New Orleans Pro Football looks back at the 1999 Saints, and where those players have gone since.
From the Arena Football League to professional wrestling, from the XFL to the CFL, from NFL Europe to NFL retirement, the players on the 1999 Saints football have gone their separate ways. Of the 74 players included in this article, six remain with the Saints right now.
Of Mike Ditka's sixteen draft picks from 1997-1999, one remains now, Kyle Turley, although four more were on the team in 2001: Cam Cleeland, Chris Naeole, Fred Weary and Ricky Williams.
The dismal 3-13 was one of the least enjoyable but most memorable in recent memory for Saints fans. It began with one of the highest-profile events in Saints history, when Mike Ditka traded the 1999 draft and a large chunk of the 2000 draft for Ricky Williams. Golden expectations and silky white wedding dresses would all be for naught, and the trio of wins would end in the house cleaning by Benson in January 2000.
Memories from that season included the anticlimactic injury-riddled debut of Ricky Williams, the first victory of the new Browns franchise on a last-second Hail Mary, a trouncing of the San Francisco 49ers led by Billy Joe Tolliver, witnessing first-hand the explosive new offense of the St. Louis Rams (twice), a handful of last-minute losses and barely-failed comebacks, and a tremendous Christmas Eve victory over the Dallas Cowboys led by local Louisiana star QB Jake Delhomme.
What follows is a complete run-down of every player that was on the Saints 1999 roster, at one time or another. The first half of the roster is listed here. The thorough extent of our article includes players who were added to the Saints' practice squad at the end of the season.
*- still with the Saints as of today
6. Tommy Barnhardt, Punter - His third stay with the Saints, (his first was in 1987, his second was from 1989 to 1994), lasted one season. Barnhardt moved on to the Redskins in 2000 and left the game after that season.
7. Danny Wuerffel, Quarterback - Wuerffel parlayed an MVP season in the NFL Europe developmental league (pictured, right) into a stint with the Green Bay Packers in 2000, and a season with the Bears in 2001, each time serving as the 3rd string quarterback. The Texans took Wuerffel, whose Christian Christmas CD you can see here, in the late rounds of their expansion draft and promptly shipped him off to the Redskins, now under the control of Steve Spurrier. Wuerffel has a decent shot at making the final roster in Washington, competing with Shane Matthews, Sage Rosenfels and Patrick Ramsey.
9. Jake Delhomme, Quarterback* - Is still with the Saints and is currently slated to enter the season as the primary backup to Aaron Brooks.
10. Doug Brien, Place kicker - Stayed with the team in 2000 but was let go after an inconsistent season. Was out of work until December of 2001, when the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each used him for a pair of weeks to kick in place of their injured starters. This offseason, Brien was beaten out by former Arena kicker Derek Schorejs for a job with the Jaguars. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings in April and is currently one of three place kickers on the roster.
11. Billy Joe Tolliver, Quarterback - Was released in the final cuts of the 2000 preseason, much to his chagrin. The Saints opted to keep young quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Jake Delhomme as backups to Jeff Blake instead of the veteran Tolliver. Billy Joe would have a two-month stay with the Chicago Bears over the summer of 2001, and spent a month with the Packers in training camp 2001. He opted out of taking a coaching position in the pros but aspires to one day return to Texas Tech and coach there. Tolliver, 36, and wife Sheila have five kids ranging from age 17 to 1 1/2. Lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.
12. Billy Joe Hobert, Quarterback - Left New Orleans and headed to Indianapolis, where he has caught on as a backup to Peyton Manning. Shortly before the 1999 season, and with the help of teammate Wuerffel, Hobert turned his life around and became a committed Christian. Unfortunately, a lingering neck injury plagued his season. Hobert was released by the Colts before the 2001 preseason and was out of football last year. He and his wife Danielle have four children.
16. L.C. Stevens, Wide Receiver - Spent the 1999 training camp with the Saints but was released in the final cut, and was claimed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Signed to the Saints' practice squad in December 1999 after spending time with the Pittsburgh Steelers on their practice squad. The Saints allocated him to NFL Europe where he starred for Amsterdam Admirals, catching 48 balls for 619 yards. Returned to training camp hoping to battle for a roster spot with the Saints, but was slowed by a shoulder injury and released in the first cuts of training camp. Was with his NFL Europe coach Al Luginbill with the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL, but didn't make the team out of training camp. Played with the Nashville Kats of the Arena Football League in 2001. The Kats were moved to Atlanta and became the Georgia Force, Stevens' current team. Stevens is now a reserve receiver and linebacker.
17. PJ Franklin, Wide Receiver - A practice squad player for two seasons with the Saints. Was a football and basketball star (pictured, right) for Tulane University. Appeared in three games in late 1999 and caught two passes, an had one rush attempt for no gain. Was in training camp with the Saints in 2000, and caught a 40-yard pass in preseason against the Jets. Got himself onto the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe league without being allocated by an NFL team, played next to current Saints WR Michael Lewis. Franklin, 25, is current the head coach of the Northwood Prep high school football team in Amite, Louisiana, which started played in 2001 in class 8-2A.
21. Earl Little, Cornerback - Little was one of many players that Ditka let go mid-season in 1999. Little was released on October 24, 1999 and replaced by FB Marvin Powell on the active roster. The Browns grabbed him off of waivers, joining Cleveland just in time to play for the Browns on October 31, 1999 against the Saints. In that game, the Browns got their first franchise victory on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass. Little showed promise in 2000, playing in every game as a backup and flourished with the Browns, starting all 16 games at strong safety in 2001. The Browns signed Robert Griffith to start at strong safety this offseason, so now Little is competing with Devin Bush for the starting free safety position.
21. Robert Williams, Cornerback - Was with the team for the final month of the season after the Saints claimed him off of waivers from the Seahawks. Williams replaced LB Ink Aleaga on the 53-man roster when Aleaga was placed on injured reserve. The diminutive Williams never got another chance in the NFL.
22. Tyronne Drakeford, Cornerback - Left New Orleans to play as a dime back in nine games for Washington in 2000 and then as a backup for San Francisco in 2001, where he was active for only one game. Drakeford is now an unrestricted free agent.
23. Chris Hewitt, Safety - In the second game of 1999, Hewitt laid a helmet-to-helmet hit on San Francisco QB Steve Young on 4th down. The penalty extended the late 49ers drive, that turned into a game-winning touchdown. He spent the rest of the season in Ditka's doghouse before going on injured reserve in December. The Jamaica native never returned to the NFL.
24. Fred Weary, Cornerback - Improved with the new coaching staff and was having a great season before blowing his knee out against the Rams in November 2000. Weary remained with the team as a backup in 2001 and was an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. Weary signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons and is expected to be a nickel back this season.
25. Alex Molden, Cornerback - Remained with the team in 2000 but lost his starting job to Kevin Mathis. Left the Saints and in the 2001 offseason signed a fat new five-year contract with the new management in San Diego. But after an under-whelming, injury-plagued 2001 in which he played in only six games, the Chargers drafted Texas CB Quentin Jammer in the first round to start ahead of Molden.
26. Lamar Smith, Runningback - Left the Saints after the 1999 season to sign with Miami, and promptly blasted the Mike Ditka regime in the newspapers, saying that it was "the worst football I've ever played in my life." Had a surprisingly successful 2000 season but failed to repeat it in 2001. The Dolphins decided not to re-sign Smith after acquiring Ricky Williams in a trade. Oddly enough, it was the arrival of Williams in New Orleans that spelled Smith's departure there as well. Smith signed a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers this offseason, and will compete with rookie DeShaun Foster for the starting job.
28. Troy Davis, Runningback - Left the Saints after the 1999 season and wound up being drafted by the Birmingham Bolts of the defunct XFL, but never made it out of training camp. Signed with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2001, where he scored six rushing touchdowns as a starting runningback and kick returner, (pictured, right). Davis helped the Tiger-Cats to the Eastern Division finals, and had 101 rushing yards on 19 attempts in that game. Davis started for the Tigercats in the CFL season opener on June 29 and rushed for 105 yards in the victory.
29. Sammy Knight, Safety* - Still with the team, made his first Pro Bowl in 2001. Expected to start at strong safety.
30. Je'Rod Cherry, Safety - Left the Saints after the 1999 season and in 2000 went to Oakland and Philadelphia, where he stayed through the season. In 2001, Cherry joined the New England Patriots, played in all 16 games collecting three tackles and a Super Bowl ring. Cherry once drew praise from Mike Ditka as the best athlete on the team, although he never translated his skills into a start at safety or an interception.
32. Aaron Craver, Fullback - Was released by the new regime in the final roster cuts before the 2000 season after being beaten out by rookie FB Terrelle Smith. After Craver's release he received looks from a few teams, including the Raiders, but was never signed.
33. Wilmont Perry, Runningback - Was liked by Ditka in 1998, but not enough to prevent him from moving up to draft Ricky Williams. When Haslett came to town, Perry felt that he wasn't given a fair shake. "When Haslett got there I think he had in mind there were some guys there were going to be on their way out. I guess I was one of those guys. I would make a mistake and he would get all over me for it." Perry went to training camp with the Saints in 2000 but was released in the first roster cuts. Perry was picked up next by the Carolina Panthers, and released after a season there. Perry is now making it with the Cape Fear Wildcats of the Arena Football League 2, where he makes $200 a week. He is teammates with another 1999 Saint, FB Marvin Powell.
34. Ricky Williams, Runningback - Traded to the Miami Dolphins in March 2002 for a 1st round pick in 2002 and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2003 that becomes a 2nd round pick if Williams gains 1200 rushing yards, or a 1st round pick if Williams gains 1500 rushing yards.
36. Corey Harris, Cornerback - One of three current NFL players named Corey Harris, this Harris signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in December 1999, and was at the bottom of the depth chart or on the practice squad in 2000. The Saints released Harris in May of 2001, and the Chiefs signed him to a two-year contract in July 2001. He appeared in four games for the Chiefs last season and is now competing for the top nickel back job for Kansas City.
37. Dino Philyaw, Runningback - Speedy runningback who returned to the NFL with the Saints in 1999 after not being in the league for three years. In 2000, Philyaw was still with the Saints during the offseason, but was released on the same day that the Saints send KD Williams and a third round pick to Green Bay for TE Lamont Hall and QB Aaron Brooks. After a season as a backup for the Saints, Philyaw moved on to the New Jersey Gladiators of the Arena league and then started for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the XFL before going on injured reserve with a foot injury. Philyaw has yet to re-emerge in the NFL.
40. Marvin Powell, Fullback - After making the Saints practice squad and eventually the active roster in 1999 as an undrafted free agent, Powell was traded straight up to the Green Bay Packers on July 11, 2000 for TE Lawrence Hart. Hart would later be traded again to the Cowboys, and Powell missed the first wave of roster cuts in Green Bay. Powell spent the 2000 season unemployed until he signed with the Denver Broncos in December and in the spring was allocated to the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe. He was later traded to the Frankfurt Galaxy, and released by the Broncos after the NFL Europe season was over. Most recently, Powell had a short stint in the Arena Football League with the Carolina Cobras but was released in March. Powell is now with ex-teammate Wilmont Perry playing for the Cape Fear Wildcats of Arena Football League 2.
42. Willie Clay, Safety - Started at free safety for the Saints in 1999, and had a knack for intercepting balls in the end zone, but he was worth much less than his $1+ million salary. Clay didn't sign with another team, although he got looks from the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers. Clay reportedly was close to joining the Steelers, as he is originally from Pittsburgh and reportedly would have liked to finish his career close to home. When the money didn't come through, Clay retired and settled into his Atlanta car wash/oil change business.
