Saints are one big '?'

Is it time to reach over and press the black-and-gold panic button? After all, one of Saints coach Sean Payton's favorite musings is that each week, it’s either a crisis or a carnival.

Payton has more than his share of issues. His secondary is again injury riddled. Prized free agent pickups in back-to-back years, safety Jairus Byrd, and running back C.J. Spiller, have literally disappeared.

And, Payton’s most con- sistent defensive back, cornerback Keenan Lewis, will miss at least September with a reported hip injury.

As the Saints finished off a winless preseason, it was time to ask this question: Is this a club in transition? Or was last year’s 7-9 record, including losing five straight at home to end the season, a true barometer?

What is true, without dispute, is how far the Saints’ talent level has dropped in four years. In 2011, the Saints’ third-best receiver was Lance Moore. He had 52 catches for 627 yards and eight touchdowns. Who is the Saints’ third best receiver now?

The Saints’ third-best running back was Pierre Thomas. Thomas had 562 rushing yards and 425 receiving yards. Do we know who the Saints’ third back is now?

The 2011 Saints were counting on Will Smith to rush the opposing quarterback. The middle linebacker was Jonathan Vilma. Both were linchpins of the Saints’ Super Bowl season. Suddenly, watching the Saints in preseason makes that Super Bowl season seem like a long time ago.

However, the Saints aren’t the only NFL team with a backlog of issues. Carolina lost its best receiver in the preseason. Atlanta is starting over with a new coach, and its defense, statistically, was the only one worse than the Saints in 2014. Tampa Bay will start the first pick in the draft, Jameis Winston, at quarterback.

The schedule certainly works in the Saints’ favor. The Saints don’t play Green Bay, Seattle, New England or Denver. They do play Jacksonville, Washington, Tennessee and Tampa Bay, twice.

So, I guess what I am saying is, the Saints may be just your average NFL team and somehow win eight or nine games.

But, if they don’t, if they win seven or less, the offseason changes could be dramatic. Drew Brees would be in the final year of his contract. Is he here or do the Saints start over? Does Sean Payton coach the Saints without Drew Brees at quarterback? A Brees and/ or Payton departure would be seismic for an organization that has enjoyed unprecedented stability.

Maybe all of the questions above are unnecessary. Maybe the Saints get some breaks, get healthy and make quantifiable improvement. And, that’s what is great about the opening weeks of an NFL season.

All of those questions are answered, quickly.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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