Like all NFL teams, the New Orleans Saints are just days away from kicking off training camp, with the team set to depart for their base in West Virginia one week from today. This offseason has been particularly busy and restless for the Saints and Who Dat Nation, but with the biggest Elephant in the room now squared away in the form of a long-term contract with tight end Jimmy Graham, players and fans, alike, can sit back and soak up the final days of a football-less summer. As the countdown to camp begins in earnest, here is a quick end-of-offseason primer as the dog days of summer drag to a halt...
Signed, Sealed, Time To Deliver
It has been quite the offseason for Graham, who led the league with 16 touchdown receptions in 2013. Now that the franchise tag saga is a thing of the past, the 6-7 265 playmaker has his eyes on one task; helping the Saints win football games.
“I’m beyond excited,” Graham told the team's website on Tuesday. “I didn’t get into football to learn litigation. I got into football to win games with my teammates, friends and coaches. I am extremely happy to get back to what it’s really about.” Jimmy Graham is ready to make good on his new contract by helping the Saints improve upon last season's playoff berth.
Although Graham did not get the receiver tag that he craved for financial reasons, he still came away with a four-year $40 million pact that will see him earn a guaranteed $21 million. Not bad for a former college hoopster who played in a grand total of 13 football games at the University of Miami, before he was selected by New Orleans in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
“It’s hard to describe, it’s surreal,” Graham said. “With my childhood and how hard the road has been leading up to this point. The quote I have always lived by is that ‘you have an opportunity to turn a dream into a reality.’ I approach every day with that mindset. Every day, every game is an opportunity. That is how I approached these last 20-plus years. I see everything as an opportunity.”
As he was unable to workout with his teammates during franchise tag-gate, