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Is Tom Benson the Worst Owner in the NFL?

Well, according to Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver he's not. Of course, that's not saying much, since Silver ranked Benson 31 of 32 owners.

Says Silver:

Last year, with the arrival of marvelous rookie coach Sean Payton, Benson was luckier than a guy who stumbles out of Pat O'Brien's, hops aboard a Mardi Gras float full of buxom coeds and gets dropped off at Harrah's, where he slips on a slot-machine handle and hits the jackpot.

I believe Benson would have gladly moved the Saints to San Antonio or L.A. both before and after Hurricane Katrina, which makes it even harder for me to stomach all the healing-the-city propaganda that he and members of his family spewed during last year's stunning run to the NFC Championship game. Still, I'll make Benson a deal: I'll stop ripping him if he gives Payton a huge contract extension immediately and promises to stop doing that insufferable dance.

Tom Benson will never be confused with the Krafts, Irsays or Rooneys. He did plenty to ingratiate himself with New Orleans both before and after the storm. But for all of Silver's bluster and bravado about resigning Sean Payton and ceasing dancing, he forgets to mention that if Benson wants to become a better owner, all he must do is commit to keeping the Saints in New Orleans past 2010. Of course, the Louisiana legislature has the responsibility to force his hand, by giving the Saints a state-of-the-art facility. Right now, it's a simple equation: If they build it, he will stay. In a real sense, it's not even Tom Benson's decision.

In terms of market-size and affluence, Los Angeles and San Antonio trump New Orleans. Neither can match the passion that New Orleanians feel for the Saints, but passion doesn't necessarily equate to revenue. If it's left up to him, in 2010 Tom Benson will make the best business decision, which will be to leave for greener, larger pastures. We know this in 2007.

If the Saints leave in 2010, there will be enough blame to go around. But front-and-center must be the legislators who allowed the owner to make the decision for himself, instead of compelling him to commit early.

Whether it be a remodeled or rebuilt Superdome, or a new facility outside of the city, the Louisiana legislature must provide the Saints with a state-of-the-art facility. The legislature can--some say should--appropriate the stadium money elsewhere, like schools, hospitals and roads. But if they do so, blame for the Saints leaving will not lie with Tom Benson, not completely. It will also lie with those who controlled the pursestrings. It's a difficult question: a new stadium will cost at least $500 million; how many schools, hospitals and roads can be built with that? Morals or morale?

This much is sure: If Tom Benson ascends the rankings of NFL owners, he will do it standing on the shoulders of the Louisiana legislature. Or those of some more proactive body.

(Many thanks to Cat Scratch Reader for the tip.)