Jimmy Graham’s Contract

Jimmy GrahamEverybody thinks the New Orleans Saints big off-season story will be Jimmy Graham’s contract negotiations. They’re right, it will be a big story. But let me spare you the drama and tell you exactly what’s going to happen …

History Repeats Itself

What’s going to happen is the same thing that happened with Drew Brees’s contract in 2012. Which is to say, both camps will drag this thing out as long as possible. Why? Because it’s great publicity for both Jimmy Graham and the Saints. There’s no downside to dragging it out. The longer this stays in the news, the more important it seems, the more exposure Graham gets, and the more media coverage the Saints get. If they wrap up the contract in February, it will be long forgotten by March. If they drag it out through June, that’s 4 extra months of Graham’s name periodically in the news.

The Dotted Line

Big statement contracts in the NFL are just fun and games. The larger the deal is (and the more the media covers it), the more important the player and the contract become; the greater the bragging rights. Even though in the NFL it often doesn’t matter in the long-term what the terms of the deal are. A team can release you from your contract whenever they feel like it, or ask you to restructure it.

Franchise Tag

The Saints will hit Graham with the franchise tag, but whether it’s a TE tag or a WR tag is only window dressing, a sideshow. The debate on whether he is a tight end or wide receiver (he’s a tight end, IMO) is interesting from a football perspective, but meaningless from a practical perspective. The Saints will definitely sign Graham to a long-term contract, rendering the tag moot.

Negotiation Gaps

Just like with Brees’s contract negotiation, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the coming months that the two sides have not been communicating for long stretches at a time. This is not because they can’t come to an agreement, it’s because the agreement is already settled. They’re just biding their time. The longer they wait, the longer the story stays fresh, with an oh-so-dramatic, breathless, last-minute agreement before the deadline! Whew, that was close, Saints fans!

No, it wasn’t close; it was settled months ago.

No Worries!

So … don’t sweat this contract, Who Dats! The Saints will sign Graham, he’ll be happy, and Mickey Loomis will be a hero for working magic in the offseason again.

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Saints vs. 49ers, 2011 playoffs

It’s been about 5 months since Alex Smith and Vernon Davis ripped the NFC championship game out of the Saints hands. I’m now finally able to write about it.

First off, the game was amazing. Even though my Saints lost, it was an epic football game. Football doesn’t get more entertaining than this (unless it’s the Saints beating the Vikings in the NFC championship or the Saints beating the Colts in the Super Bowl. Those are the height of football entertainment).

The Saints open the game by marching downfield. They get to the 2-yard line when Donte Whitner blows up Pierre Thomas. While not an illegal hit, it probably should be. If the NFL is interested in preventing head injuries, why would they want ANY helmet-to-helmet hits to be legal? At any rate, it’s a good, solid football play, and it caused a turnover.

The Saints get into a huge first-quarter hole (17-0), and spend the rest of the game working their way out of it. Until the 4th quarter when they finally take the lead with 4 minutes left in the game. This is the point at which the game got nutty, the lead would change hands 3 more times before the end.

Maybe defense really does win championships. The 49ers defense played well, but didn’t exactly stop the Saints (32 points, 471 yards, hello!). It was a lack of clutch defense by the Saints that allowed the 49ers to win. First they let the 49ers drive 80 yards for a touchdown in less than 2 minutes, including a 27-yard touchdown run by Alex Smith(!), and then …

Anybody watching saw the Saints win the game with about a minute and a half left. I mean, the game was over. Done. Finished. Brees had hit Jimmy Graham for a monster touchdown, which, in any other game would have been the final score. It should have killed the 49ers hopes and dreams.

There was no indication the 49ers offense would be able to score quickly enough to win this game. Their season had been characterized by great defense and field goals. A field goal would tie it, so maybe they could shoot for that, but I’m telling you, this game was over. O-V-E-R, over. Except that it wasn’t.

With 40 seconds left, the 49ers have the ball on their own 34, and the television broadcast shows the kicker warming up on the sidelines. Maybe they’ll find a way to get into field goal range. When all of a sudden, Smith hits Davis with a bullet and Davis runs it to the Saints 15 yard line. And the nightmare is in full effect. Echoes of Marshawn Lynch in the 2010 playoffs. Memories of familiar defensive late-game collapses. Can the Saints defense just find a way, some way, to hold them to a field goal? Pleeeaassse?

No.

Three plays later, Smith hits Davis again for one of the most excruciating touchdowns I’ve ever seen. Crushing. And only 9 seconds left, not enough time for Brees to the win game (again).

Watching it still sends my heart into my throat.

