The New Orleans Saints have completed a little more than one week of their 2018 training camp. While we excitedly watch today's players and anxiously anticipate their hopeful successes in the 2018 NFL season, let's not forget that the Saints have had a number of great players and people throughout the franchise's history. Today, we look back at one of the NFL's better quarterbacks during his prime, and one that often gets left out of the conversation when talking about the most productive signal callers in Saints franchise history.
Jim Everett, QB
~Los Angeles Rams (1986-93)
~New Orleans Saints (1994-96)
~San Diego Chargers (1997)
Jim Everett played collegiately at Purdue, where he would eventually be inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1999. After leading the Boilermakers to the Peach Bowl in 1984, he would set a Big Ten record in 1985 with 3,651 passing yards. It was a conference record that would stand until 1998, when broken by fellow Purdue alum Drew Brees. Everett came into the NFL as the 3rd overall draft choice by the Houston Oilers in the 1986 draft, behind only Bo Jackson, selected by Tampa Bay with the first overall pick, and Tony Casillas, who was taken by Atlanta with the second. After failing to agree on a contract, the Oilers, who already had a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, would eventually trade Everett to the Los Angeles Rams after the 1986 season had begun. The '86 draft would shape the NFC West for years to come. The San Francisco 49ers added wide receiver John Taylor, linemen Steve Wallace and Kevin Fagan, fullback Tom Rathman, defensive backs Tim McKyer and Don Griffin, along with future Hall of Fame pass rusher Charles Haley. These players were important additions to the core of a 49ers team that would go on to win Super Bowl championships following the 1988 and '89 seasons. The draft was fruitful for the Saints as well, adding players such as tackle Jim Dombrowski, linebacker Pat Swilling, and running backs Dalton Hilliard, Reuben Mayes, and Gil Fenerty with their draft selections, helping form a roster that would make them a competitive force in the division. Atlanta? Well, they were still the Falcons, but the Rams added a franchise quarterback, one that they thought could be the missing piece for a Super Bowl championship. Los Angeles had a powerful offensive line led by future Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater, Pro Bowlers Doug Smith and Dennis Harrah, and rookie Tom Newberry. Record-setting running back Eric Dickerson was in the prime of what would be a Hall of Fame career, and wide receiver Henry Ellard was one of the most feared deep threats in the league. Hard-nosed head coach John Robinson oversaw a tough defense headlined by Pro Bowl defensive back LeRoy Irvin and young dynamic pass rusher Kevin Greene, another future Hall of Famer. The Rams had made it to the NFC Championship game following the 1985 season, but lack of consistent quarterback play made them one dimensional, and it finally caught up with them when they were destroyed by the Chicago Bears in the conference championship. Los Angeles had big expectations for their big, strong armed franchise quarterback, but had not anticipated Everett playing a great deal in his first season, since he had not even joined the team until after the 1986 season had started.
The '86 season began slowly for a Rams offense that would wind up finishing the season last in the league in passing offense. The team started the season 7-4, but increasingly ineffective quarterback play forced Coach John Robinson to insert his prized pupil signal caller into the starting lineup, ready or not. Everett's first career NFL start was in a week 12 home game against their division rival, the New Orleans Saints. He completed just 7 of 20 pass attempts for 56 yards and two interceptions, but Everett ran for a score, and was bolstered by an opportunistic defense to give him his first career win in a 26-13 victory. The rookie had some ups and downs, but did lead his team to a wildcard playoff spot, where they would lose to the Washington Redskins. The 1987 season was a tumultuous one for Everett and the Rams. First, a player's strike forced the cancellation of one game, and forced most NFL teams to play three games with replacement players. Then Los Angeles dealt away running back Eric Dickerson in a blockbuster move that deprived Everett of one of the best offensive weapons in the league. The Rams began the season 1-7, their worst start since 1965, and causing them to miss the playoffs. They would rebound with a vengeance in 1988 with a revamped offense built around their star quarterback. Jim Everett led the NFL in touchdown passes (31), while his 3,964 passing yards and 308 completions were second in the league, as the Rams finished 10-6 and once again returned to the postseason. The 1989 Los Angeles Rams were one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Everett would again lead the NFL in touchdown passes with 29, while throwing for what would be a career best 4,310 yards, good for second in the league. The Rams finished with an 11-5 record and again returned to the playoffs, but their Super Bowl dreams were crushed with a 30-3 pummeling at the hands of Joe Montana and the powerhouse San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Everett made many NFL defenses look foolish that season, but maybe none moreso than the New Orleans Saints. Avenging a loss to the Saints earlier that year, Everett threw for 454 yards and a score in a brilliant performance during a late November prime time showdown in the Superdome against their division rival. The game is best remembered for a still-NFL record 336 yards receiving by L.A. wideout Flipper Anderson, but it was Everett who overcame six sacks and an overall beating from the Saints to deliver a key victory. Ironically, the 20-17 win would be Everett's last victory against New Orleans in a Los Angeles uniform.
That '89 season was the high-water mark for Jim Everett's Rams teams. Although Charles White and Greg Bell would give the team adequate rushing performances, the trading of Dickerson in 1987 robbed them of an elite rusher, and increasingly poor defensive performances would put all pressure on Everett and his star wideouts Anderson and Henry Ellard to deliver victory. Everett often took a horrendous beating, and even though he continued to produce statistics among the tops in the league, the punishment would take a toll. He still managed to start 100 consecutive games between 1987-93, but the team would fail to post a winning season after their '89 title game loss. Mounting losses eventually led to the Rams replacing Robinson at head coach with Chuck Knox in 1992, a coach who, as Everett puts, 'hated the forward pass'. Los Angeles would draft another eventual Hall of Fame running back in 1993, Jerome Bettis, but he and Everett would only get to play together for ten games before Knox made a change at quarterback. The team and quarterback parted ways that offseason, when the Rams traded Everett to the New Orleans Saints for just a 7th round draft choice.
After competing against one of the league's most feared defensive units in New Orleans for eight seasons, Everett was once again a victim of bad timing when joining his new team. Three of the four members of the Saints vaunted Dome Patrol linebacking corps, first Pat Swilling in 1992, then Rickey Jackson and Vaughan Johnson after 1993, were gone from the team by Everett's arrival. The fourth, Sam Mills, left after the 1994 season. Star defensive backs Gene Atkins and Toi Cook left after the '93 season as well. Saints offensive stars Dalton Hilliard, Eric Martin, and Hoby Brenner had also departed after the 1993 season, leaving New Orleans in a rebuilding mode. The Saints weren't completely void of talent, however. They one of the best kick returners in the league with Tyrone Hughes, still had some defensive stars in Wayne Martin and Renaldo Turnbull, and they added Joe Johnson and Winfred Tubbs during the '94 draft. Everett was again paired up with an outstanding football coach in Jim Mora, but another also known for sometimes conservative offensive game planning. He had two dynamic receivers in Quinn Early and Michael Haynes, along with strong tight end play with Irv Smith and Wesley Walls. The 1994 Saints lost five of their first seven games, and wound up missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Everett set a team record with 3,855 yards while completing a career best 64.1% of his passes, and threw 22 touchdowns for a top-10 passing attack, but the Saints ranked just 25th in total defense and finished near the bottom of the league in rushing. Everett did defeat his old team, the Rams, twice during the year in what would be their final season in Los Angeles. Everett was even better statistically in 1995, again completing over 60% of his passes while throwing for 3,970 yards and 26 scores. Unfortunately, the team around him continued to worsen, finishing dead last in rushing and 22nd in total defense. New Orleans finished the year strong, going 7-4 over the last eleven games, but an 0-5 start to the season doomed them to another 7-9 record.
The Jim Mora era of the New Orleans Saints came to an inglorious end during the 1996 season. Another 0-5 start bottomed out into a 3-13 season, as New Orleans finished at the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. Coach Mora resigned before the end of the regular season, and Everett was benched for the final few games of the year. The offseason hire in 1996 of Mike Ditka as the team's new coach brought Everett's time in New Orleans to an end, and he would sign with the San Diego Chargers in what would be his final NFL season. Everett's career essentially ended how it began, with a start against the New Orleans Saints. He got the starting nod in the second game of the 1997 season against his old team, and threw a touchdown pass as the Chargers defeated the Saints in the Superdome 20-6. It was the last start of Everett's career, and he retired at the end of the 1997 season.
Jim Everett was among the most prolific quarterbacks of his era, every bit as productive as Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, and Troy Aikman. He threw for 34,837 yards in his career, ranking 14th on the NFL's all-time list. His 203 touchdown passes rank 25th best, and he is among the all-time leaders in both pass attempts and completions. Everett ranks 5th in Saints franchise history in passing yardage and touchdown passes, despite only playing three seasons in New Orleans. He has the best two passing yardage seasons in Saints history from a quarterback other than Drew Brees. He is also first on the Rams all-time passing yardage list, while ranking second on that franchise's list in touchdown passes. I was honored to catch up with Jim Everett a couple weeks ago on the Wednesday evening podcast, Bayou Blitz. You can listen to that interview here:
Everett, who today spearheads the fan revival since the return of the Rams franchise to Los Angeles, still follows both the Rams and Saints closely. The physical pounding of an NFL player has of course taken a toll, but he remains in solid health, and admits to being torn when his two former teams play each other. One of the league's best quarterbacks during his playing days, Everett did not play for the most talented New Orleans Saints teams, but his contributions to the franchise, and to the league, should never be forgotten.