Update, 1 p.m. Sunday: Stanley Jean-Baptiste has signed with the Detroit Lions and will be on their practice squad.
Good football teams are willing to admit their mistakes and find ways to move on from those errors.
It takes a certain level of shrewdness and a willingness to accept some public scorn while seeking better answers.
This offseason and throughout training camp, and now with the season looming, the New Orleans Saints have been more than willing to smear some pie on the organization’s face.
They dumped pass rusher Junior Galette as soon as his baggage pulled him down, moved on from key players to create a better atmosphere. They continued the trend by admitting that Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a 2014 second-round pick, was a mistake and let him loose. It all might look bad now, but the pie to the face is only temporary.
The bigger mistake would be trying to camouflage a stain.
Jean-Baptiste’s release was by far the biggest surprise of Saturday’s efforts to trim the roster to 53 players from 75.
But perhaps the transaction was foreshadowed in the bowels of Lambeau Field following Thursday’s loss to the Packers.
After the game, coach Sean Payton lamented the play by his reserve cornerbacks. He specifically mentioned second-year players, meaning either Brian Dixon, who made the team, or Jean-Baptiste was in his crosshairs. And the fact that Payton had an animated discussion with Jean-Baptiste on the sideline during the game seemed to narrow the possibilities to one.
It’s a surprising move simply given the numbers in the secondary. Cornerback Keenan Lewis is sidelined following hip surgery, which leaves the team with Dixon, Delvin Breaux, Brandon Browner, rookie Damian Swann and Kyle Wilson at the position. If Jean-Baptiste had been performing, his length would have been welcomed on the outside.
The issue is that Jean-Baptiste wasn’t performing. He played well early in camp, voiced a new level of confidence after being sidelined for all but eight snaps as a rookie and was beginning to change the perception surrounding him. But he struggled in the second preseason game against New England, giving up four receptions, and then had several hiccups Thursday against the Packers.
On one play, he gave up the inside of the field to Larry Pinkard, who broke free for a 77-yard reception on a short slant. The damage was increased after safety Pierre Warren, who was also released, took a bad angle to the ball and slipped. Still, the bottom line is that Jean-Baptiste didn’t put himself in position to make a play, even if he had a culpable associate on the play.
Those kind of mistakes can lead to losses, and it appears the Saints did not feel he could be trusted on the field. After a year of incubating on the sideline and behind the scenes, Jean-Baptiste failed to produce results. Now he can try to cash in on the potential and size (6-foot-3) that led to his draft position or do his incubating on the practice squad.
But this move doesn’t necessarily mean the Saints are in a better position in the secondary. What it means is that it allowed New Orleans to keep either Wilson or Dixon, one of whom otherwise would have been released. This group is far from having everything figured out.
One piece of good news is that Jairus Byrd was not announced to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. That means that after sitting out all of training camp, the team believes he’ll be able to return within at least six weeks. An official estimated time of arrival is still not known.
It’s also not clear when Lewis will play. Optimistic timetables have him sidelined for four to six weeks. If the team believes he’ll be on the longer end of that equation, he could be placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, which would put him out of action for eight weeks. No question the Saints would like to avoid making that move.
So it seems the Saints will move forward with Breaux and Browner as the starting corners, Swann working the slot and Rafael Bush and Kenny Vaccaro at safety.
What the Saints won’t be moving forward with is most of the members of their 2014 draft class. First-round pick Brandin Cooks remains on the active roster. No one else does.
No question that class was filled with mistake after mistake. The Saints should be held accountable. But good teams admit their mistakes and look for answers.
Maybe in some ways it’s a good thing New Orleans had no shortage of mea culpas this offseason and training camp.