When he returns to the building at team headquarters after February's Super Bowl, suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton will get a hero's welcome.
The Who Dat Nation will fall back on the logic that the Saints disappointing 2012 season was simply an anomaly. They will figure with their leader back, brighter days will instantly return.
Two things I'll say about Sean Payton's return.
One, when he does come back, he will have enormous leverage. Without him, Payton's Saints have shown little resemblance to an outfit that was once feared offensively throughout the league.
And when Sean Payton comes back, he won't say it, but he already knows it. His roster has to be re-tooled. Getting back to the top rung of the NFL ladder will not be an overnight process.
As I have said in this space many times, one of Payton's great strengths is his ability to evaluate talent. When Payton's coaching days are over, he will likely head to the TV booth. But he could easily be one of the best general managers in the NFL.
So, when he does return, Payton will understand that it may take two years of solid personnel work to get his team back to its once-lofty status.
The current Saints coaching staff is taking a lot of heat for the team's winless start. Some of it is justified. But, here's the reality.
The Saints aren't good enough.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gets a lot of the credit for coaching the New York Giants defense during the team's Super Bowl winning season of 2007. On that team's defensive front were Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora. All have been elite at some stage in their careers.
Do the Saints have any type of elite player currently on their defense? The answer is, of course not.
When Spagnuolo appears before the media, he preaches sticking together and says he believes in the system. What else do you expect him to say? That he doesn't have enough good players?
This week, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that for the first time since December 2002, the dynamic quarterback triumvirate of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning were all on teams that lost on the same weekend. That was in week two of the NFL season. All three lost again this weekend.
Is Brady suddenly bad? No. New England lost tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury and that has meant less chances for fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski. Maybe 2012 is the year that Brady can no longer produce great results when he is surrounded by average skill players.
Peyton Manning's go to guy in Denver is some guy named Eric Decker. Remember when he threw it to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and handed it to Edgerrin James?
In the offseason, the Saints lost one of the best guards in football, Carl Nicks, to Tampa Bay. Deep receiving threat Robert Meachem signed with San Diego.
New Orleans didn't have enough cap dollars to keep them.
They drafted wide receiver Nick Toon, hoping he could fill the void. Instead, Toon is out for the season with injury.
The Saints didn't have a first round pick (Mark Ingram trade) and lost a second round pick (punishment for 'bounty' scheme).
Now the 2012 season is starting to look a lot like 2007. Coming off a first ever trip to the NFC championship game, the Saints didn't have a lot of success in the draft or free agency.
But, in the 2008 offseason, New Orleans added defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and cornerback Tracy Porter in the draft. A year later, defensive backs Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper were added in free agency.
The Saints suddenly had a Super Bowl worthy roster.
So, this week, when the Saints likely get beat in Green Bay, you will hear the hordes screaming for the scalp of the coaches.
No leadership, they will say.
I say, not enough good players. And my guess is, Sean Payton has already arrived at the same conclusion.
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