Stills: Saints' successful blueprint

Former Packers safety Ken Stills offers his thoughts on the success that the New Orleans Saints have had in restructuring their roster, a year after getting whipped by the Green Bay Packers and playing all of their games on the road.

As we can see, what a difference a year makes in the NFL. Look at the 2-0 2006 New Orleans Saints. As we look back at the Saints we start to see the 2006 Packers.

Prior to the start of the 2005 season the Saints had just finished the misery of training camp and were looking to get settled back into their homes in New Orleans. Instead, they found themselves with no home or stadium in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The team and their families ended up in San Antonio, playing their entire 2005 season on the road.

As you may remember the Packers' highlight of 2005 came against the Saints in a game the Packers won 52-3. In short, the Saints were embarrassed by the Packers.

The 2005 Saints were very disorganized. The fans were unhappy with the owner, questions about their stadium, families displaced and a team with no home field advantage. You combine that with the tragedies in the State of Louisiana and the Saints were having a tough year. It really was a team that over the past few seasons had underperformed relative to their talent.

In the off-season the Saints made a major move signing free agent Drew Brees. Being that I live in San Diego I had the opportunity to see Drew every week. This guy can play quarterback and I knew this was an excellent free-agent signing by New Orleans, and a huge loss for San Diego. Though, San Diego is also 2-0 this season.

As a team the Chargers didn't have the greatest 2005 season. After making it to the playoffs in 2004 the Chargers lost some very close games in 2005 and missed the playoffs. Brees, like most athletes, is very competitive. Let's face it, if you are involved in any type of competitive sports, or even a simple card game, the bottom line is, YOU WANT TO WIN. Consider how mad you get when you put a lot of time and effort into something, but you continue to lose – it would really bother you.

It wasn't your job and it bothered you, even though you didn't have millions of fans questioning you and writing about you that you needed to be replaced and/or you were a bad draft pick. Every day for the past couple seasons in San Diego Drew Brees had put up with that, and not only that, but the ultimate expression of criticism on his lack of production was the drafting of Philip Rivers.

What did Drew do in response? He looked at his weaknesses and developed his own internal plan to become better, and he withstood the storm. It did not have the same power of Katrina, but make no mistake, Drew Brees was headed to the bench in San Diego and everyone knew it – everyone but Drew Brees! Instead of the bench, he went to the Pro Bowl, and it was Rivers who went to the bench.

After going to the Pro Bowl and having another solid year in 2005, Drew hurt his shoulder in the last game of the season and had to have surgery. Subsequently the Chargers wrote him off and he was released. Where does he sign? As we Packer fans learned this past weekend, he went to the New Orleans Saints.

Now Drew doesn't have the arm of a Brett Favre, but setting aside our dismay that the Packers lost, we can take some heart in the lesson of the New Orleans Saints and in particular Brees, and how they paint a picture of how perseverance and confidence in yourself and hard work can overcome.

Let's take another member of the New Orleans Saints, Deuce McAllister. A perennial all pro, with a new multi-million dollar contract just before the start of 2005 season and then bam, he tears his ACL. He goes from the featured player of the Saints to rehab for the entire season. When he returned to the team it felt like another hurricane had ran through the Saints front office. They hired a new coaching staff, player personnel director, and drafted Reggie Bush. It's not unreasonable to consider how Deuce might have felt. One of my favorite sayings is, "He went from the penthouse to the outhouse."

What did Deuce do? He handled it like a team player and with confidence, just like Drew. He not only recovers from the injury and even though it hurt to see his score, Brees, Deuce and the New Orleans Saints are exactly what the Packer fans, personnel department and management needed to consider profoundly.

The Saints let a lot of key players go, i.e., Wayne Gandy (LT), Darren Howard (DE all-pro), LeCharles Bentley- all-pro center/guard, their starting QB Aaron Brooks, and most recently they traded Daunte Stallworth to the Eagles.

The Packers let Mike Wahle, Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera and Javon Walker get away. These are difficult players to replace, but the trend in the NFL, considering the salary cap, is to find players through the draft and to pick up a few select unrestricted free agents like the Saints did. If the Packers knew there would be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 2006 season with an historic increase in the salary cap from 2005-2006, that may have influenced their decision to re-sign a few of the players, but no one has a crystal ball. The projected salary cap for the 2006 league year was going to be about $95 million with the new TV deals, but the new CBA made the new Cap $102 million in 2006, and in 2007 it will be $109 million. To sum it up, Jerry Jones made a statement after the new CBA was signed: "And when there is money, it will get spent, because people want to win in this league."

It is easy to point the finger at one person, e.g., Ted Thompson, but the reality is, the Packers signed players who are unproductive, in particular on defense. If you look at the roster, it appears most of our guys are character guys, besides the most recent signing of Koren Robinson. Likewise, the Saints went for character, work ethic and a player in Brees who withstood the storm in San Diego and persevered.

So as a Packer fan, I was upset by the loss, but the New Orleans Saints – and in particular their quarterback Drew Brees – exemplified what everyone needs in life, which is faith in ourselves when others doubt us, and determination to overcome storms that come through our lives, like the New Orleans Saints have done in one year. The way their city is rebuilding and how Brees kept working makes me realize we need to continue to have faith in the homework Bob Harlan did on Ted Thompson prior to hiring him, and continue to have faith that will rebound like the Saints and Drew Brees have done.


Ken Stills

Editor's note: Ken Stills played safety for the Packers from 1985-89. E-mail Ken at KSt2983113@cs.com.


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