The New Orleans Saints finished their season with a 12-6 record, including their first playoff win in the cold, on the road. WWNO’s Jason Saul sat down with Ramon Antonio Vargas, Saints beat writer for the New Orleans Advocate, for a recap of the season, and for a look at what’s next.
So Ramon, as someone who is on the Saints beat you spend a lot of time with the team, both at home and on the road. Now that the season is over, what’s your take on how it went?
For a long time, the winning in the cold, on the road, because the Saints play in the Superdome, was thought to be almost virtually impossible at some point. And I think the fact is that is no longer a question, it can be done.
So, they won in the elements in Philadelphia — what happened in Seattle? It seems like they played half a game.
Seattle is a much better team than Philadelphia was. It became pretty apparent that the Saints offense didn’t operate at the same level away from the Superdome as it did at the Superdome. There’s a very small margin of error that they had in Seattle — they drifted outside of it, and they just never recovered from it.
That brings up some curious questions about the Saints offense: the recent era of Saints football has been phenomenal, has been record-breaking; what’s the difference this year? Is it the break and Sean Payton? Is it… What do you think it is?
I know writers that cover the team spent all season trying to figure out what explained the disparity, and there is no obvious answer. And I know that’s very unsatisfying; it’s very frustrating for us as well.
It’s not that Drew Brees was being pressured more on the road and this season, it’s just that a comparable amount of pressure in other years more often resulted in negative plays and things like that. Sean Payton repeatedly said, week after week, just being away from the game for a year after his punishment due to the bounty scandal…
You mention the bounty scandal: the Saints defense was depleted all last year, but they’ve kind of had this historic turnaround from the worst ever in yards given up to fourth in the league. What is it about Rob Ryan that’s really changed what the Saints secondary is doing?
Talking to the players, I think that he just came in and infused a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of confidence, and his confidence and his bravado were kind of infectious. He made playing defense fun. He got them to believe in him, and they were all in. I spoke with Roman Harper, safety for the Saints, yesterday, and he said “You watch the film, and you could tell the guys were just playing for the guy next to them.” And it had been a while since they’ve had that, at least one season. And he kind of brought that back.
Offseason moves change the character of every team, but New Orleans has kept their core group pretty well together over the last few years. However, there are some big offseason moves coming, including Jimmy Graham. Can you talk about how tight ends have historically not been paid very well? What is it about Jimmy Graham that’s so different, and why his move into free agency might engender some difficulties, especially in terms of the salary cap?
Starting with what makes Jimmy Graham such a special player: Jimmy Graham is almost a tight end only in label, only in name. He’s more like a wide receiver, and so his representatives are going to argue that he shouldn’t be paid like a tight end, he should be paid like an elite wide receiver. Historically wide receivers have made more money than tight ends. In general, pundits believe he’s worthy of a contract of at least $10 million a year, which is a lot. He’s expected to become the best tight end in NFL history. That’s what the Saints are going to push for: “We’re going to make you the best-paid tight end in NFL history.”
My opinion is that there is no way the Saints are going to let him hit free agency. They’ll sign him either to a multi-year contract before he’s due to become a free agent, which is some time in March, or they’ll place the franchise tag on him, which will allow them to retain him for a little more time.