October 17, 2010

Are the Saints distracted?

There's a lot going on off-field around the Saints, and it wasn't a quiet offseason.

Distractions aside from all the positive things, from the head coach and quarterback writing books, to Drew Brees' imminent second baby boy, to a flood of positive PR about the team since Super Bowl XLIV.

But there are storm clouds over 5800 Airline.

The recent revelations of marketing agent Mike Orstein's league ticket scalping could get bigger as facts emerge of his involvement with league personnel and players, including and especially folks in the Saints organization. 

It is baffling that Orstein, who had previously been convicted of defrauding the NFL 15 years ago, would have such high levels of access to football programs like USC and the New Orleans Saints organization.  Ornstein has personal friendships with Sean Payton and Reggie Bush, among others, and remains a long-time friend of Saints GM Mickey Loomis.

Remember that former Vikings head coach Mike Tice was fined $100,000 - then the highest in head coach history - in 2005 for his involvement in a ring that re-sold NFL tickets that had been given out by the league.  The ticket scalping scandal was a factor that lead to the decision to fire Tice after that season.

These allegations could result in significant penalties, and while the scalping of internal tickets is a quiet storm around the league, it is Ornstein's involvement with the Saints that could make an incoming string of penalties large and embarrassing.

That's not all that could be distracting the Saints.

The vicodin-stealing scandal is far from over, and USDA Jim Letten's investigation could announce federal indictments in the future. Former Saints Director of Security Geoff Santini alleges that Joe Vitt was stealing vicodin pills from the Saints' medicine locker, that Vitt and Sean Payton were abusing the pills without prescription, and that the Saints organization asked him to cover it up. 

Santini sued the Saints for lost wages, claiming the organization owes him money that he will not earn after resigning because he was asked to commit various felonious acts.  That civil lawsuit has since been brought to closed arbitration.

Aside from Vitt and Payton, assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones plead guilty as part of a real estate scam in Texas. Jones was suspended for 30 days without pay.

Even the Saints' ownership has to be distracted, having been sued this year by the IRS over failing to pay taxes on an $8.5 million inducement payment in 2003.  The Saints argue that the payment was nontaxable income.

What about the players?

The CBA's final league year rules allowed many teams to keep players with four or five years of veterancy on the roster at significantly reduced salaries.  G Jahri Evans was one of those players who could have been forced to play for significantly less money than he would have found on the open market.

Evans eventually got his money in the form of the richest deal for an offensive guard in the league.

But WR Lance Moore, RB Pierre Thomas, and S Roman Harper did not hit free agency, and are instead on the roster with one-year restricted free agent contracts.  Thomas and Evans even skipped some offseason workouts in protest.  LT Jammal Brown did too, before the Saints traded him to Washington.

With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the way, several Saints could be anticipating new uniforms in the spring.

RB Chris Ivory has been charged with second degree assault stemming from a fight before his senior season at Washington State, last summer.  The Saints have been aware of the charges against Ivory, who may have to miss time during the week to appear in court.  Ivory never played his senior season at Washington State, as he was dismissed in August because of an unspecified violation of team rules.

More than just a Super Bowl hangover, could off-field sins be distracting the 2010 Saints?

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