The New Orleans Saints and Sean Payton are at a crossroads and a crossroads of their own making. The upward trajectory of the end of the 2015 season is far different than the organization and team which limped off of the field in 2014. At the end of the 2014 season, the New Orleans Saints had the first losing record under Sean Payton since 2007, and the organization vowed to change its culture and the acquisition of its players. The focus turned to drafting dynamic players and acquiring free agents all of whom were productive, high character men who would stand resolved and unified in the face of adversity. As the roster was evaluated, it was determined a two-year plan would be needed to place the New Orleans Saints in victory mode. So drafting philosophy and personnel changed as well as hard decisions were made on key players such as Curtis Lofton and Jimmy Graham to build the first year base. The team was not afraid to let Junior Galette walk even though it meant it would lose its sack leader knowing it would put a strain on its secondary. The draft focused on the defensive side of the ball, and in mid-season when it was determined the offense needed some help, the Saints sacrificed Akiem Hicks to obtain blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawnui.
As the 2015 season began, fans could see the growing pains of a changing organization. The sense of urgency for Sean Payton and the team seemed lacking because the team was not quite ready to make a run but was focused on building for the future. The window was not now but opened to the future. The Saints were competitive but realistic in their goals for the near future. And there were missteps in free agent acquisitions, the uncertainty of Coach Rob Ryan, far too many penalties and yards given up by the defense. The team regressed in its defensive goals and has yet to come together–partly due to coaching changes, personnel loses, and injuries. Even then, and especially in the end, when defensive players stepped up against Atlanta in the last game of the season, Sean Payton did not lose his locker room. He was proud of their effort and the way they were willing to play in positions foreign to them.
On offense, Sean Payton has never lost his mojo nor his mind meld with Drew Brees. They act in concert and what fans see weekly are minor miracles of play calling and execution. No one is talking about the run game any more because the addition of Tim Hightower and the newly coalescing offensive line make Coach Payton look like a running genius.
And it all comes down to this–good or great players make a coach look like a genius. They make the plays work. The coach keeps them focused and inspired while seeking to place them in the best possible positional formation to succeed but execution is always the players’s bailiwick.
So why are the Saints at an unexpected crossroads? Surely the expected one would be the midway point in a roster rebuild. There should not be surprise from anyone inside the building on the Saints results on the field this year if the team is truly in a rebuild as all have affirmed. The results of this season would be expected for Sean Payton. Of course, the target could have been higher but I don’t think anyone expected they to go far if even into the playoffs. Sean Payton would not be a viable head coaching candidate if future teams realize he gave up on a team in the middle of a rebuild. And knowing how large organizations work, the roster rebuild would have been vetted and approved by Mr. Benson to temper his expectations.
The unexpected crossroad is there may be trouble in the building. The problems, if any, may surround a power struggle (the nature of which no one knows). If indeed there is a power struggle, it will have to play itself out. There have been hints that something would have to change from the team’s perspective for Sean Payton to stay. Given the success of the present draft class in relation to prior drafts, I can’t believe the Saints as well as Sean Payton are not pleased with the present draft dynamic. So, there are other decisions the Saints would like Sean Payton to make. Could these surround his long-time staff? Successful leaders draw upon determination, a firm belief in themselves, their ability to solve problems, and they surround themselves with people they feel can do the job so they can focus on their responsibilities.
There may be a fundamental difference in belief philosophies. No one knows but there is no better situation for Sean Payton than the Saints given Drew Brees, the rebuilding team, and an amenable owner. I don’t think he is ready to move on because he is ready to give up on the results of his own plans to rebuild the organization. I don’t think there is a job opening he desires above New Orleans. Let’s face it–there is a reason why these clubs have openings including bad rosters and whacky ownership. (The Titans could be considered a plum job but they are in the midst of filing a suit against the NFL regarding its ownership structure. Talk about drama. Oy Vey). And where will Sean Payton find a loyal fan base such as New Orleans who stood with him when he returned and are there to great the team win or lose when it returns home. Where will he find anyone like us? It is unique situation and will never be replicated.
— dOMe_inate (@WhoDatWarriors) January 4, 2016
These Are The Good Ole Days For The New Orleans Saints and Sean Payton
No matter the outcome of Sean Payton’s fate, these are and will remain the good ole days. Nothing will replace the other worldly play of Drew Brees guided by the hand of Sean Payton. There is a unique oneness there that happens so rarely, so infrequently and yet is so accepted here we may forget to enjoy the plays, the strategies and the struggles. And what can we ask of a team? That it always wins? That will not happen. We can only ask they evolve, grow, try, press, struggle, and give it their best. So bow your head and say a prayer the right decision will be made at this crossroad for a team that it on the cusp of something special.