by Jim Miller, former Exec. VP of New Orleans Saints
As an amateur historian, I am sensitive to the lessons that history teaches us. My favorite, and probably the most oft-repeated, is the caution: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Men and women smarter than I debate whether that line was first uttered by Winston Churchill or the philosopher George Santayana, but whether a world leader or thinker gets the credit, the message has descended intact to the level of sporting writers and readers. Whether it has penetrated the collective crania of NFL execs is another matter.
The foregoing is an unnecessarily erudite way of saying to the Saints: Remember Jairus Byrd? Then get over this Malcolm Butler thing and draft a young player who might turn out to be better. If you do, you would avoid another overpaid contract and an inevitable decline in performance following said big contract. As a bonus, if it’s the right player, you get four years of reasonable fiscal control and a guy who already has earned the loyalty of a large segment of the local fandom. I can see Commissar Goodell now: “With the 32ndpick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select defensive back Tre’Davious White from LSU.”
Anybody who has watched White during his career at LSU saw a solid NFL prospect who makes plays. He is just what the Saints need! But over the weekend, our local heroes were still contemplating the acquisition of Patriots cornerback Butler. They would likely have to give up the No. 32 pick in the first round, and possibly the No. 103 pick from the third round, that they obtained when they sent WR Brandin Cooks to New England. It would have been much simpler to have traded the players one for the other, but the rules governing restricted free agents such as Butler, prevented anything easy.
But maybe we have been unfair to our local braintrust. Peter King of Sports Illustrated believes the Saints already have put Butler in their rear-view mirror. Writing today in his Monday Morning QB column, King said: “The Saints believe that their board between 25 and 75 has a slew of players capable of contributing immediately, with grades close to each other, and the thought of dealing one or more picks for Butler, then paying him a huge contract, is less attractive than it once seemed.”
If this is all true, and they have moved on, then the Saints’ brass did remember their history and one big mistake from the past. Arguably the worst free agent signing the Saints have made in recent years was bringing in three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd from Buffalo. It appeared to be a coup at the time, the Saints finally getting the ball-hawking center fielder they had been missing since Darren Sharper’s 10-pick Super Bowl season. But big contracts do funny things to players. Byrd’s response to a six-year, $50 million payday was a series of back and knee injuries and general disinterest until the Saints admitted their mistake and launched him after the 2016 season.
So if the Saints keep all their picks, what do they do with them? Conventional wisdom says they will pick a rush end in the No. 11 spot and White, or another promising cornerback in the No. 32 slot. The name most mentioned for the No. 11 pick is DE Derek Barnett of Tennessee, but does anyone really believe the Saints will sit at No. 11 and No. 32 without trying to improve both slots? Not I, Gunga Din!
Later in the week, I’ll take a look at some trade scenarios and the way teams value each slot. For now, let’s hope the Saints are looking in that direction and, as Jim Finks would say, “give Malcolm Butler an apple and a road map and wish him well!”
Jim Miller's new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at Amazon.com.