Another season down, and the result is the same for the New Orleans Saints. A third straight 7-9 finish isn’t what anyone hoped for, but some feel a lot better about it this time around. When you look back at all the games the team could have won (and should have won), you can pick out those distinct moments that changed the game. It goes without saying, a common theme for a losing squad is players that don’t live up to the hype of the season. Here’s the five that disappointed us all.
Not everyone was sold on bringing in linebacker James Laurinaitis, but the importance of leadership and veteran experience were attractive draws for the ex-Rams player. He relieved Stephone Anthony of middle linebacker duties, which ended up forcing him totally out of the equation. Alongside then weak side options Craig Robertson and Dannell Ellerbe, it felt as though the Saints could have stability.
Unfortunately, it never happened. Laurinaitis struggled heavily in the first several games, and ended up missing the first game in his professional career in Week 4 against the Chargers. Laurinaitis then rode the bench afterwards, and would eventually be placed on injured reserve and released with an injury settlement. He had a couple of reported visits with the Lions and Chiefs, but never played again in 2016.
Sticking with the defensive side, Stephone Anthony was arguably the most disappointing Saints player of 2016. After playing and starting in all games for the Saints in 2015 (racking up 112 total tackles in the process), the former first-round (31st overall) pick was told he’d be moved to the strong side in Dennis Allen’s defensive makeover. Anthony was receptive to the move, saying it would make his job easier last May.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Anthony couldn’t crack much playing time on defense, and would primarily be a special teamster. There were more reports that he didn’t know what he was doing on the field, and it was evident. Near the end of December, Payton made it a point to emphasize Anthony’s instincts and ability to diagnose were off, which is quite alarming. In a nutshell, Anthony’s a major candidate to be the next big Saints bust of a draft pick if he doesn’t improve his game heading into 2017.
After the Saints lost Benjamin Watson to the Ravens, they needed a replacement. It came in the way of Coby Fleener, who was expected to keep pace as the heir apparent Jimmy Graham and Watson. It was to the tune of $36 million over 5 years, in which half of that was guaranteed. Fleener didn’t exactly live up to the hype of his predecessors, but more so to Jeremy Shockey.
Fleener’s 2016 campaign saw the fourth-most targets on the team (82). He hauled in 50 receptions for 631 yards, and added three touchdowns. We all had a sense Fleener was on to bigger and better things after a breakout game against the Falcons early in the season, but it ended up being a farce. Fleener certainly showed signs of brilliance, but some big drops and clearly not being on the same page with Drew Brees were what many will remember in his first season with the black and gold.
It’d be easy to say that Marcus Murphy was never in a position to disappoint us in the first place, but for a player that stayed on the 53-man roster all season to only be active in three games and lose out return duties to an undrafted rookie (Tommylee Lewis) and not be able to get any playtime on offense is pretty rough. He struggled with ball security in the preseason, and even when he got the chance during the season, Murphy muffed a kickoff and didn’t do much. Murphy’s time could seriously be at an end in 2017, and he can probably thank Greg McMahon too.
After a pretty disappointing 2015, C.J. Spiller was out to prove to us why the Saints brought him in. He said his knee procedure played into why it was a bad campaign, and Sean Payton even made it a point to talk about how “noticeably different” Spiller looked during training camp. Even with that, Spiller tumbled down the team’s depth chart, and eventually wound up a healthy scratch in favor of Travaris Cadet during Week 1 against the Raiders.
Despite not being a part of the plan, Spiller reiterated that he felt great. However, he’d be released just a day later by the team to the tune of $7 million in dead money ($2.5 million in 2017). Spiller generated some outside interest, and landed with Seahawks and Jets for short stints. However, the reality is that Spiller didn’t play for the Saints in 2016 (excluding preseason), and made out like a bandit in the process.
It’s worth nothing that it’d be pretty easy to put guys like Delvin Breaux and Terron Armstead on a list like this, but being that they both battled injuries and tried to do what they could for the team, they’d get a pass in my book. Forgotten (or not so forgotten) players like Keenan Lewis and John Jenkins would also get a dishonorable mention here. Here’s to hoping the Saints can actually turn the tide for the new season.