A Decade of Saints Success also includes Missed Opportunities
The New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl ten years ago next month in the site of this year’s game, Miami, Florida, and Super Bowl LIV. The Saints, like 29 other National Football League teams, will watch this year’s game from the stands or their televisions. Many favored New Orleans to be the NFC representative in this year’s big game. Despite a 13-3 regular season record though, their season came crumbling to an end with a 26-20 overtime home loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the postseason.
Only punter Thomas Morstead and quarterback Drew Brees, the game’s M.V.P., remain from that Super Bowl XLIV championship team that defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 on February 7, 2010. In the decade since, New Orleans has won four division titles and made the playoffs six times. Despite that success and a 100-54 regular season record, we will remember the decade more for the Saints postseason shortcomings.
An upset road loss to Seattle against a Seahawks team with a losing record in the 2010 playoffs ended the Saints bid for a repeat title. New Orleans carried one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history into the 2011 playoffs. But a 13-3 regular season and hopes of another championship were torn away by a last second loss to San Francisco in the divisional playoffs. They ended their 2013 season in the divisional round with another frustrating road loss at Seattle. Then, after three straight 7-9 seasons, a rebuilt New Orleans roster has had their year ended in a sudden and dramatic fashion in each of the last three campaigns. First was the infamous loss on the final play of the game during a 2018 division round trip to Minnesota. That was followed by referee buffoonery and missed scoring opportunities in the 2019 NFC Championship game, a 26-23 loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams. The current group of Saints completed their trifecta of frustration in this year’s upset at the hands of the Vikings.
Missed opportunities and questions of what could have been are trickling through both the franchise and fanbase. Most NFL teams have just a small window of championship opportunity before age, free agent defections, and escalating contracts that handcuff their salary cap bring them back to the pack. Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have built a championship caliber roster on both sides of the ball, but are now faced with the challenge of keeping it together in pursuit of that elusive title.
Quarterback Drew Brees just turned 41 years old. He is a free agent but seems certain to return to the Saints for his 20th NFL season. Brees has shown little drop-off in his play despite his age. He averaged nearly 300 yards in his ten full games, completed over 74% of his throws and threw 27 touchdown passes against only 4 interceptions. While Brees continues to play at a high level, the end is much closer than the beginning and his 2020 salary will eat up a sizable portion of the team’s salary cap. They will also need to address some big upcoming contracts of Pro Bowlers like tackle Ryan Ramczyk, running back Alvin Kamara, linebacker Demario Davis, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Those financial decisions must be squeezed in with the Saints own free agents this offseason, along with the salary cap needed to address some glaring team needs that were exposed late in the year.
Despite the questions surrounding the Saints, this is a team that looks built for sustained success. Stars Lattimore, Ramczyk, Kamara, Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris, Malcom Brown, Terron Armstead, and Sheldon Rankins are among the best at their respective positions and are each under 29 years old. Thomas and fellow All-Pro Cameron Jordan are inked to long-term contracts while the front office looks to do the same with some of their other top players. The Saints have drafted expertly over the last few seasons to build their roster. They added potential stars Erik McCoy and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson along with important contributors in Shy Tuttle, Saquan Hampton, Kaden Elliss, and Carl Granderson last spring and have five picks in this year’s draft.
No one should doubt that the Saints will continue to be contenders in 2020. With the escalating contracts of their top stars and the age of their Hall of Fame quarterback though, it will become difficult to keep this talented core intact. The sting of near-misses in the playoffs will motivate New Orleans into next season. The Saints have the young talent for a sustained run of of success, but that same talent has come up empty-handed in their title pursuit. The missed championship opportunities of the last decade have so far tainted the legacy of the most successful period in franchise history. The Saints current roster is among the league’s most talented but has only three straight heartbreaking finishes to their resume, leaving many to question if they can bring home the franchise's elusive second championship before their title window closes.