If the 2014-15 NFL season were a high-stakes game of Texas hold’em poker, it would be very easy to find the New Orleans Saints’ stack of chips – they’d all be right, smack-dab in the middle of the table for the other 31 teams to see.
Indeed, New Orleans is all-in on their immediate future, something that has been obvious for months now, but became even more-so this week when the terms of Jimmy Graham’s long-term contract were disclosed to the public.
On paper, the contract is 4-years, $40 million with $21 million of that total guaranteed – a contract that will make Graham the highest-paid tight end in the history of the NFL in terms of guaranteed dollars owed.
But when one looks even deeper into the complexities of the deal, it’s easy to see that the Saints are again selling their financial souls for the opportunity to bring Lombardi Trophy No. 2 to the Big Easy.
In year one of the contract, Graham will count just $4 million against the Saints’ salary cap. This makes Graham easily the biggest financial bargain to any team for the upcoming year. Of course, this means that in years 2-4, he will carry a hefty number against the cap, a move is good for today, but troubling for tomorrow when one considers that quarterback Drew Brees, receiver Marques Colston, safety Jairus Byrd and other players have similar contracts with back-loaded money.
The financial situation is such that multiple NFL experts have touted that the Saints may be in big-time salary cap purgatory a few seasons from now – a scenario that could greatly impact the team’s depth and ability to lure free agent players into the city.
Know what I say to those people?
I say so what! Who cares? Enjoy the team’s run while it lasts. The NFL is so competitive. Why worry about tomorrow when the Black and Gold’s current roster ranks among the best in the NFL?
I say the Saints are doing the right thing by being aggressive toward the next 1-2 seasons. I say that the league (more-so than any other in pro sports) is a win-now league. When you have a chance, you grab it by the throat. In the NFL, countless teams have learned the hard way that sometimes tomorrow never comes and yesterday’s chance was the only one that you’ll get to win big.
Ask the Atlanta Falcons. Just a few years ago, we all looked at Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White and saw the Dirty Birds as a team poised for a decade-long run of success.
Just two years later, the Falcons are a dumpster fire that could be headed toward a second-straight embarrassing season.
I’m not suggesting that New Orleans is poised for that same fate. But it could happen. In the NFL, you just never know what tomorrow might hold.
Enough about the Falcons, though. No one in Louisiana wants to hear about those guys in July. The reason why I think the Graham deal is the best move for the Saints can be summed up in two words: Drew Brees.
The beloved New Orleans quarterback isn’t a spring chicken anymore. By the time next season ends, he will be 36. Sure, No. 9 still performs at a high level, but how much longer will that last? I know Peyton Manning is proving a lot of naysayers wrong right now with his late-career success, but Manning is the exception to the rule.
History tells me that Brees will only perform at an elite level for another two, maybe three seasons. History also tells me that once Brees retires and leaves the franchise, the Saints will have a tough time succeeding in the following seasons, no matter who is on the roster to take his place (for the record, I do not think any current New Orleans backup quarterback is starting QB material for the future).
When John Elway left the Denver Broncos, the team finished 6-10 the next season and was 34-30 over the four following years with zero playoff wins.
Dan Marino has been retired from the Miami Dolphins for decades now. The Dolphins still don’t have a replacement that can bring back the magic to the franchise and make them prominent. As a result, Miami has struggled and has been one of the least successful NFL teams over the past decade.
Since Troy Aikman’s days in Dallas, the Cowboys have won just one playoff game and have had just one QB with a pulse – their current one.
So seeing all of the examples from history, why not go all-in and try and win while Drew is still here?
When he’s gone, the following few seasons will be lean anyway. So why not be in salary cap trouble to boot? Being rotten and winning 4-5 games for a few seasons will allow the team to secure elite draft picks so that they can get another quarterback for the future and start over from scratch.
So it’s do or die for New Orleans – it’s now or never.
Will they be good enough to top the Seahawks and the other NFC powers this go-round? Time will tell.
But it looks like the 2014-15 season just might be their best shot at Super Bowl No. 2 in the Drew Brees Era.
SOCCER COLUMN NETS WINNER
I don’t usually follow-up on a Casey’s Corner topic, but I think I’ll make an exception this week. In last week’s column, I challenged readers to use social media or email to send me the soccer team that I should cheer for in the future.
I vowed that the team with the most votes would win and become the club soccer team that I rooted for throughout the next fall as I make a commitment to be more interested in soccer year-round.
Well the votes have been tallied and a winner has been crowned. Thanks to an astonishing response, which included 20-plus Facebook messages, dozens of e-mails and about 10 or so Tweets, I am proud to state that I am now a fan of Everton Football Club.
Everton won the vote over Chelsea, who finished as a close second. Sure, the voting was possibly a bit skewed because Everton features U.S. goalie Tim Howard, who became a bit of a folk-like hero after his epic World Cup performance. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
I’m all aboard the bandwagon, and that’s the soccer team that I’ll roll with from here on-in.