Steve Spagnuolo (2012). Rob Ryan (2013-15). Dennis Allen (2015-present).
The names of the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinators change but recent results have varied little.
Their defensive unit has been giving up yards and points by the bushel the past few years under the aforementioned assistants, who answer to coach Sean Payton. Why? In a nutshell, it’s because the team hasn’t employed enough good defensive players on the roster; more specifically, not enough difference makers/playmakers.
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Last Sunday’s devastating 35-34 loss at home to the Oakland Raiders is a prime example. No takeaways. No sacks. Three QB hits, one by a defensive lineman.
Zeros are desirable when it comes to caloric intake and saturated fats in food and beverages. But not when it comes to playing winning defensive football.
If zeros show up again when it comes to takeaways, sacks and points Sunday against the offensive-minded New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the chances are extremely high that the Black and Gold will be 0-2.
Consider: Since 1990 when the NFL adopted its current 12-team playoff format, roughly 12 percent of those teams that start the season 0-2 don’t make the playoffs. Only 26 of 214 teams since ’90 have successfully navigated into the postseason after a 0-2 start, including Seattle and Houston last year.
Seven other teams were not as fortunate, including the Saints, who missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after opening 0-2.
While injuries to key defensive players have exacerbated the problem (Sheldon Rankins, Delvin Breaux, Dannell Ellerbe, Hau’oli Kikaha), the unit’s recent decline can be linked to a huge amount of “dead money’’ on the team’s books. According to some estimates, that figure hovers around $40 million, meaning the Saints have nearly 25 percent of their $155.5 million salary cap devoted to players who no longer work for owner Tom Benson.
The Black and Gold may not rank No. 1 in the latest NFL power rankings, but they are head and shoulders above 31 other teams when it comes to “dead money.’’
Oft-injured running back/kick returner C.J. Spiller, a healthy scratch in Week 1 against the Raiders, is the latest to join the DM club. He was abruptly released Tuesday after efforts to trade him were unsuccessful.
Originally signed to a four-year, $16 million in March 2015, Spiller accounted for 500 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on 77 touches. He pocketed $9 million in guaranteed base salary and bonuses for 13 games. He leaves behind a $4.5 million cap hit this season and $2.5 million next season.
The bottom line is Spiller’s departure will have a far greater impact to the team off the field than on it. But he isn’t the only one. The team has fallen on hard times recently, in part, because GM Mickey Loomis has doled out a lot of money to veteran players who have not justified their bountiful contracts. The “dead money’’ list includes pass rusher Junior Gallete ($12.1 million) and cornerbacks Brandon Browner ($4.05 million) and Keenan Lewis ($3.65 million), among others.
Even current starting right guard Jahri Evans counts $5.1 million in “dead money.’’ He was released in March after declining to restructure his contract, then was signed back two weeks ago for one year at $1 million after failing to make the Seahawks.
So let’s put the Saints “dead money’’ in perspective.
Here’s a sampling of DM figures of other NFL teams, according to Spotrac:
— New England ($11,156,734), Green Bay ($1,678,747), Pittsburgh ($9,347,469), Seattle ($9,466,507), Denver ($11,482,866), Carolina ($9,836,949), Los Angeles Rams ($14,133,213), Buffalo ($15,662,257), Tampa Bay (524,533) to cite a few.
By comparison, the Saints’ $40 million in “dead money’’ is staggering.
In fact, a strong case can be made that “dead money’’ is burying the Saints alive.