Saints head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 6:00 PM
Presumably Roger Goodell may now be welcomed back to the French Quarter, free to eat and imbibe in relative peace.
Take down the “Don’t serve this Man” posters from the window.
What the NFL commissioner did to the Saints for the 2012 season is now looking like mere child’s play compared to the way the Saints are gutting themselves for 2014.
OK, when popular but aging defensive players like Will Smith and Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Jonathan Vilma got whacked, you could write it off to business as usual in the NFL.
Nothing personal. Blame it on the salary cap.
What happened Friday and continued into Saturday defies explanation.
The Saints said wide receiver Lance Moore is gone, handyman Darren Sproles says he’s been let go, and most everybody agrees that running back Pierre Thomas, if he’s not already gone, isn’t long for the fleur-de-lis either.
Thanks for playing. Thanks for the memories. Thanks, in the case of Moore and Thomas, for the Super Bowl trophy.
But time to move on.
Try not to be emotional about it. This is a cutthroat business, remember. No place for the kindhearted.
That’s what the Saints will tell you. They’re taking the cold, steely-eyed view of their product, weighing and balancing their assets.
Never mind that these latest castoffs are three of the most wildly popular, fan-favorite Saints of the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era.
All three will get a big hug from the front office and an acknowledgment to how important they were to the team’s success.
But that’s not important now. The Saints will tell you that.
OK, maybe so.
Who can forget Lance Moore’s acrobatic, twisting 2-point conversion in the Super Bowl?
Sorry. No need for sentiment here.
What got the crowd going Who Dat crazy better than his emphatic first-down signals?
Oh, forgot, we’re not going there.
Moore is a good receiver. There are a lot of good receivers around. That’s the way you have to look at it. You could make the argument — and I’ve often suspected this — that Brees turns good receivers into great ones.
But let’s work with the notion that, with Brees’ magic, you can bid adieu to Moore, painful as it might be, and plug somebody cheaper into the spot with similar results.
It will still be weird to see the Saints without him, but this is the big leagues.
Maybe the same is true with Thomas, equally unheralded coming in, but who always got the tough yards, who was usually Brees’ favorite safety valve out of the backfield with that uncanny ability to slip tackles.
You can probably find that skill set in a lot of players, perhaps even some younger and cheaper ones.
OK, fine, sad as it is. That’s the NFL. And as long as Brees is around, the Saints won’t lack for locker-room leadership.
But what I want to know is, who is going to do the Darren Sproles imitation?
Sproles tossed aside? Say it ain’t so.
That’s different. Forget the sentiment, the pull-for-the-little-guy syndrome.
Bottom line: you don’t just pick Sproles’ skill set up off the waiver wire or from the leftover bin after the college draft is over.
He’s a fairly unique weapon.
He came relatively cheap as a free agent — on Brees’ personal recommendation —and he turned out to be everything and more that Reggie Bush was supposed to be when Payton used his first-ever draft pick as Saints’ head coach.
Yeah, I know, his production fell off some this year, partly due injury, and he’s not a spring chicken either.
But you could argue that he was the most valuable non-Brees on the offense, a little do-everything Swiss pocket knife that drove defenses batty and could change a game with his returns.
Yes, even more versatile at least, than even tight end/wide receiver Jimmy Graham.
The assumption is that all of this is related to freeing up money to keep Graham around beyond his free agency, and that’s probably true to some degree.
But there’s got to be more than just the projected $133 million salary cap at play here.
It’s been suggested that the Saints are revamping their offense as much as they are dodging the salary cap.
Yes, the complete overhaul of the defense worked wonders last year, and it’s one of the reasons you could understand the release last month of some popular veterans there. Frankly, they weren’t a big part of the new-look defense anymore.
But when did the offense get broken?
Do they expect Brees to just play pitch-and-catch solely with Graham?
Even Brees won’t be there forever and the window is probably narrowing on how long the Saints will have that luxury.
Best to take advantage of it now.
Yes, that defense was always a sore spot. It needed a change in philosophy.
But, with the 35-year-old Brees at this stage of his career, is this really the time to be auditioning a whole new cast of supporting players?
That generally comes with growing pains.
But that’s the NFL these days.
Maybe they plan to build a new offense around Mark Ingram.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org