Did you happen to recognize any of the Houston Texans players in Sunday’s game against the Saints from this season’s edition of “Hard Knocks”?
Well, next year’s version might have some faces who are a little more familiar.
Maybe not that many though.
By virtue of being on the brink of missing the playoffs for the second straight year, the Saints are close to qualifying for HBO’s annual inside look an NFL training camp that has somehow overlooked the Black & Gold since its debut in 2001, another prong of the three-part test for an NFL-mandated starring role.
So just maybe in 2016 we’ll be seeing roster spot battles and other high jinks from The Greenbrier.
And with an even newer cast of characters than we have now.
The Saints went into the Texans game with 27 players on their 53-man active roster who are new to the team this season. That’s 51 percent.
You can count on an even smaller number of the now-minority of players who were around 5800 Airline Drive before 2015 to be present in 2016.
That’s the way the NFL works. Only the Kardashians turn over their significant others with more frequency.
But still it’s a bit disconcerting to see the ramped-up rebuilding of a franchise that has been, at least in local eyes, beginning seasons with playoff, if not Super Bowl, ambitions since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived in 2006.
At 4-7, the Saints’ playoff chances are 3 percent, according to PlayoffStatus.com. Remarkably that’s the same as before the 24-6 loss to Houston.
But it’s more likely we’ll see Les Miles and Joe Alleva going out together for drinks.
Especially with undefeated Carolina coming to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.
“They’re doing all of the things that great teams do,” Payton said of the Panthers. “They rush the ball, the quarterback is playing at a high level, they’re good in the red zone, and defensively they’re taking the ball away.
“You go through their roster, and you’re going to see a lot of these guys in the Pro Bowl. They’ve done a great job of putting together a real good football team that believes in itself.”
Hard to believe that at this time last year Carolina was 3-7-1 and would lose another game before beating the Saints 41-10 to start a regular-season winning streak that now stands at 15. The Saints are 6-9 in that same span.
On Sunday, all of the Saints’ flaws were exposed.
Has Brees ever looked more uncomfortable? The Saints, trying to compensate for J.J. Watt and his mates’ ability to put pressure on the quarterback, opted to begin the game with quick releases off a three-step drop. The Texans still overwhelmed the offensive line while covering the receivers, and the result was one third-down conversation in the first half.
The 10 rushing attempts were one off the franchise record for fewest in a game.
The defense, playing its first game after the firing of coordinator Rob Ryan, did not expect Texas to come out in hurry-up mode. The result was a touchdown drive by a team that had not previously scored on its first possession, followed by another that gave them a 14-0 lead that never felt threatened.
It wasn’t, everyone emphasized, lack of effort. Just failure to execute.
Either way, at this point for the Saints, reversing course doesn’t look likely.
And Payton, while emphasizing Monday that he’s still in the moment, added that he’s well into thinking about what he wants the Saints to look like and play like next season.
“You’re always looking at a vision for those young players who are getting snaps now,” he said. “Whether it’s (Hau’oli) Kikaha or Andrus (Peat), we have had a number of them play this year.
“I think that’s encouraging to some degree because they will have that experience.”
But don’t look for any tanking. That’s not really possible in the NFL unless you’re in the final half of the final game as Tampa Bay was last year when the Buccaneers looked like they lay down against the Saints so they could get Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick.
“Never at any point do you ever look at playing for next year,” Payton said. “That doesn’t exist at all, and we won’t play that way these next five weeks.
“Not one time.”
Neither has the discontent that poisoned the locker room at the end of last season seem to have manifested itself — yet.
“We’ve still got five games left,” safety Kenny Vacarro said. “I hope guys are not looking around wondering where they’re going to be next year.”
You can include Payton in that number.
He said Monday that he has the same enthusiasm for his young players that had him so upbeat back when the team had won three straight.
It’s probably up to Payton if he wants to return in 2016. The challenge of rebuilding, presumably with Brees, while strapped with salary cap issues and an uncertain ownership situation is a daunting one.
Your guess is as good as mine at how things are going to play out. On Monday, Payton seemed more matter-of-fact than frustrated,
If he does come back though, that’s the final requirement for “Hard Knocks”: no new coaches.
Given Payton’s aversion to any kind of unnecessary intrusions into his operation, it might be enough for him come up with an exit strategy.