The New Orleans Saints saga has gone from bad to worse this week, setting up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for an easier path to the division. Yesterday, news broke of Saints GM Mickey Loomis allegedly wire tapping opposing teams headsets. If found to be more than just allegations from former employees, the punishment could extend into Federal jurisdiction with criminal charges. Loomis already has to serve an 8 game suspension for his cover up of the bounty scandal and his career could be in jeopardy if the new allegations are founded.
Today, Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith reportedly told NFL Network that a former Saints player once told him “We’ll get fined if we don’t go after your legs when you go out of bounds”. He then added that in a conversation with Gregg Williams, the former coach admitted “it wasn’t right, but that’s who he was”. The news comes as no surprise now that the curtain has been pulled back on the inner workings of the Saints organization. People are jumping ship and taking the opportunity to hit them while they are down.
Though the expected “rally around the team” sound bytes are being released by players, to say this is a distraction is an understatement. Unlike the Bucs reshuffling of staff and new direction, the Saints changes are not planned. The team is in down right chaos at the moment and it will take more than the urge to overcome adversity. A new head coach, no general manager and players in contract disputes has all led to one of the most trying off-seasons any team has faced. Now, the Saints could potentially see law enforcement officials making visits to the stadium as well.
All of this isn’t guaranteed to affect the Saints on the field. Talent is still talent, and Mickey Loomis doesn’t throw the ball. However, with player suspensions still to come and a new staff trying to run Sean Payton’s ship, the expectation of excellence on the field is a tall order.
While nobody is saying the Saints will tank, they are weaker. In many respects, they are the antithesis of the Bucs current path. Outside of Connor Barth, there are no contract disputes. Greg Schiano has by all accounts been accepted as the leader this team and organization wanted and needed. GM Mark Dominik is doing his best to help this team seriously compete and build a champion. Players are not being riddled with questions about the front office or bounties. They are being asked about hope and their potential for excellence. The Saints were in the same position as the Bucs only several seasons ago. A combination of great drafts and free agent signings put them over the top, culminating in the city’s first Super Bowl championship.
There is still Carolina and Atlanta to deal with, but not having the reigning NFC South champs at full speed helps the Bucs quest for a title. Every team in the division has won the division at least once the last five years. It’s the Buccaneers turn and they have made the moves necessary to seize the opportunity.
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