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Hard to find positives about Saints -- on and off the field

There is hope on the horizon for the LSU football program. You can see it in the results on the field, in recruiting and what is waiting in the wings at quarterback in true freshman Walker Howard.

The same can’t be said for the football franchise an hour away in New Orleans.

Years of kicking the can down the road and delaying the inevitable has finally arrived for the Saints after the most successful period in the team’s history.

Winning a Super Bowl and being denied the chance at winning a second due to the worst non-call in NFL history highlighted the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era of Saints football from 2006-2020.

Brees retired following the 2020 season, when in truth, he might’ve stayed one season too long. Nothing wrong with that. It happens with most great quarterbacks who are headed to Canton in their first year of eligibility.

Payton “retired” after last season in what may have been his finest coaching job after the team went through four starting quarterbacks due to injuries and still finished 9-8.

In a listless 9-0 loss to Tampa in late December, the Saints played without 20 regulars due to injuries and illnesses. It was that kind of season, but New Orleans would’ve made the playoffs had the Rams not blown a 17-0 lead in falling to San Francisco, 27-24, in overtime in the final week of the regular season.

As the Saints found out in 2006, when they signed Brees, a franchise quarterback makes all the difference in the NFL.

Look at Nick Saban for proof. As coach of the Dolphins, he wanted to sign Brees, who was coming off a devastating shoulder injury that ended his career in San Diego, but his team doctors vetoed the decision.

Brees and Payton would eventually team up and save the Saints following Hurricane Katrina while Saban headed back to college at Alabama.

The Saints are finding out once again what life is like without a franchise quarterback. The sad news is they won’t be taking one in the first round of the NFL draft anytime soon, even with a promising draft class of QBs available next April.

Questionable trades have left the team without a first-rounder in 2023. The 5-0 Philadelphia Eagles own the rights to that first-round pick after New Orleans traded up in the quarterback-lite draft of 2022 to obtain Chris Olave and Trevor Penning in the first round.

Olave, a receiver from Ohio State, has been OK. Penning, an offensive tackle from Northern Iowa, was a major reach for the franchise and was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 1.

Worse, the Saints have been among the more creative teams in massaging their salary cap to keep the team contending for a Super Bowl during the waning years of Brees’ career.

In 2021, the cap forced the team to release nearly two dozen starters or key reserve players. In an attempt to trade for Deshawn Watson, the team reworked contracts to clear $110 million in space.

At some point, the Saints will have to pay the price for the continual reworking of contracts, which was 12 a year ago. When an NFL team continues to pay a player years after they retired, it is called “dead money.” The Saints are among the NFL leaders in paying out dead money, all of which counts against the salary cap.

Why all the fuss about boring draft picks and salary cap issues?

Have you seen the product the Saints are putting on the field this season? New Orleans is 2-4, and a bad 2-4 at that. Winnable games have turned into losses to the Bucs, Panthers, Vikings and on Sunday, the Bengals. Carolina’s lone win was to the Saints. The Panthers fired their coach, Matt Rhule, last week.

First-year Saints coach Dennis Allen may join him quicker than anyone would like. Allen always had a difficult job ahead of him as the coach to replace Payton. Still, the franchise knew Payton was likely to leave after last season and Allen was the best they could do? Probably so since there was no franchise quarterback in place.

Allen went 8-28 as coach of the Raiders. When he was fired, he returned to the Saints, which he first joined when Payton took over in 2006. Everyone excused Allen’s head coaching record due to it being with the Raiders.

There are no more excuses, but only losses for a franchise whose fans became accustomed to NFC South titles, winning seasons and playoff appearances.

It could be a while before the Saints return to those lofty expectations.

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