43. Ashley Ambrose, Cornerback - One of the best cornerbacks to play for the Saints ever, even if it was only for one year. Ambrose was a real shutdown force for the Saints at times, although he clearly wasn't or ever was an NFL elite. After the season, one of the first big tasks for the new administration to tackle was Ambrose. The team decided not to overpay for his services, while the Atlanta Falcons brought out the checkbook and wrapped him up to a long-term deal to start opposite his personal friend Ray Buchanon. Ambrose has nine interceptions in the past two seasons after having six in 1999 alone.
44. Rob Kelly, Safety - Stayed with the Saints in 2000, but broke his leg in the Saints' first preseason game and missed the first four weeks of the season. Battled back and played limitedly as backup to FS Darren Perry, but the Saints decided not to resign the unrestricted free agent. Kelly nearly signed with Seattle, but decided not to and surprisingly retired from the game, apparently because he was tired of football. He sat out the 2001 season. Apparently he was set to follow up on his dream of being a rock star, something he admitted he wants more than success in the NFL. Kelly apparently reversed his stance in March 2002 when he signed a contract with the New England Patriots.
47. Josh Wilcox, Fullback - Wilcox left Oregon after the '96 season, hit the NFL Europe for a season and also played in the Arena Football League before getting a look from Ditka. After spending most of 1998 on the practice squad, Wilcox got some real playing time in 1999 with four starts at fullback when Aaron Craver was in Ditka's doghouse. Not surprisingly, Wilcox didn't get looks from other NFL teams after the 1999 season. Wilcox then went back to his plan of breaking into the world of professional wrestling, which enabled the logical jump to the XFL's Los Angeles X-treme (pictured, right). Wilcox actually wrestled with the IPW and then with the ECW on TNN in January of 2000, losing the match and promptly ripping into Saints fans for booing their team. Read this interview for more of this: "Most of the wrestlers are great athletes who defy the laws of gravity."
48. Cuncho Brown, Tight End - Was signed to the Saints' practice squad as a rookie on December 30 after being released in the final cut of training camp in September 1999. Went to camp with the Saints in 2000 but was released in the first cuts. Was with the Orlando Rage of the XFL for a week.
50. Kevin Mitchell, Linebacker - Mitchell played out his voidable contract option after the 1999 season after starting only one game. Mitchell landed a deal with the Redskins, played in all 16 games in 2000, and started 13 games in 2001. But with super-priced Jeremiah Trotter in town now, the Redskins may be giving Mitchell the ax soon, as Mitchell has little chance of playing any time soon.
51. Phil Clarke, Linebacker - Remained with the team and actually entered 2000 as the starting middle linebacker. But veteran Darrin Smith unseated Clarke shortly into the 2000 season and Clarke remained with the team as a backup middle linebacker and special teamer. Clarke tore a ligament in his right knee late in mid-December 2001, and the Saints did not make a tender offer to him, making him an unrestricted free agent. Clarke may re-emerge after he recovers from his knee injury.
52. Vinson Smith, Linebacker - Ditka pulled Smith out of retirement in 1998 with a one-year contract and convinced him to come back out of retirement again for a second year in 1999. In each year Keith Mitchell beat him out. Finished the 1999 season on injured reserve, and is now happily retired in Dallas, Texas.
53. Donnie Spragan, Linebacker - Signed with the Saints as an undrafted rookie in April of 1999 and spent the season on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in preseason 1999. Spragan signed with the Saints in the summer of 2000 after recovering but released by the Saints in the first roster cut down of the 2000 preseason. The next spring, Spragan was drafted by the Amsterdam Admirals of the NFL Europe league and started for them, earning a one-year deal from the Packers in July of 2001. He was released in the final roster cuts of the Green Bay Packers on September 2, 2001. Spragan finished the 2001 season on the practice squad of the Denver Broncos and is expected to contend for a roster spot in training camp.
54. Ink Aleaga, Linebacker - Aleaga's three-year career with the Saints spanned the Ditka regime. Aleaga actually started two games in 1999 before going on injury reserve with a knee injury. After recovering, Aleaga signed with the BC Lions of the CFL in 2001 but was one of five players on two teams that were suspended for reasons never made public by the CFL. This past January, Aleaga re-signed with the Lions and is playing with the team.