Ted Lewis: On Sunday, the curtain will fall on a once-golden decade of Saints football _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RUSTY COSTANZA -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) sits dejectedly on the bench in the waining minutes during a game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Monday, December 21, 2015.

Looking for that perfect inexpensive, yet pricey-looking last-minute Christmas gift?

We suggest two tickets to Sunday’s Saints home finale against Jacksonville. Maybe four. Eight if you want.

Heck, you can probably afford an entire section in the upper reaches of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Although officially a sellout, tickets are going to be unloaded quicker than a pile of returned presents at Wal-Mart. It’s a good bet you can expect to see thousands of empty seats in the building where the Black and Gold now has lost nine of its past 12.

But those who choose not to attend will be missing the last home game of a once-golden decade of Saints football.

Since 2006 when they made a glorious, unexpected run to the NFC Championship Game in their first season under Sean Payton, and certainly since they won the Super Bowl three years later, the Saints have started each year with justifiably high expectations.

For now, though, it’s over. Fortunately, the NFL being the NFL, the rebuilding doesn’t have to last long.

And it’s not necessarily even the end of the Payton era.

While there is growing speculation that there are teams out there willing to pay the hefty price the Saints would want to obtain Payton, who has two years remaining on his contract, something now says it’s not going to happen.

There are just too many moving parts at work, not the least of which is that, despite the frustrations of the past two seasons and the prevailing wisdom that (unless your last name is Belichick) 10 years with a team should be the term limit, Payton wants to stick it out rather than go elsewhere.

He seems to genuinely like the potential and work ethic of the young players on the team and the improved locker-room atmosphere.

He’s also got Drew Brees. Truly elite quarterbacks, even on the backside of 30, are the rarest of commodities.

And as long as Tom Benson is the owner, there’s a strong loyalty factor at work, one that gets discounted too easily.

Otherwise, though, this is a franchise in a full-fledged transition. And that means even more new faces for a team that’s more than 50 percent different than it was at this point a year ago.

Coaching staff changes loom, too. Monday’s 35-27 loss to an equally-in-transition Detroit team brought that home.

At 5-9, the Saints are what their record says they are: a mediocre team except for a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Bad draft decisions, even poorer ones on key free agents and the attrition that time and injuries take on every team have brought things to this state.

Making things worse: The Saints find themselves in a division where the Carolina Panthers are threatening to be what the San Francisco 49ers were to the Saints two decades ago, Tampa Bay is on the rise and Atlanta is, well, Atlanta is always going to be the Dirty Birds.

So an extreme makeover is at hand.

“When you win five, six or seven games, there are going to be changes,” offensive tackle/team truth-teller Zach Strief said after the rest of the locker room emptied out Monday. “Some of us have been here for a long time, and we don’t know what our future holds. As you get older, you cherish the opportunities to play with these guys. It’s been a good ride.”

Yes, it has been.

Even in defeat, Brees reached a handful of milestones Monday: most 300-yard passing games in a career, 10 straight 4,000-yard seasons, 8,000 attempts and quickest quarterback to 60,000 yards, to name a few.

No other QB has thrown for more yards per game, and no other has been so accurate.

On Monday, Brees for the 72nd time teamed with Marques Colston for a touchdown pass. They’re the No. 5 all-time combo at doing that.

With Brees suffering a foot injury Monday, it may well have been the last. Sad to think about. But it happens.

Strief and guard Jahri Evans, the other two remaining members of the Saints’ incoming class of 2006, also could be the absent faces of 2016. And there are bound to be some surprises. Raise your hand if you saw the Jimmy Graham trade coming.

All of that will play out in the next two weeks. On Monday, the theme in the locker room was to play out the final two weeks not just as professionals, but as teammates.

And if this season hasn’t brought what Who Dats desired, Strief reminded us Tuesday that we’re in a more important season.

“Christmas is always a good time to reflect on what’s really important,” he said. “That’s about spending time with family and friends and to really appreciate each other. We’re all disappointed, but football isn’t going to ruin Christmas for me.”

As it shouldn’t for any of us.