The Saints defense actually played well for most of the game. They bailed out the team numerous times after turnovers. But they have this habit of breaking down in key situations. Sometimes they come up with big plays, but that’s the problem, there’s no in-between. Either they make a huge play or they give up a huge play. In 2012 they have a new defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo), so hopefully this will improve.

The offense, as wonderful as it is, needs to play better in the first halves of games. They basically did the same thing against the Lions (getting into a hole, then coming back) the week before, but because that game was in New Orleans, they were able to overcome the adversity and the turnovers.

I think the hit on Pierre Thomas may have been the play that made the biggest difference in the game. Without PT, the Saints become predictable based on their personnel. When Sproles is in the game it’s a pass; when Ivory’s in the game it’s a run. Also, PT has a beast-mode in the playoffs. He was injured for last year’s loss to Seattle as well. He’s really key to what makes the Saints offense so flexible. This might sound crazy, but I’d rather have lost Sproles to injury than Pierre Thomas.

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Saints vs. Vikings. It’s all coming together.

+) In January 2010, the Saints and Vikings played an amazing NFC conference championship game, which the Saints won. In September 2010, the Saints opened the NFL season against the Vikings in what was promised as a rematch, but turned into a defensive struggle, which the Saints won. In December of 2011, Saints vs Vikings was a lopsided affair as the Vikings have gone nowhere but down since that NFC championship game, and the Saints are trying to get back to the Super Bowl. The final score was 42-20 this past Sunday, but the game wasn’t even that close. Take away a couple bonehead plays (Brian De La Puente snapped the ball before Brees was ready and the Vikings recovered. Coach Payton called for an onside kick in the 2nd quarter which the Vikings recovered) and the final might have been 52-10 instead.

+) The blowout of the Vikings is the Saints second road win in as many weeks. There’s no doubt the Saints play better at home, but going 5-3 on the road for the season is nothing to scoff at. I like their chances to win a playoff game on the road much more now than I did 2 weeks ago.

+) Drew Brees is having one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had in the NFL, but yet whenever he does this, he always gets overshadowed. This year by Aaron Rodgers. Even though Brees is going to break Dan Marino’s single season yardage record, and break his own single season accuracy record, and he already broke the record for most 300 yard games in a season, and is carrying a streak of 41 straight games with a TD pass (2nd longest in history), and is leading his team to the playoffs while riding a 6 game winning streak at the most important time of the season … he still may not win the league MVP award. If Rodgers loses another game, Brees could very well overtake him in the MVP race.

+) I’ll say it, because nobody else will: Brees is better than Rodgers. Have you ever watched Rodgers try to come from behind to win a game in the 4th quarter? He can’t do it.

+) It’s interesting that Reggie Bush is having such a good season in Miami. The Dolphins aren’t a great team, but Bush is having a nice year. The Saints don’t really miss him, since they signed Sproles in his place. I guess that’s a win-win for both Bush and the Saints.

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Saints vs. Giants. Showing their form.

+) The Saints are looking a lot like the 2009 Super Bowl Saints lately. Especially last night, but over the last 3 weeks they’ve played very well. They can definitely beat the Packers in the playoffs, even at Lambeau Field, even in 15 degree weather. I don’t know if they WILL, but they certainly CAN.

+) Analysts keep talking about the liability of the Saints defense; that they give up too many yards and too many points. I don’t view this as a problem. Those are empty yards and empty points. The Giants put up 460 yards and 24 points, but they were already down by 18 at halftime. In the first half, the Giants scored 3 points. And the Saints defense is a liability? It’s not like the Giants made a comeback at any point in the game.

Once the Saints have a lead, the defense takes more chances, blitzes more, goes after turnovers and big plays, which often leads to more yards for the other team. This isn’t unique to the Giants game, it’s how they play.

+) Before the Giants game, the important matchup was touted as the Saints offensive line vs. the Giants defensive line. It’s easy to see who won that matchup. The Saints offensive line has played lights out for the past 3 games, and is a big reason why the Saints are back in Super Bowl form lately.

+) It’s time someone said it, Drew Brees is amazing. Breesus is an appropriate nickname. He’s a Hall of Fame QB, he’s playing as well as anyone in the league this year (maybe excepting Rodgers), he’s been the best quarterback of the last 5 years in the NFL, bar none. It’s about time someone gave him his due. Props to Drew Brees.

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Saints vs. Buccaneers. Weaknesses exposed.

+) That’s a crazy thing when the head coach is lost due to injury in the first quarter of a game. What a weird, fluke of an injury. Hopefully the impact of his absence can be diminished until he’s back in charge.

+) Colston seems like his usual self again, it’s clear nobody can stop Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem are in their usual mode. But what’s up with Lance Moore? The Saints just awarded the kid a new contract, but he hasn’t been himself this year. The last 3 games in particular he’s combined for 10 catches and 0 touchdowns. He was injured, so maybe he’s not 100% yet, but he’s not the usual clutch receiver I’m used to seeing.

+) Looks like the defense is going to be average this year. There’s a lot of talent: Jon Vilma, Will Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Jabari Greer, Sedrick Ellis. And newer guys like Patrick Robinson and Cam Jordan are showing skills. But when a good offense faces the Saints, there’s a good chance they’ll score 30, an average offense will score 20, and a bad offense will score 10.

+) The Saints offense had four 3-and-outs on Sunday. Wow. I’d be surprised if they had that many in their previous 5 games combined. Was that due to Sean Payton leaving the game?

+) A disturbing Saints trend is that almost every game is still in question in the 4th quarter. Which is great for games in which they have trailed, but almost never do they get ahead and stay ahead. Which is a far cry from the 2009 Superbowl season where they went 5 straight games without trailing at any point in any of them to start the season.

+) It doesn’t take an NFL guru to see that Brees is throwing too many interceptions. Again. He also threw too many last year. Which is strange, becuase he’s one of the most (if not the most) accurate passers in the league. Some of them have been tipped balls, but it’s still too many.

+) That’s a lot of negativity because they lost the game. But it was easy to see this coming. They had to score in the final minute to beat Carolina the week before, and the Bears, Jaguars, and Texans were able to hang around in games longer than they should have. Saints are having trouble knocking teams out.

+) However, I’m not worried about it. I have a feeling this loss to the Bucs won’t bite the Saints the way last year’s early season loss to the Falcons did. Saints will still win the NFC South.

+) One last thing. The Saints wore throwback uniforms a couple weeks ago. Might I suggest they don’t wear those again? Thanks.

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Saints vs. Bears. The defense finally shows up.

+) After being the main culprit in losing last year’s playoff game, not looking so hot in the pre-season, and playing like a lackluster unit in the first half against the Packers last week, the Saints defense finally pulled it together against the Bears. 6 sacks, a fumble recovery, allowed only 2 third-down conversions, and allowed only 13 points.

+) The Saints are in their own heads regarding third-and-one situations. I swear they’d rather face 3rd-and-12 than 3rd-and-1. On 3rd-and-12 they scored a 79 yard touchdown. On three 3rd-and-1’s they: threw an incomplete pass, got stuffed for a 2 yard loss, and then ran for 12 yards (maybe on this play they convinced themselves it was another 3rd-and-12).

+) Drew Brees has thrown 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 2 games. Much improved over the 22 picks he threw last year.

+) The Saints defense has 0 interceptions in 2 games. Really, Saints D? You couldn’t manage a single interception of Jay Cutler?

+) The game was more competitive than what the score looked like, 30-13. It wasn’t until about halfway through the 3rd quarter when the Saints started to break the game open. To read the NOLA paper, you’d think the Saints dominated from start to finish. It was a very nice win against a good team, but it wasn’t flawless.

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Saints vs. Packers. Can the Saints get a 1st quarter mulligan?

+) Supposedly, the Saints defense was fired up to avenge their poor playoff performance against Seattle last year. But all I saw was a bunch of weak tackling, a weak pass rush, no turnovers, and some weak pass coverage early. Defense will need to play better than that.

+) Darren Sproles showed everyone what Reggie Bush was supposed to be doing in the Saints offense all those years. 82 yards from scrimmage and 168 return yards, including a 72 yard punt return for TD, plus he drew a critical 4th quarter pass interference penalty on the Packers.

+) I expected a shaky first quarter for the Saints. The Packers were excited to begin their title defense, it’s the season-opening game, and they’re at home in Green Bay. But that was extremely shaky. The defense looked like crap, and the offense fumbled the ball away as soon as they could. Would love to have a do-over on the first quarter.

+) Very unusual for Colston to fumble the ball.

+) Drew Brees was as sharp as ever. Hopefully we’ll see better pass-run balance the rest of the year, but they played this whole game from behind and really needed to score as often as possible to keep up with what the Packers were doing on offense.

+) The Saints continue to struggle on short yardage plays, as they have done for years. Seems obvious the offensive line is just not built for that sort of play. That line was also spotty in pass protection, makes me wonder how good that line actually is. Evans and Nicks are supposed to be 2 of the best guards in the league.

+) I love the Saints backfield this year. Mark Ingram runs hard and can wear down a defense. Pierre Thomas is healthy and looks like his usual tricky self, breaking off surprising plays and bouncing off tackles. And Darren Sproles has the speed and big play ability that can break a game open.

+) It’s unfortunate they didn’t win this game, but looking at the Saints schedule shows they have a good chance to win all of their next 8 games, before facing off against Atlanta in mid-November.

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