Learn From the Saints

The Saints have been the feel-good football story of 2006, but the turnaround of the franchise has been due to much more than just emotion. The team took chances in free agency and the draft and overhauled their offense in a matter of months -- something the Vikings might want to consider.

As the New Orleans Saints prepare for Sunday's NFC Championship Game, the rest of the league could watch and learned from their example. While the feel-good story of 2006, the Saints go beyond that with respect to how they transformed themselves from a 3-13 team a year ago to what many believe might be the favorite to win the NFC crown and advance to the Super Bowl.

The Saints made several bold moves that propelled their progress from baby steps to one giant leap. The team brought in a new coach and immediately opted to go with a veteran quarterback in the short-term – because of Drew Brees' shoulder surgery, there was no telling if he would ever be back at 100 percent. The team decided that grooming a young quarterback is the way of the future, not the way of the present. Brees had a contract that could have been voided after this season and obviously won't be now.

The team also had struggled in the running game, where Deuce McAllister had missed much of the 2005 season with a knee injury. When the Texans did them a huge favor by passing on Reggie Bush, the team invested millions in the running back in hopes of having a dynamic playmaker. While skeptics viewed this as the end of an era for McAllister, he responded with one of the best seasons of his career.

Prior to last Saturday, the last time the Saints had even seen the playoffs was after the 2000 season when they got slapped around by the Vikings at the Metrodome. After the 2005 season, it looked as though it would be a long time before they saw the playoffs again. They're back and, by many accounts, have a better-than-average shot of beating the suddenly vulnerable Bears defense and going to the Super Bowl.

Teams like the Vikings could learn from the success of the Saints this season. They got rid of players they felt were disruptive like Donte Stallworth and had young, unproven players like Marques Colston step up and become playmakers. They drafted an impact rookie running back (like the Vikings could do with Adrian Peterson) and the incumbent didn't see a drastic drop in carries. They tabbed a veteran quarterback to help them through the short-term and got much better than anticipated results. With the money the Vikings have to spend and the premiere draft slot they're sitting in, they could make a similar change of fortune if they wish to and execute wisely. The future for the Vikings and other top 10 teams on draft day doesn't have to be delayed. The Saints showed that, in one year, a team can go from worst to first and that the difference between a bad team, a good team and a potentially great team isn't that much.

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