Why the New Orleans Saints will make the playoffs: No. 8, Veteran Leadership
By John Hendrix
Jul 28, 2013; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) and linebacker Will Smith (91) talk during a morning training camp practice at the team training facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t so long ago that the New Orleans Saints faced many difficult decisions. After a successful 2013 campaign, the team had choices to make on some of the ‘super glue’ that had been in place for years.
At first, it seemed like a smart move to dump veterans Roman Harper, Will Smith, Jabari Greer, and Jonathan Vilma. After all, these players weren’t friendly to the team’s salary cap situation. For Harper and Smith, it wasn’t going to be smart to retain a player at their price tag to be a part-time role player on the Saints defense. For Greer and Vilma, injuries caused them to exit the picture.
The flurry of moves came back to bite the New Orleans Saints in the rear end. With the exception of linebacker Curtis Lofton, the players that ended up replacing these departed veterans failed to bring the complete package. The leadership aspect was missing, and the locker room ended up being one giant mess.
Ultimately, the Saints finished 2014 with a 7-9 record, well below everyone’s expectations. It might have been a blessing in disguise, as there were reports of locker room fights and lackadaisical attitudes. Coach Sean Payton and tackle Zach Strief talked about what it meant to lose so many key players.
"“It was more impactful than at the moment we would have guessed,” Payton said.“Leadership is more than just getting yourself ready or getting yourself in the right place. It’s bringing everyone else along with you,” said Strief, who quickly bonded with Unger after his arrival in town. “We didn’t teach the things that were expected (of teammates), we just assumed that they would know. Because for a while, enough people already knew. Culture is taught, and I think we got away from that (last year).”"
This offseason brought in reinforcements to the New Orleans Saints, which helps inject several veteran players that have had a winning track record and a strong sense of professionalism. Between the additions of Dannell Ellerbe, Brandon Browner, Max Unger, C.J. Spiller, Kevin Williams, and Anthony Spencer, this is what it adds up to:
- 41 years experience
- 4 Super Bowl rings
- 6 Super Bowl appearances
- 11 Pro Bowl appearances
I would be silly to not point out players like Tim Hightower and Kenny Phillips, who are trying to revitalize their careers and battle the odds after bad injuries.
The culture change is evident this season. Perhaps there was no better display of landing the point home for this season by one of the new additions, Brandon Browner.
This is what a veteran presence brings to the table. Browner has only sustained one losing season in his career, and is a two-time Super Bowl champion. He’s just one example of what the Saints received over the past several months.
So, what’s the bottom line? Veterans like Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Zach Strief, and Jahri Evans will find it easier to balance the locker room and drive home Sean Payton’s philosophy and will to win with these extra additions to the team. It gives the younger part of the Saints roster, which currently features fifty-five players under the age of 25, some mentors to work with and learn from.
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