Saints Provide Cleveland With Keys to a Super Bowl

reggie_bush_draft_195As most Browns fans are aware, their team is now one of four teams remaining in the NFL that have never been to the Super Bowl.  Two of the teams are modern era expansion teams in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, the third is our friends up north in the Detroit Lions.  And while the Browns find themselves drafting in the top 10 spots once again come April, fans should remember that the Saints were there not all that long ago. 

In 2005, the New Orleans Saints finished the season 3-13.  Two of their wins were by the skin of their collective teeth, and seven of their losses featured point totals less than 14.  Sure, they were playing for a city that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and played their home games at Louisiana State’s Tiger Stadium.  But they were also a team that was led by quarterback Aaron Brooks and a pair of 33-year olds in Antowain Smith and Joe Horn.  Their defense was a bit of a disaster aside from a guy that was drafted one year prior in Ohio State’s Will Smith.  There were rumors that the team would move, and few wanted to help rebuild the franchise.

Four seasons later, the Saints are lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy thanks to a few successful draft selections and key free agent additions.

Knowing that the Saints drafted Smith 18th overall in 2004, let’s take a look at what the Saints have been able to do via the NFL Draft.

2006: Reggie Bush (1st Round, RB), Roman Harper (2nd, SS), Jahri Evans (3rd, OG), Marques Colston (7th, WR)*
2007: Robert Meachem (1st, WR), Jermon Bushrod (4th, OT), Pierre Thomas (RB)**
2008: Sedrick Ellis (1st, DT), Tracy Porter (2nd, CB), Carl Nicks (5th, OG)
2009: Malcolm Jenkins (1st, CB)

*Seventh round, 252nd overall selection
**Undrafted rookie

While Reggie Bush may have disappointed given the hype which surrounded him coming into the league, the Saints left the 2006 draft with four men that are atop the depth chart to this day.  Two more starters were drafted in 2007 with three in 2008.  While not technically  starters, Pierre Thomas being an undrafted addition was absolutely huge for the current New Orleans Saints while Malcolm Jenkins has played key downs for the much improved defense.

Now, on to the free agents…

2006: Drew Brees (QB), Jonathan Goodwin (C), Scott Fujita (LB), Scott Shanle (LB)
2007: Lance Moore (WR)***
2008: Jeremy Shockey (TE), Jonathan Vilma (LB), Garrett Hartley (K)
2009: Jabari Greer (CB), Darren Sharper (FS)

***Originally signed by Browns, later waived

If anything is looking like a pattern, the 2006 offseason was huge for New Orleans by adding four current starters via free agency.  Drew Brees gamble aside, the Saints did exactly what rebuilding teams need to do by addressing areas of dire need.  Aaron Brooks and the 2005 linebackers were not going to be the answer going forward and the front office opted to take care of the areas of most need right away as opposed to attempting to develop the answer over time.

Lance Moore is technically not a starter, but his impact on the spread offense of New Orleans is well documented.  The fact that he was actually on the Browns at one point, however, was not…

The Jets moved to a 3-4 defense with the addition of then new head coach Eric Mangini and Jonathan Vilma simply wasn’t getting it done in the middle.  Vilma, being more fitted for the middle of a 4-3 scheme was considered expendable and was traded to New Orleans for a fourth-round draft pick.  It took a sec0nd- and a fifth-round pick to obtain Shockey’s services.  And finally, needing impact players in the defensive backfield, the Saints added Greer and Sharper last summer in free agency.

Which brings us full circle to the current state of the Cleveland Browns…

Many fans are (understandably) excited about the number of draft selections that are in the possession of the Orange and Brown.  And while this is great for a rebuilding franchise, the Saints took the path of trading a good portion of their draft picks to either move up in the draft to acquire impact players in the draft (like trading up to get Ellis in 2008) or players that were on other franchises that may have been on the market. 

The other issue is that the Saints have managed to hit on most of their first-day selections.  Not having second-round selections in 2007 or 2009, the Saints were very successful with the first- and second-round picks that they did make – something that the Browns haven’t exactly been able to do through much of the last 10 years…

Obviously, the current state of the Collective Bargaining Agreement is something that the Saints did not have to deal with.  But if we go back to the 2006 season, the Saints made all of the right moves to get a 3-13 team to one that was 10-6 the following season and made it to the conference championship.  Is this something that fans should realistically expect of the Browns?  Not quite.

But looking back, the 2005 Saints were very similar to the 2009 Browns given specific personnel. A quarterback situation that needs to be addressed, few and/or aging weapons and a defense that was borderline embarrassing when it came to play makers.  The Browns head into this year’s draft with the seventh overall selection, the sixth selection in the second round, and the seventh and twenty-eighth selection in the third round.  As WFNY has laid out over the last few weeks, the free agent class varies from position to position, especially considering that most of the talent is currently of the restricted nature. 

While the Saints may be more of the exception than the norm, this story is just one more that proves things can turn around given successful draft picks and key free agent additions.  Those that do not have much faith in the Browns front office to get this done have a laundry list of supporting reasons why – most of which may come in the form of old jerseys of players no longer in the NFL.  But if there is any hope to be had, it is in the fact that the team now has a new front office in place led by a man that has a far better track record than any general manager Cleveland has seen since the return of the Browns.

