BAYHAM: Black Wednesday On Airline Drive

The expression “It’s just business, nothing personal” is heard often throughout the Godfather movie trilogy.

The point being that even something as ugly as a hit on a blood family member or a close associate should not be viewed as an act of contempt but merely the means by which a mob organization seeks to achieve an end.

Last week a few of the most popular and productive members of the New Orleans Saints defense received dead fish wrapped in their jerseys when the front office released cornerback Jabari Greer, defensive end Will Smith and strong safety Roman Harper.

Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whose contract with the team had expired at the end of the previous season, was informed that he would not be extended a new deal.

None of these moves shocked the Who Dat Nation. In fact local sports journalists had been circling the four like buzzards as the season wound down.

The four were either deemed too expensive or unserviceable. And with the exception of Greer, had already been replaced in the starting lineup by new blood.

Before the Saints parted ways with their defensive veterans, the team was at least $13 million over the league’s salary cap. Compounding the front office’s woes was that additional room needed to be created to retain the services of their All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.

Despite the necessity of the moves, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis did not relish the business decisions he had to make.

Smith had been one of the best defensive linemen in franchise history, notching 67.5 sacks. Smith was also the longest tenured player on the roster, being the lone starter from the Jim Haslett era. However Smith missed the entire 2013 regular season with an injury and hasn’t come close to producing on the level he did during the team’s Super Bowl run. Smith’s $11.5 million would have made him too pricey to retain even if he had put up big numbers.

Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was one of the most popular defensive players as the defense’s “quarterback” and later as the symbol of defiance against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during his heavy handed “BountyGate” punishment. Vilma’s acquisition stands out as one of the best trades in team history as the Saints received the Pro Bowl player from the New York Jets in exchange for a third round pick in the NFL draft.

Vilma had been hobbled with injuries and only played a single game in 2013, against the Jets.

And like Smith, Vilma had been largely displaced in the team’s shift from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4., a problem he ran into back with his former team.

Cornerback Jabari Greer’s signing as a free agent had a major impact towards improving the Saints’ secondary in 2009. Greer was a reliable pass defender, so much so that opposing quarterbacks were more inclined to test whomever the Saints played in the other cornerback slot until the team brought on Keenan Lewis in 2013. Of the four players, Greer is the one who most likely would have remained on the team had he not tore his ACL on his left leg against San Francisco.

Even before going down with injury, Greer’s 2013 had been rough, uncharacteristically giving up big plays, yet with the Saints’ secondary being rather thin, Greer would have likely been given another opportunity to play in 2014.

There probably won’t be as many tears shed by the Who Dat faithful over strong safety Roman Harper’s departure due to painfully memorable blown pass coverage instances. Yet for a guy in the secondary, Harper was skilled at getting after quarterbacks.

Harper was the Saints’ second round pick in 2006 in what would go down as one of the most important draft classes in franchise history, a group that served as the foundation for the team’s championship run.

Harper’s days with the Black and Gold were numbered when the team drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round of the 2013 draft.

Though somewhat slowed with injuries this past season (a trend with the players let go), Harper is the most likely of the four to face off against the Saints’ offense one day as Smith, Vilma and Greer’s playing days are likely over.

Though the four all contributed to bringing to the Crescent City a Super Bowl win, their departure will help create the salary cap space for the team to sign fresh talent to win a second championship. As of Thursday, the team is $5 million UNDER the cap.

It’s just business, nothing personal.

Vegas Optimistic About the Black and Gold in 2014

Sin City sports books have the Saints’ chances of getting a Two Dat at a relatively respectable 12 to 1 odds. The Saints have the best odds of any team in the NFC South, with Carolina 15 to 1, Atlanta 20 to 1 and the freefalling Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 80 to 1 (worst in the NFC).

The defending World Champion Seattle Seahawks are the favorite at 4.5 to 1.

Those willing to take some risk in exchange for a big pay day might want to consider putting some bucks on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The league’s longest shot team has a 175 to 1 chance of bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Duval County.

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