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Rumor Mill: Saints plan epic pregame, Pats divided, Other Gruden back, draft news

It’s a lot.

NEW ORLEANS, LA:  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) takes the field during player introductions prior to a game against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
NEW ORLEANS, LA: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) takes the field during player introductions prior to a game against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We’re headed for a great weekend of NFL playoffs football, and rumors are swirling all around the league. Here’s some of what you may have missed with everything going in this busy week:

Saints Getting the Band Back Together

Twitter fingers are itchy these days, as WDSU sports reporter Fletcher Mackel found out. An anonymous listing of Saints alumni attending this week’s Wild Card Round home game against the Carolina Panthers circulated through #SaintsTwitter, and Mackel was the first local reporter to jump on it.

It turned out to not be totally accurate with the NFL stepping in to keep Reggie Bush from recreating his infamous baseball bat-leading charge out of the tunnel in pregame, and various travel plans changing for former players who live out of town. Still, signs point to a celebration of the 2009 Super Bowl-winning team.

That said, there’s been buzz all week (mostly from Nick Underhill of the Advocate)that fans can expect “a very prominent alumni presence” for this penultimate playoff game. It would have been hype to see Bush carry the bat out onto the field again, recalling his heroic efforts in the Saints’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals to start the 2009 Super Bowl run, but the NFL thinks that’s too violent a gesture.

Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, be in your seat early.

The Saints partnered with two local Rouse’s Markets for a very cool promotion, running a scavenger hunt for some lucky fans to win tickets and pregame passes:

Trouble in Foxborough

ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham sent New England into shambles this morning with an in-depth look behind-the-scenes. Informed by “interviews with more than a dozen New England staffers, executives, players and league sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings”, Wickersham has put together a report that puts the power struggle between Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft into rare clarity.

Sure, this is all based on input from anonymous sources, which may or may not even exist. That’s the nature of sports journalism - name your source and you’ll never hear from them, or anyone connected to them, ever again. So take this report with a huge grain of salt.

The crux of the issue appears to be the influence of Brady’s personal trainer/practicer of traditional Chinese medicine, Alex Guerrero, a Grigori Rasputin-esque figure in Brady’s life. The delusionals sold by Guerrero may have turned nasty:

They claimed [the TB12 Method] could absolve football of responsibility for injury: “When athletes get injured, they shouldn’t blame their sport,” Brady wrote. The method also was so consuming and unwavering in its rules and convictions that, while it helped some players, it felt “like a cult” to others, one Patriots staffer says. The way TB12 began to creep into Brady’s life worried people close to the QB, many of whom were suspicious of Guerrero. “Tom changed,” says a friend of Brady’s. “That’s where a lot of these problems started.”

Cracks in these relationships also deepened when “Jimmy GQ” Garoppolo turned out to be really freakin’ good at football, putting Brady’s future with the team at risk. Wickersham goes as far as to suggest Brady initiated the trade of Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers via private audience with Kraft, which is insane.

But wait, there’s more. Apparently Belichick is getting comfortable with his legacy in New England but unsettled by Kraft’s growing influence in day-to-day management, as well as Brady’s insubordinations. So much so that he’s considering retirement. Whether there’s any truth to this remains to be seen, but the article is well worth your time.

In answer, the Patriots’ public relations department rushed out a statement on how united they are in the face of this latest controversy.

$100M Gets Gruden out of the Booth

The coaching carousel is in full swing this winter, with half a dozen head coaches and their staffs getting axed on Black Monday. One of the most prominent jobs to open was the Oakland Raiders position, as third-year head coach Jack Del Rio was terminated. That opened the door for Mark Davis to desperately throw as much as a hundred million dollars at Monday Night Football’s Jon Gruden, who once won a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad.

I’m not sure a guy who hasn’t coached in a decade is the way to go to right Oakland’s ship ahead of an emotional move to Las Vegas, but who am I to judge? It’s really odd that they needed $750-million of taxpayer money to afford a new stadium but are ready to risk $100-million on Gruden being better than his legacy suggests (he won just 22 of his last 49 games in Tampa Bay, including the playoffs).

The Raiders announced they will be formally interviewing Gruden next Monday, January 8th, and holding a press conference on the following Tuesday to introduce him as their newest head coach. Gruden coached the Raiders before, under the legendary Al Davis, and is still very well-liked around the league after transitioning to broadcasting.

For his part, Gruden brings unparalleled energy to the sideline and has been quietly putting together a very solid coaching staff including Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, and possibly New York Jets offensive coordinator John Morton (who successfully implemented many of Saints head coach Sean Payton’s system’s best elements). We’ll see how it turns out.

Draft Declarations

Some big names familiar to LSU Tigers faithful are leaving school early to try their hand at the 2018 NFL Draft, including star pass-rusher Arden Key:

Key had a year to forget, between taking a personal leave of the team and missing some games to various injuries. Hopefully the young guy can see a strong pre-draft process, nailing his interviews and workouts while clearing his medicals, to still be a highly-coveted prospect. I’m curious how NFL teams perceive him after a rough 2017.

For y’all across the aisle, the Alabama Crimson Tide are sending a host of graduates to this month’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. The teams will be coached this year by the Vance Joseph’s Denver Broncos staff and Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans, which is a welcome departure from last year’s unorganized Cleveland Browns practices. CSC will have multiple boots on the ground covering the week of practices, so it should be a great time. The recent accepted invites include:

  • Rashaan Evans, linebacker
  • Da’Shawn Hand, defensive lineman
  • Shaun Dion Hamilton, Linebacker
  • Anthony Averett, cornerback
  • Levi Wallace, cornerback
  • J.K. Scott, Punter

Also, the best quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft class declared his eligiblity. Louisville Cardinals passer Lamar Jackson announced on Twitter that he will be turning pro. He’s a perfect fit for the Saints’ versatile space-creating offense: