This is the word that echoed among the dedicated fans of the Los Angeles Angels this week, myself being one of them. Vernon Wells and his albatross of a contract were gloriously shipped off to New York, ending a relationship doomed to fail from the start. This news was celebrated as emphatically as the signings of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were.
Wells, a Shreveport native, represented arguably the most maligned player of the Mike Scioscia era in Anaheim and held the most poorly structured contract in baseball. He took away playing time from younger, more talented players and he mastered the art of the strikeout. These factors conspired to make Wells a guy we loved to criticize relentlessly.
I started to think about similar situations we've witnessed with our New Orleans Saints. Who would be considered the Saints' "Vernon Wells" during the Sean Payton era? The more I considered it, the more candidates began to come to mind. Be it bad contracts, poor performance, or lofty draft status, these notorious Saints all live in infamy for all of the wrong reasons.
Lets take a look at the players and how they have been perceived by Who Dat Nation against the reality of their situations.
Shanle has been maligned for so long among Who Dat Nation that it's almost passé. One of Payton's original Saints, Shanle was the first free agent signing of 2006 and provided a simultaneously steady and uninspiring presence at linebacker for seven seasons. He couldn't cover, tackle, or create pressure, but seemed like a great locker room presence, so... yeah. Probably a better player than he is perceived, Shanle just has never been better than his peers.
Stop wincing! I know if I say his name two more times it'll open up some time vortex that will consume humanity, so I'll be careful. CB #42 is currently in the witness protection program after stealing millions of dollars and a 4th round pick from the Saints. The man might as well have worn a neon target, flashing the words "Touchdown Here!".
Jason David (Sorry! I know, one more time, end of life as we know it, blah, blah, blah) is not only maligned, but reviled among Saints fans to this day. CB #42 was as bad as perceived, in fact I think Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown against him as you read this.
The second overall pick of the 2006 draft, Sean Payton's first draft pick as head coach, and the perceived savior of the New Orleans Saints. Lofty aspirations, huh? Thankfully that Drew Brees guy from San Diego handled that savior business, but the on-field pressure for Bush never relented. Saints fans waited for Bush to become the NFL's ultimate weapon, but that never materialized. The perception was that he was a borderline bust upon his departure, but in reality Bush was Payton's greatest bluff against the opposition.
Bush was better in theory than in execution most of the time. He had his amazing games and incredible moments, but they were few and far between. I always likened Bush to a revolver with one round in the cylinder, the odds were he was harmless, but there was always that chance. When healthy, Payton could always dangle Reggie in front of the opposition. Between constant injuries and lateral runs for zero or negative yardage, Bush found himself a maligned man in New Orleans.
Where to begin with you? Harper likely went prematurely gray after watching his own game film over the years. "The Neck" has been and will continue to be maligned by Who Dat Nation due to his horrific coverage skills and his hands, which must be shot up with novocaine before each game. When this guy actually breaks up a pass, much less catches an interception, Who Dat Nation has to break out the defibrillators.
Harper's career is defined by Vernon Davis dragging his carcass down the field for two consecutive drives in the 4th quarter of the 2012 divisional playoff. Harper carries the burden of this loss regarding his execution of Gregg Williams' asinine playcalling. In reality, Harper continues to be a leader for the Saints in sacks and tackles, he could be an asset in Rob Ryan's system. That being said, Harper is egregiously overpaid considering his output level. He deserves the majority of his criticism.
The moment he lines up for a field goal, from any distance, fingers cross and stomachs churn throughout Who Dat Nation. He's still dogged by the misses against Tampa in 2009 and Atlanta in 2010. Hartley can be a bit of a head case and hasn't always been around when needed during his career. When fans clamor for AARP member John Kasay over Hartley, you know it's getting rough.
Does Hartley deserve scrutiny? Sure, but his perception's a little off, he's not out there shanking kicks at an alarming rate. In reality he's not costing the Saints game after game. I'm a little skewed on the guy. When it was all on the line for the NFC title in 2009, he kicked the truest field goal I'd ever seen. That kick would've been good from 60, and he had every excuse in the world to absolutely butcher that kick. How did he follow that up? Set the Super Bowl record by kicking three 40+ yard field goals. Checkmate (Hartley drops mic).
First running back selected in the 2011 draft, the Saints traded back into the 1st round just to get him. More than "just a guy" and less than an all-pro, Ingram is the epitome of a promise and potential player. He is the lynchpin of the overcrowded Saints backfield and without question, the most pressure and expectations rest on his shoulders. Running into the back of the offensive line for two yards is his "money play" and Ingram is the scapegoat when the running game doesn't gain any traction.
I've stated my case regarding Ingram and it's clear the pressure will be greater than ever this coming season for him. Every season for the last two he's played, people have said "this is the year he's gonna break out!" we'll just see about that. Make no mistake, I hope he does.
"P-Rob" was an absolute reach with the 32nd pick in the 1st round of the 2010 draft. A collective "say what?" echoed throughout Who Dat Nation upon his selection. PRoblem™ (used without expressed written consent of Dan Kelly) led the entire NFL in yards allowed, yards per catch, and touchdowns allowed by a cornerback during the 2012 season.
In short, if this guy were a racehorse, he'd be glue and Whopper patties right now. If his contract wasn't so damn cheap he'd be joining CB #42 in Parts Unknown, USA. He's a nickel corner at best, and has no business starting at corner in college much less the NFL. The perception is he's a liability, in reality that's being far too kind.
Although there are some worthy candidates here, I think there's only one clear cut owner of the title of most maligned Saint of the Payton era. Without a doubt, it's...
No... No! What have I done! The horror! The agony! Make it stop, somebody please make it stop!!!
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