There aren’t many industries whose workers want to be at their jobs during the New Year’s holiday, but the NFL is one of them.
If you’re off to ring in the new year, it most likely means your team was eliminated from the playoffs. That’s the case this week for members of the New Orleans Saints, who delivered a 7-9 record in 2014, fell short of the postseason and must now figure out how to welcome 2015 and what to do until their team begins preparations for their next campaign about April.
Some players will use the time to study ways to bolster their on-field technique and strengthen themselves mentally. Others will search their souls to see if at the end of that process they can commit to submitting their bodies to the rigors of another pro football season.
Parys Haralson is in the latter category — 2014 was his ninth season in the NFL. It was also his first out of the last three in which he did not suffer a major injury.
The linebacker was in his seventh season in the league and with the 49ers when he tore a triceps tendon in an August 2012 exhibition game. He was sidelined for that entire year and then was traded to the Saints for a seventh-round draft selection late in the 2013 preseason.
Haralson was healthy until the second-to-last game of his first season with the Saints, when New Orleans won a playoff contest at an opponent’s home venue for the first time in franchise history by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia on Jan. 4, 2013. He tore a pectoral muscle making a tackle late in the first half of that game.
He subsequently recovered and played in each of the Saints’ games this year, tying for third on the team with three sacks and being one of only five players to scoop up a fumble. But on Monday, the day after the Saints won their season finale at Tampa Bay (2-14) by a score of 23-20, he admitted he wasn’t entirely sure whether New Orleans would want him to return, another team would want him to play for them — and whether he himself would actually accept any offers to continue his NFL career.
“I know I just completed my ninth season. ... That kind of speaks for itself,” said Haralson, who intends to spend his offseason in home state of Mississippi catching up with family and in California working out. “You go home, you rest, you heal up, and you see, ‘OK, is this something I’m willing to go through again?
“You’ve got to go through (organized team activities in the spring and early summer), the offseason program, training camp. Right now, it’s hard to say because it’s so fresh, but who knows how you feel weeks from now when your body’s feeling better, you’re back to working out, (but) you’re (also) back to getting your rest.”
If 2014 is indeed Haralson’s final year in the NFL, he said he can live with what would be his last on-field memory: defeating Tampa Bay after the Saints’ defense didn’t permit any second-half points, intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter and registered a quarterback sack in the Buccaneers’ end zone for a safety in the waning minutes.
“You went out a winner — no, you didn’t win the Super Bowl, but you won the game,” said Haralson, who is due to become a free agent in March. “That’s what we all strive to do in this game — it’s all about winning.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is second-year player Terron Armstead.
The Saints’ starting left tackle since late 2013, Armstead started at left tackle for the first 14 games of this season, but a lingering neck injury kept him out of the last two.
Armstead knows he’ll return to the Saints and the league. He is only halfway through his rookie contract and received the fourth-highest rating for a player on the Saints’ top-ranked offense from Pro Football Focus after surrendering just 25 quarterback pressures and three sacks on 522 snaps in pass-protection. However, he led the offense in penalties with six, the website’s figures show.
For players such as Armstead, the offseason isn’t so much to wind down and then make future decisions as much as it is getting a head start on personal improvements that could result in their solidifying a position as theirs.
“I need this time ... to do any type of extra training or getting stronger,” Armstead said. “It’s kind of hard in the season to work on technique things or completely tweak something because you don’t want to experiment in a game.”
Coaches aren’t all that different from players. Those in advanced stages of their careers must determine whether they still have the energy to dedicate themselves to all of the tasks an NFL year entails, from preseason roster-building to exhaustively crafting at least 16 game plans.
Only one coach talked with local media on the first day of the Saints’ offseason: Sean Payton, who’s run the franchise since 2006. And he had the occasion to assure he’s as energized as ever, especially only two years removed from being forced to take a season away from the game as a punishment for the 2012 bounty scandal.
“Do (I) still have the energy after doing it for (eight) years?” Payton said. “Absolutely.”
After communicating those words, he ended the briefing with reporters and walked off toward the Saints’ administrative offices. It’s safe to presume he’d soon set about figuring out who’d move forward with the team and who wouldn’t after it was guaranteed both he, his assistants and his players would be able to partake in New Year’s activities if they so chose.