But if one thing is for sure, it is that the Saints just set the bar a lot higher for a town that longs for that Super Bowl appearance.

(photo via WireImage.com)

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    Browns need more Fresh Prince of Columbus.

  • historycat

    All I kept hearing last night, at least what stood out, was

    Coach and QB have been together for 4 years.

    Consistency. *sigh*

  • Tommy D

    Great points. The Saints made some good picks even prior to those you listed – example, Devery Henderson round 2, 2004, who they have grown and he manages to contribute today. This is another area where the Browns need help – growing and developing non-superstar players that stay with the team, know the systms, and get their job(s) done. Historycat hits the nail on the head with the consistency comment.

  • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

    Saints had the offense but the team went to a new level when they remade their defense both with draft picks and free agent signings. This past season they continued the overhaul of their secondary which is where the Browns need to start their rebuilding. You had Vilma and Fujita at LB then Sharper and Greer in the secondary.

    The one huge difference that you can’t overlook is that combination of QB and head coach/offensive coordinator. The Browns don’t appear to have either so for me I start the rebuilding on defense.

  • Kevin Hignett

    @historycat – Excellent point, and doesn’t that coincide nicely with the first draft Scott refers to in 2006? How much input/influence did Sean Payton have on the personnel moves starting in 2006? His arrival in New Orleans might have been the best “free agent” pickup of all.

    Also worth noting that after the Saints made the NFC Champ. Game in 2006 they went 7-9 and 8-8. If that happened with the Browns he probably would have been fired as we fans screamed for his head. There may be a lesson or two there.

  • NIKKO

    @ 5…. I’m inclined to believe that “fan screaming” will have little to do with key coaching and personnel decisions going forward. I doubt Holmgren’s judgement will be swayed by fan sentiment. Just my opinion….

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    It still bothers me that the Browns desperately needed to add DB help this past year and let Greer leave without a deal and didn’t (to my knowledge) invite Sharper.

  • Kevin Hignett

    @6 – Probably not, but 1 – from 2006-2008 it might have been possible and, 2 – I was making the comment more on the irrational reactionary comments we tend to see/hear from Browns fans. Ex = 2007: “We have the greatest offense ever! Romeo is a great coach! We’re going to the Super Bowl!” 2008: “We suck! The offense sucks! Fire Romeo! Fire Savage! Lerner, sell the team!!!!!” You see my point.

    I don’t know if Saints fans had that wild emotional swing from 2006 (10-6, playoffs) to 2007 (7-9). But N.O. winning the SB yesterday is a cautionary tale about fans going way overboard regarding the direction of their teams. Just sayin.

  • Harv 21

    “Many fans are (understandably) excited about the number of draft selections that are in the possession of the Orange and Brown.”

    [Sigh, prepares to repeat self yet again]. Mostly those who don’t realize that our highest extra pick is a single one in the third round. The mother lode is bunched all the way down in rounds 5 and 6. That’s not dynasty building territory like Dallas in the Herschel Walker trade, that’s special teams territory. The Saints mostly hit in the early rounds. We have to count on getting some decent starters in rounds 1-4. We’ll be lucky to get a starter in 5 and 6.

  • NIKKO

    @KH…. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. I just think decisions in the new culture will be based more on substantive analysis than they have been in the past.
    None of that, though, Is likely to quiet the fan noise-some of which may be deserved and some not. It’s what we fans do.

  • S-Dub

    @Scott: Greer probably didn’t want to play for us. I mean who would you rather have played for if you were looking at the same deal (because I believe he was offered the same contract by both teams. The Saints were in the playoffs and were considered SB contenders with a great offense and some nice pieces on D, the Browns were…The Browns + Mangini.

    I was also upset that neither Sharper or Dawkins were extended contracts. We were forced to live with Abe Elam and Pool. Pool was having a great year until the concussion, Abe Elam is still considered a good player…Why?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/?p=24424 TS Trade to Browns

    Tressel wins 2 more Rings, he’ll be the coach of the Browns. That can happen in the 5 years (2 Championships). Just in time for the BCS contract to be up and a playoff system to go through beta stages.

    That’s the blueprint for getting to the Super Bowl. Coach Jim Tressel.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    1) Tress is too well-fitting to take care of the collegiate athlete. I don’t think he would do as well with pros.
    2) He’s much, much more likely to stay at OSU in some sort of administrative role (AD’s office).
    3) Or he’ll go into politics. He won’t be coaching the Browns.

    I would never wish that job upon someone that I hold in such a high regard.

  • Titus Pullo

    I found it interesting that the Saints managed to win the Super Bowl with only one starter on their team from LSU, despite playing in Louisiana. And the Colts made it without any players from Indiana schools, despite playing in Indiana.

    That should be a lesson to the hoopleheads who think that the Browns should select players (cough, Troy Smith, cough) just because they played at Ohio State.

  • tom

    The texans were not an expansion team.

  • jrupert

    titus u could not be mere wrong. ohio is one of the best states get players from.look at the steelers for years they won championship after championship with ohio players(noll,lambert,worthlessburger,cowher,ect).and in 2007 the browns brought players in from ohio and were or are browns fans.we need local players cause they know whats its like to be one of us and will play their hearts out for this town.i m not sayin troy smith is a franchise qb but those are the type of players we need on this team