The seeds were planted in 2014’s off-season and all through training camp when players repeatedly patted themselves on the back telling everyone who would listen as to how they were going to bring home the Lombardi. The problem was a vast majority of them were not willing to put in the hard work week in and week out during the tough grind of a long season.
As the season began to unravel, players began to tune each other out and from all accounts there was a complete lack of respect in that locker room on certain levels. Respected veteran who have skins on the wall and the hardware to prove it were not getting through to the younger players on that roster.
When Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis brought the hammer down to begin the off-season and didn’t let up until the Junior Galette’s release last week I kept thinking back to that 41 – 10 thumping in the Superdome.
After that game a clearly upset Payton alluded to personnel changes coming and nobody was safe saying –
“That’s not a threat. All I’m saying is what’s madness is to continue to get up here after a game like that, with our fans and say, ‘We’re gonna have it right next week”
It wasn’t just Payton that was fed up with players not being accountable in their job of being a professional NFL player, Drew Brees would vent to the media that afternoon following the game saying –
“We’ve got to get stuff fixed. We can’t sit back and say it will take care of itself, because it’s not … I think we obviously still have a lot of maturing to do.”
“Every season you’re going to face adversity at times … maybe we just need to be more professional,” Brees said. “When I say we, I mean the entire team. A performance like that is embarrassing. I feel like there are (leaders), and yet there should be more.”
You didn’t have to be in that locker room to know some rotten eggs and immaturity issues were present, it was very obvious to even the most casual Saints observer. The poster boy for dysfunction in that locker room has become Junior Galette but you can’t lay this all on him, there were others and as we have seen this off-season they got sent packing too.
Think about it, why would you send a talented and productive player in Kenny Stills on his way for a 3rd round pick and a player who is coming off major surgery? Especially when he’s only 23 years old going into his 3rd year and only making peanuts in salary. There have rumblings that Brees was not happy with him because of his work ethic and attitude, I’m not sure how true this is but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
There is some thinking that Jimmy Graham was shipped off because of his attitude last year and even before that with him wanting wide receiver money in his contract standoff. I don’t think that’s the case, I just think the Saints really coveted Max Unger and were willing to pay a steep price to get him. I can tell you this though, every year I do a film review after each game and Graham absolutely took some plays off and a lot of times his routes were not sharp and his downfield blocking was well below average.
So here we are with another training camp underway and on the very first day a couple of old Vets brought up the leadership issue to the media. Those two players (Brees and Strief) were not just casually chatting it up with the reporters in the room, they were firing shots across the bow to all the players in camp.
Make no mistake this was a calculated move to set the tone and groundwork on how this team will operate this year. Zach Strief really nailed it when he said this –
“I think the real thing is, ‘Hey lets just be very vigilant that if we see something that isn’t right we just address it, If you just make the policy that no matter who it is or what the situation, you address it if it doesn’t look like what we want it to look like we’ll be fine.
“Last year I know I said a hundred times that I blame leadership and that’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. There were signs that we should’ve caught, and you look and say that’s got to improve. Again, as camp gets going that stuff will reveal itself, those opportunities to kind of teach guys what coach Payton expects.”
Strief continued to hammer the point down adding –
“You’re putting 62 guys from different backgrounds and different mindsets and different personalities in a locker room. It’s not that it’s always beautiful clean sailing and we sing ‘Kumbaya. That’s not the point, I think what we saw last year was just kind of a loss of respect for each other in the locker room and I think that’s something that we really want to grasp this year is make sure guys know that your teammates don’t have to be your buddies. … But you do have to respect that guy and you do have to respect the job he’s trying to do and his situation.”
I don’t think you can be more blunt than that, now will the players respond? I think they will but only time will tell. The season is a long grind and there will come a time when the Saints will face adversity and it’s at that time that we will find out if the message has fallen on deaf ears – you swim or you sink, last year after a couple of early tough losses they sank.
The core leaders on this team and I’m talking about Drew Brees, Zach Strief, Benjamin Watson, Jahri Evans Brandon Browner, Keenan Lewis and Marques Colston can’t do it by themselves, they need some of the younger players to step into that role also – I’m looking at you Kenny Vacarro, Terron Armstead and Cameron Jordan.
The seeds that are planted now will bear fruit in a 4th quarter battle in December, it’s not going to be easy to change the mindset of an entire team overnight but it can be done – it must be done or we may be witnessing the end of the golden age of Saints football.