The New Orleans Saints had some of the highest hopes in team history entering the 2014-15 season. They had a nickname all picked out for their swanky new defense led by massive free agent pickup Jairus Byrd (Department of Domeland Security), they had a shiny new toy for quarterback Drew Brees to dissect defenses in Brandin Cooks, and they had a revamped running game style that better suited Zone Blocking Scheme alum Mark Ingram. Yessir, hopes were high for the Saints coming into the season, and they thought that they had a chance to be in Arizona come February. Between all of these factors and an NFC South that will live in infamy as one of the worst divisions to ever exist, everything seemed to be falling into place for the Saints in 2014.
All of this made the news that they didn't make the playoffs even more shocking.
"I was in the film room looking at Ryan Lindley, thinking about how we could make him look like an All-Pro, and then [Tom] Benson called me and told me we aren't playing this week," Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan said, looking befuddled. "I thought that having the 31st defense in the NFL would be enough, I really did. I mean, we were better than someone. Isn't that all it takes?"
Head Coach Sean Payton was just as shocked. "I kept on trying to tell people to do their jobs, and they kept looking at me and saying 'but it's the offseason Coach, our jobs are done 'till OTAs,'" Payton said. "I checked Playoff Machine to make sure that they were right, and I realized that we were out. It was a very confusing time for everyone."
The confusion ranged all the way to the top.
"Backloaded contracts," said Saints' General Manager Mickey Loomis. Honestly, that was all he muttered for 35 minutes in response to all of my questions before I quietly backed out of the room and left him to his devices. As the door shut, I heard "UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS," but at that point I was already gone.
Saints' players hosted a team meeting in preparation to host Arizona as well.
"Drew didn't even show up," said backup quarterback Ryan Griffin. "[Luke] McClown and I had to host the team meeting, and we don't know what the hell we're talking about. 4,952 yards, 33 touchdowns and he thinks he's too good for us. He threw 17 picks too you know, that's 17 more than either of us threw this season. He's off playing basketball with Anthony Davis, we're preparing for our game against Arizona next week. That's just Drew all over."
I interviewed the Saints' running back committee to get a read on what they thought of the situation as well. They spoke in turns, so I'm going to put their thoughts together in coherent sentences. Starter Mark Ingram did most of the heavy lifting, but when it was a big, free flowing sentence Pierre Thomas would step in. Khiry Robinson stumbled over his words a lot and eventually strained his tongue trying to talk.
"We really thought that we had a shot this year," Cerberus said. "When's the last time a back got anywhere near 1,000 yards on this team? Deuce? I mean, really, 'Bama backs thrive in the Zone Blocking Scheme, and people talked it up so much that we thought we could carry this team." Trent Richardson then burst into the room chanting "ZBS! ZBS! ZBS!" and we were forced to conclude the interview.
After trying and failing to find the Saints' Wide Receiving corps, the New Orleans' defense elected to do their interview as a unit, and I got literally nothing of value from them. The interview was disjointed and discombobulated, and eventually we started talking about squirrels and how they liked chasing them, but they never seemed to catch them and when they did the squirrels broke free and ran up a tree. I did, however, get some interesting quotes from Byrd, who was on IR for the second half of the season with a torn lateral meniscus.
"I thought I played all 16 games. Either that or the season didn't start yet," Byrd said. When I pointed out his cast and the fact he still rolled around on a scooter, he said that that was a "minor inconvenience," and he "couldn't wait to take the Saints' defense to the next level."
"Arizona is a good team," Byrd continued. "But we're really tough to beat at the Dome, haven't lost in a few years. I think that with a 3rd string QB in, we can really make some plays and force their hand. Our turnover differential is much better than last year's, and I like to think that my signing played a big role in that. It's why I was signed, after all."
Exasperated, I cancelled all remaining interviews after this one, except for one, because of Byrd's maddening inconsistency. The whole team seemed delirious and very unclear on what year it was or whether or not they played next week. Some players seemed to believe that the season hadn't started yet; others seemed to think that they had a playoff game on Saturday against Arizona.
As for the aforementioned final interview, it was with owner Tom Benson. I asked him about the failure this year and what he would do to rebuild for 2015.
"Well, we're still a game above .500," Benson said. "I think that if we can keep up the pace we're going, and get just a little bit more consistent, we can lock up a 6th or 7th seed in a very competitive Western Conference. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans make up a strong core of players for us, and I believe in Coach Monty..."
I let him keep talking and left at this point, thus allowing the Saints, players and management alike, to stew in their delirium and watch the Panthers play the Cardinals, wondering why they weren't there.