Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Saints Cut Deuce Loose

Tuesday morning I had speculated to someone that the Saints were likely to cut Deuce McAllister sometime between then and Lundi Gras as a means of minimizing the public relations fallout from parting ways with the man who is the Black and Gold’s most popular player in recent times.
When I heard the click from my e-mail box an hour later and saw the WWL radio e-mail address and the abbreviated subject header “Saints Release…” I instantly knew the rest of the story.
The fate of the team’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns was apparent to even casual local sports observers while #26 was still moving the opposition’s defensive line.
The constant chatter from the organization about his past injuries. His sparing use in games, even in third-and-short situations when a player of his ability should have made giving him the ball the obvious call. All were signs that the 2008 season wasn’t a comeback tour for Deuce but a going-away party.
Whether it was a matter of the team lacking confidence in his capacity to contribute or Head Coach Sean Payton’s trademark stubbornness or the conniption fits he experiences when 60,000+ people in the Superdome bellow out “Deeeeeeuuuuuccce” in advance of any play McAllister is brought in on. And admittedly I was one of those in the legion of fools who did that time and time again.
And while saying this hurts like a bad toothache, I agree with the decision to turn Deuce loose.
Though it will hurt seeing him in another team’s colors, McAllister has a better chance of catching on with another team by being cut in advance of free agency.
Whether the decision was based on pettiness or on-field performance, the Saints needed to free themselves of having a highly-paid running back relegated by Payton to third-string status so they can move up either reserve backs Mike Bell or Lynell Hamilton, with the latter having a strong outing during the preseason or pursue the power back the team desperately needs in the draft.
Third-and-one has been to the Saints in 2008 what garlic and crucifixes are to vampires. By having a more balanced offense, the team would have more control of the game clock while helping the defense by giving them some breathing room in between Drew Brees’s quick air strikes.
While fans might gnash their teeth at the thought of the team using their first-round pick to add yet another weapon to the NFL’s most potent offense, the upcoming draft is light in safeties but fairly stocked in good running-backs. Furthermore, improving the safety position can be addressed in free agency, even if a marquee player is not inked. Bringing in the aggressive Gregg Williams as Defensive Coordinator and a rebound by defensive players who either battled injuries or just underachieved. The defense will also benefit if recently unretired linebacker Dan Morgan succeeds in his comeback. But back to Deuce.
That McAllister has the distinction of being the greatest running-back to wear a fleur-de-lis on his helmet goes without saying. Statistically, he is the Saints all-time leading rusher and though his 2008 stats won’t go down as his finest, McAllister made the most of his limited playing opportunity, breaking the franchise record for touchdowns.
People respected how he quietly did his job and immersed himself in the community through his philanthropic work. They were awed how he moved opposing defensive lines. And perhaps just as importantly, his selection in the first round in the 2001 draft signaled the imminent exorcising of one of the most infamous decisions of the Mike Ditka era, and I’m not talking about the conga line of low-grade quarterbacks that took snaps.
Ricky Williams was a talented athlete. But he wasn’t the exorbitant amount the team sacrificed for him. The opportunity cost to the organization deprived the team of depth; Williams’s poor attitude compounded matters.
But the Ole Miss running-back made the dread-locked one expendable. McAllister utilized the opportunity to become the team’s first reliable running-back since Dalton Hilliard and one of the Saints’ most popular players, if not the most.
Not counting the sixties, the Saints have had four individuals that stood out as the team’s players of the decade.
Archie Manning was the player of the 70s.
Rickey Jackson was the player of the 80s.
Willie Roaf was the player of the 90s. And while Drew Brees continues to make quick progress towards owning virtually every franchise stat that’s worth having, Deuce McAllister will go down as the team’s player of the 21st century’s first decade.