New Orleans Saints sign C.J. Spiller

admin   December 20, 2016   Comments Off on New Orleans Saints sign C.J. Spiller

After nine years with ’ high-flying aerial attack as the face of the franchise, the New Orleans Saints are retooling their offense around the ground game.

On the same day the Saints traded deep-threat wideout to the Dolphins, they added to an already strong backfield by signing former Bills running back to a four-year, $18 million contract with $9 million guaranteed, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports, via a source involved in the deal.

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New Orleans is a dream landing spot for Spiller, a complementary playmaker who excels in space but struggles in the trenches. Coach has gotten the best out of Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, who offer similar skill sets.

Of all the “satellite” backs Payton has had, Spiller is the most talented. When Chan Gailey schemed to get him the ball in space during a 1,703-yard 2012 season, Spiller’s explosive playmaking ability jumped off the game film as much as any tailback in the league.

Within the past week, the Saints have added cheap NFL jerseys for Spiller, re-signed tackle-breaking Mark Ingram and traded All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham for one of the league’s premier run-blockers in center Max Unger.

The Saints also boast five of the top 78 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Payton discovered last season that his offense worked best when he leaned on Ingram to open up the passing game for Brees. Now he can play matchups with the trio of Ingram, Spiller and Khiry Robinson behind a better run-blocking offensive line, forcing defenses to respect the ground attack while allowing Brees to be a more efficient passer.

It’s similar to Payton’s 2006 offense, with Ingram playing the role of Deuce McAllister between the tackles and Spiller mirroring Bush’s role on the edges and in the passing game.

Another way to look at the Saints’ moves this week is that they are following the 2014 Cowboys’ blueprint that catapulted Tony Romo into the MVP race.

This is a team altering its identity for another run at a wide-open South title. The Saints are not an organization in rebuilding mode.

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Nike New Orleans Saints Youth Game JerseyIt doesn’t take much reading between the lines there. The explosiveness of a Drew Brees-led offense has been fun to watch and is hard to leave behind, but last year, it simply didn’t produce the desired results, in large part because the defense was abysmal. The sorry state of the D (31st in yards allowed, 28th in points allowed) coupled with poor pass protection took a toll on Brees, who turned the ball over 20 times in a highly disappointing 7-9 campaign. By the end of last week, the Saints’ intentions were in better focus: This will be a much different looking — and, they hope, better — team, with a shored-up defense and an offense that Payton can scheme into success.

Payton has never been afraid of outside-the-box decisions. After all, the Saints won their only Lombardi Trophy in part because of his decision to try an onside kick to open the second half of the Super Bowl. Payton and Loomis have long enjoyed the support of owner Tom Benson, who, while in the midst of an ugly family battle over the future of the team, has shown no inclination to question its leadership. Winning the Super Bowl bought Loomis and Payton Benson’s trust and loyalty, even at the franchise’s most recent low point — Bountygate — and while the Saints have yet to mount another deep playoff push following that successful 2009 title run, they’ve missed the postseason only once since then with Payton on the sideline (he was suspended for the entire 2012 season).

In short, the team has been respectable but not championship-caliber. And even though Payton and Loomis are the ones who got New Orleans jerseys into this salary-cap and roster conundrum in the first place, they have earned the opportunity to fix their errors. But if this incarnation doesn’t yield results? Then Benson and the Saints might be faced with even more difficult decisions — whether it is time to move on from Brees and even potentially from Payton.

A decision on Brees might have to be made as soon as next season, at least in terms of reworking his contract to find a more palatable salary-cap impact. That gives the Saints a kind of soft deadline to see results.

But undoubtedly adding to the decision to veer toward dramatic change: the 2014 Saints’ play in an eminently winnable NFC South, which was taken by the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers. Even a moderately better defense — merely below average instead of awful — would have likely put the Saints in the playoffs instead of the Panthers. That would have still left New Orleans hovering somewhere around mediocrity, though, and Payton and Loomis are clearly thinking bigger. These are moves designed not to win the NFC South — a little nibbling around the edges of the roster probably could have accomplished that — but to return the Saints to the upper echelon of the conference, with the Packers and Seahawks. That ambition is to be applauded.

Most intriguing is that, during this bloodletting, New Orleans has also stockpiled the NFL’s most powerful currency: draft picks. The Saints now have nine for this year, including two in the first round and two in the third. That gives them and tremendous flexibility — to move up in the first round, to trade back and accumulate more picks, to parlay these picks into more for future years. Those are critical assets for the longer-term future of the roster. But it also means that whatever identity the Saints emerge from this offseason with will be the one they are invested in for at least a few years. No draft Loomis and Payton have overseen in New Orleans has ever been as important and intriguing.