For New Orleans Saints fans, it is that time again when true fandom is morphed by salary caps, expiring contracts, and cost effectiveness.
Fans have to find a balance between their players who battled on the green turf all season, and the green paper fans feel they stand to receive. Beloved players are shunned, coaches are criticized, and front offices are heckled, all in the name of finance.
A certain mystique is lost through this process, and the definition of a fan is shifting away from love and loyalty, and moving towards consumerism.
The Saints have a laundry list of names, including several starters, who will have to be evaluated as unrestricted free agents.
Names like S Darren Sharper, LB Scott Shanle, FB Heath Evans, S Roman Harper, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, OT Zach Strief, RB Pierre Thomas, OT Jermon Bushrod, DT Remi Ayodele, DE Jeff Charleston, among others, will be unrestricted free agents.
And finally, it is important not to ignore the star players whose contracts are set to expire next season, and who the front office may want to sign ahead of time and avoid free agency. These players include QB Drew Brees, WR Marques Colston, WR Robert Meachem, and CB Tracy Porter.
This off-season, Saints fans will have to separate themselves emotionally from the team and become businessmen. For example, they have to look at Darren Sharper, the ball hawk defensive mastermind of the 2009 Super Bowl season, and know that he is well past his prime and must be let go.
But letting players go at the tail end of their career is a natural process (unless your name is Brett Favre), like the passing of a family pet, it is just their time.
Players performing in their prime, however, may be let go for more heart wrenching reasons. Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey, Randall Gay, and Devery Henderson all have great talent and a place in the hearts of most Saints fans, but they all had very little production this season and are scheduled to be paid a total $21.75 M combined next season.
The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league and fans know it. Each of these players will have to restructure their contract to fit their production, or find employment elsewhere.
The Saints have expressed a desire to keep many of their players, and players have responded in kind. Reggie Bush, who is scheduled to make $11.8 M next season, has said in response to contract renegotiation talks, “I’m open to whatever is going to help me stay here.”
Pierre Thomas, a ghost in the 2010 season due to an ankle that would not heal, seems to be letting free agency play out its course. “At this point I can only say I wish I knew where I’d be at and knew what team I’ll be with,” Thomas said.
There is an exception to every rule and his name is Drew Brees. The fans and the front office alike would be crazy not to give Brees a lucrative, multi-year deal that should near a record-high price. Brees is the face of the franchise, the city, and Who Dat Nation.
Fans grow bonds with the players they watch on the football field, and the players, in turn, grow connected to their fans. Jobs will be lost, hearts will be broken, and locker rooms will be restructured, but one thing is for certain, the green will be flowing.