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News » Missteps after '06 sent N.O. sliding backward

Missteps after '06 sent N.O. sliding backward

Missteps after '06 sent N.O. sliding backward
Fresh off a historic playoff run in 2006, the Saints appeared to be only a few moves short of the impossible: A Super Bowl championship.

They led the NFL in offense and ranked a respectable 11th in defense. Seemingly all that was needed to put them over the top were a few good men on defense.

So what did the Saints do?

They followed one of the best seasons in club history with one of its worst offseasons.

In all, the Saints acquired 14 new free agents and rookies in the spring of 2007.

Today six of them remain.

And the number of survivors likely will be fewer by the time the Saints kick off the 2009 regular season.

Yes, indeed, 2007 was a bad year for the Saints.

And this point becomes more painfully obvious by the day as the club works to purge the roster of 2007 misfits or replace them with improved parts.

A quick review:

Desperate to inject speed and playmaking ability in their defense, the Saints added three veteran free-agent defenders -- linebacker Brian Simmons, cornerback Jason David and safety Kevin Kaesviharn.

Along those same lines, they efforted to improve their special teams, cutting kicker John Carney, whose 43-year-old leg they considered shot, and trading for his replacement, Olindo Mare, a strong-legged veteran from Miami. They also signed free-agent coverage specialist Troy Evans.

Apparently satisfied with their defensive overhaul, they then spent four of their first five selections in the NFL draft on offense.

Their first-round pick, wide receiver Robert Meachem, was viewed as the eventual replacement for Joe Horn.

The rest of the draft -- cornerback Usama Young, guard Andy Alleman, running back Antonio Pittman, tackle Jermon Bushrod, cornerback David Jones and linebacker Marvin Mitchell -- continued the theme of raw but athletic newcomers.

It didn't take long, though, for the Saints to learn the error of their player procurement ways.

Simmons, Jones and Pittman never made it past their first training camp. (To be fair, Pittman was released because he was beaten out by undrafted rookie Pierre Thomas, the clear gem of the 2007 offseason.)

Mare was cut after 13 inconsistent games.

Alleman and veteran tight end Eric Johnson were 2008 training camp casualties.

Now, in recent weeks, the Saints have released David Patten and Kaesviharn.

Two years later, only six of the players acquired in the infamous 2007 offseason have started a game, and none is a regular.

The most productive member of the bunch, David, remains on the roster by the thinnest of threads.

Asked last month at the NFL owners meetings to list the team's depth chart at cornerback, Saints Coach Sean Payton responded this way: "Without putting a starter out there, there's three corners we have that all of us would say, between Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, Jabari Greer, there's three (good ones). Leigh Torrence is four, Usama Young is five. Not in any order. And then we'll see how that's impacted as we move forward."

The fact that Torrence, a late-season waiver-wire pickup from Washington, has climbed past Young and David on the depth chart is revelatory -- and damning.

So to recap, here's what the Saints have received from the 2007 offseason haul: the fourth receiver on the roster (Meachem); the fifth and presumably sixth cornerbacks (Young and David); the backup middle linebacker (Mitchell) and left tackle (Bushrod); and a special teams ace (Evans).

Not a significant contributor among the bunch.

Indeed, the club has spent much of the past two offseasons trying to rectify the mistakes: Jon Vilma for Simmons; Jeremy Shockey for Johnson; Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer for David; Darren Sharper for Kaesviharn; Martin Gramatica, Taylor Mehlhaff and Garrett Hartley for Mare.

"That's not good," former NFL personnel executive Mike Lombardi said. "I didn't like the Meachem pick from a program standpoint. You had just struck gold in the seventh round (with Marques Colston) the year before. You didn't need another receiver."

At least Meachem has shown promise. After a "redshirt" rookie season, Meachem flashed ability last year, grabbing 12 passes for a 20-yard average, including three touchdowns.

And perhaps Young will have a future at free safety, where team officials believe his skills could be better suited.

At least, there's hope there.

That's more than can be said for the rest of the group.

The 2007 offseason set back the club's plans a full year and contributed to the 7-9/8-8 results the past two seasons.

And it likely was a factor in player personnel director Rick Mueller's unceremonious departure a year ago.

The good news is the club got back on track last year. Vilma and Shockey joined free agents Randall Gay and Bobby McCray and rookies Porter, Hartley, Sedrick Ellis, Carl Nicks and Glenn Pakulak to give the Saints an impressive core of young starters.

The flood of talent restored the roster and the confidence of the club's long-frustrated fan base after the drought of 2007.

Few times in Saints history was a harvest more needed.

. . . . . . .

Jeff Duncan can be reached at jduncan@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3404.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 5, 2009

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Position: S
Age: 28
Experience: 6 years
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