PHOENIX — If it were up to Roger Goodell to determine whether Saints owner Tom Benson is mentally fit to make his own decision, the NFL commissioner would give him his stamp of approval.
At his Super Bowl news conference, Goodell was asked about the ownership squabble stemming from Benson’s recent decision to leave the Saints and Pelicans to his wife, Gayle, instead of granddaughter Rita LeBlanc. The commissioner said he recently spoke with Benson, and left with the impression that he is in good mental health and said he trusts Benson to make the right decisions for his franchises.
“I spoke to Tom Benson just the other day. He was going into the office as usual. He was in complete control, energetic, excited about getting to the office, asking about league issues,” Goodell said. “As you know, he’s been one of our more active owners in the league on various committees.
“They obviously have a dispute going on, which is always unfortunate. In this case, it deals with succession as opposed to the current management. Tom Benson is a man of great integrity and a man that is enthusiastic about the NFL, the Saints, New Orleans. ... He’s got complete control over what he’s doing to make sure that organization goes in the right direction.”
Fewer veterans, ‘disconnect’
These New Orleans Saints, the ones who won seven games and missed the playoffs, weren’t the same Saints who used to dominate teams at the Superdome and once won a Super Bowl.
Those teams had veteran leadership and a set of values they could fall back on. These Saints lacked those values. The old guys and the young guys never quite connected as they should have, and there was a disconnect in the locker room.
“Whenever you have this turnover like we had last year with six or seven really veteran players — guys that had been around a long time and knew the way — and all of the sudden they’re gone, and you have this influx of a bunch of young players who don’t know that, there’s not as many veteran guys to teach those young guys,” quarterback Drew Brees said Friday.
“Therefore, there’s a little bit of a disconnect from this season that you could attribute to why weren’t as successful as we should have been.”
In previous seasons, when the roster was stocked with players who were once considered fixtures, such as Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer and company, New Orleans had a solid foundation. Right now, with a new cast of characters, the team is working to establish a new foundation.
“It’s important on every team: You have a foundation. You have a foundation that feels like no matter what happens, you’re able to weather any storm, you’re able to fall through adversity. There’s just a way that you do things that you can always fall back on,” Brees said. “But that takes years and years to develop and cultivate.”
Brees was also asked if he would be receptive if approached by the Saints to lower his cap figure, which resides at $18.75 million for next season. But the quarterback was unwilling to get into the topic.
“I’m not going to answer that,” he said.
The Saints are estimated to be around $20 million over the expected salary cap for next season.
Graham says he’s all good
For most, it’s difficult to find meaning in the Pro Bowl. But that’s not the case for Saints fans this year.
New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham used last week’s exhibition as a barometer for whether he would need surgery to repair a nagging shoulder injury. He has determined an operation is not needed.
“I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday, and really there’s going to be no surgery,” Graham told SiriusXM radio. “I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year.”
Graham initially injured his shoulder during a Week 5 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coming out of a Week 6 bye, Graham was limited to 30 snaps in the next game against the Detroit Lions.
Graham rebounded after the injury but faded down the stretch, catching 20 passes for 219 yards over the final five games.
While he hinted that his shoulder was an issue during an early December interview with The Advocate, Graham admitted Friday that it was a bigger issue than he initially let on.
“It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season,” he said. “It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great.”
Brees and Super Service Challenge Founder Dave Lindsey announced the Super Service Challenge winners during a news conference in Phoenix and presented them with part of a $1 million reward.
The grand-prize winner was Raising Cane’s restaurant, which received a check for $50,000 for Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. Lynn Young represented Raising Cane’s.
“This is beyond words,” Lynn said. “I never would have guessed I would be grand-prize winner, let alone the overall winner. It was a dream come true.”