Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of the four players involved in the alleged bounty scandal that took place in New Orleans. New Orleans Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith had their suspensions for the season lifted and will no longer face any penalties from the NFL.
Also, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove had their suspensions lifted as well. However, since coaches do not have the right to appeal their suspensions, Sean Payton will still have to serve his season long suspension.
With the infamous Bountygate finally behind the Saints the question remains, where do they go from here? The Saints are sitting at 5-8 right now currently on a three-game losing streak and with no chance of making the playoffs this season. Furthermore, the status of Payton returning to the team next season seems up in the air but he should have plenty of leverage given the Saints’ performance this season.
Saints owner Tom Benson said that he has full confidence that Payton will return to the Saints next season and that he would be willing to make Payton the highest paid coach in the NFL. However, there have also been reports stating that Benson would sue the NFL if Payton left to coach the Dallas Cowboys or any other team. So perhaps Benson is not as confident as he is letting on and it is evident that the Saints could be in another state of limbo for a second consecutive off-season.
With the suspensions lifted it is a victory for the players but now the Saints have to focus on all of the flaws that are currently holding them back. The Saints have the worst defense in the NFL and quarterback Drew Brees has not been playing up to his $100 million contract as of late.
Brees has nine interceptions over the last three games and only four touchdowns as the Saints’ offense has not been able to find any consistency as of late. Furthermore, the defense is the biggest issue with the team right now and something that will need to be addressed during the off-season.
The Saints need to think about revamping their defense yet again and look to the draft to find some good young players for the defense. Vilma and safety Roman Harper are not getting any younger and the Saints should look to bring in their successors. Also, with all of the injuries that occurred to their defense it would be wise to add more quality defensive players. I do not think it would be wise for the Saints to let go of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo at this point. Spagnuolo is in his first season with the team and came in the midst of a scandal, so there were many distractions the entire team faced, including him.
The Saints are still a very good football team and I have no doubt that they will come back next season with a vengeance and have a very good season. First and foremost the Saints need to address the contract situation of Payton and get him back with the team. Once the Saints lock up Payton they need to address their defense and get ready for next season. The Saints have another long road ahead of them but they are on the best teams in the NFL and they will prevail.