METAIRIE, La. Playoffs or bust!
That’s the conclusion I drew after watching the New Orleans Saints go through their second of three minicamp workouts Wednesday.
Coach Sean Payton may have to take his team to the postseason for the first time since 2013 in order to keep his $9 million-a-year job and give owner Tom Benson good reason to pay quarterback Drew Brees upwards of $25 million in 2018 at the age of 39.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist, not 88 days out from the season opener on the road against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 11, not with a full training camp waiting to unfold. But I’m also not looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses, either.
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I am looking at the first month of what promises to be a challenging start to the season. After the Vikings, comes the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at home, at Carolina and a trip across the pond to play the Miami Dolphins in London.
“They better be no worse than 2-2 or it could mean big trouble for Sean and (Saints GM) Mickey (Loomis),’’ former Saints quarterback and radio talk show personality Bobby Hebert said while watching practice in the suana-like conditions.
“And don’t forget about Drew. He’s in the middle of all this. Anything less than the playoffs may be reason to blow the whole thing up. You can’t keep going 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Look around the NFL. The job security for coaches, GMs and quarterbacks isn’t what it used to be.’’
I asked Hebert to project a record.
“8-8 ... maybe 7-9,’’ the Cajun Cannon said. “Again it goes back to those first four games. How they come out of those first four games could end up determining their season.’’
Other snap judgments after observing the 150-minute workout:
▪ Rookie running back Alvin Kamara from Tennessee, the first of three third-round draft picks, should be an exciting addition to the backfield playing the role of ‘joker’ in third-down situations.
▪ It will be interesting to see how incumbent starter Mark Ingram handles sharing the workload with veteran running back Adrian Peterson, among others. It seems a win-win situation. But remember, Ingram became irritated with the way Payton used backup RB Tim Hightower at one point last season.
▪ Speaking of AP, he still looks chiseled at age 32 with a vise-like handshake to match.
▪ Versatile middle linebacker Craig Robertson still looks like the best LB in camp, even with all the new faces on board. And to think he originally was brought as a free agenct from Cleveland to help on special teams and in a backup role.
▪ It will be difficult to fill the void from the existing roster if veteran defensive tackle Nick Fairley is forced into early retirement at age 29 because of an enlarged heart.
And finally, Payton offered this analysis of the team’s newcomers dealing with the massive playbook and the many demands made on them.
“They’re not going to catch up in a day, a week or two weeks,’’ Payton said. “You just hope they get ready by training camp. It’s no different than when you take a test and you haven’t studied. It is not a good feeling.’’
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen summed it up this way.
“The learning curve is probably the greatest with the rookies,’’ Allen said. “It is for all of us but in particular the rookies because there is a sense of urgency. There’s a sense of urgency for all of us. We’re competing to have the best offseason against the other 31 teams right now. When we get into training camp we’re going to be doing the same thing and that obviously continues throughout the season.
“There is a sense or urgency for all of us to get better ... to get better fast.’’
Saints conclude their mandatory minicamp Thursday with the workout open to the public, weather permitting, beginning at 11 a.m.
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.