WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton knew they couldn’t hide as they sat behind a table stationed on a terrace overlooking a pair of practice fields at The Greenbrier when they came out to meet the media.
There’s been too much talk and too much written not to take some responsibility for what happened with linebacker Junior Galette. While the player should burden the bulk of the blame for the behavior that led to his release last week, something broke down on the organization’s side of things. It’s an expensive mistake, and it hurts on many levels, but the Saints are owning it.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of things I can learn from it, absolutely,” Loomis said. “You know, I don’t think I want to go through those point by point with you here. But yeah, absolutely, we have to learn from these types of situations.”
“I think you learn all the time with contracts, timing, all those things,” Payton said. “I think that you pay attention to that. But I think we felt strongly at this time, as we get ready to start this season, it was in the best interest of this year’s club.”
It was a jarring scene when juxtaposed to the one that unfolded in this setting a year ago. During that news conference, Loomis fielded questions about the four-year deal Graham signed earlier in the summer and noted that he would have liked to lock him up for additional years. A little more than a month later, he signed Galette to a four-year deal.
There were celebratory tones after both contracts were signed. Both players have since been shipped out of New Orleans.
Graham is earning his living in Seattle, and Galette is now looking for a job after finding himself the subject of controversy this offseason after being charged with domestic abuse in January (the case was not pursued) and a video emerged of a 2013 beach brawl of man alleged to be Galette whipping a woman with a belt.
It would be easy to write both players off, say a eulogy, and turn the page. The problem is their memories can’t simply be washed away or ignored. They’re still sticking around like a wad of gum stuck between a pair of pages in the form of dead money counting against the salary cap.
Graham counts $9 million against the cap this season, while Galette checks in at $5.45 million. The pass rusher counts for another $12.1 next season. Overall, the Saints are paying out more than $29 million in dead money for the 2015 season, which is the highest figure in the NFL. The Dolphins are second with a little over $22 million in dead money.
Loomis said he is OK with taking those hits if it serves a purpose. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. That’s part of dealing with the NFL’s salary cap and building a roster. It upsets him when it catches him by surprise, which is what happened with Galette.
“What’s difficult is the unexpected dead money,” Loomis said. “We have a little bit of that, and we have to overcome that. That’s part of the consequence and part of the decision process of, ‘Hey, how are we going to handle this?’
“I think we’re pretty good at that without undermining the ability to improve our roster. We’ll overcome it. We’ll handle it and overcome it.”
Though it hurt to release Galette and absorb the hit, the Saints felt they had no choice. The team tried to wait and see the outcome of Galette’s disciplinary meeting with the NFL, which took place last month, and were hoping that he would be suspended so some of his money could be recouped. The process took too long, and the Saints wanted him gone before camp.
There could possibly be some type of recourse, but New Orleans realized it sacrificed some of those rights by refusing to wait. That’s fine with the Saints.
“Look, there’s a lot of things that to play out for that. But we’ve given up a number of those rights by terminating his contract.”
It pains the Saints that they’re in this situation. In many ways, the organization raised Galette as a football player over the past five years. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent, developed into a role player, and then eventually emerged as one of the better sack artists in the NFL. That hurt on a personal, professional and financial level.
Loomis admits some checks and balances broke down somewhere in the process. Did he rush into the deal too soon because Galette’s deal would have been voided if he recorded 12 sacks last season? Did he rush things because he didn’t want to deal with Cam Jordan’s extension at the same time?
He admits both of those questions were factors in getting the deal done. Loomis joked that the criticism of him is that he often takes too long to get things done. Maybe this time he was too quick with the trigger.
“What were the red flags that we missed — or I missed — and learn from it,” Loomis said. “I say this all the time: We have to look at ourselves with a critical eye, and that certainly includes myself and that group.
“But look, we signed that contract last September. And with the information that we had, I thought that was a good contract.”
The financial burden and hole on the roster will remain. The Saints are now hoping the move was a necessary evil to find success and that next time they won’t go left before finding right.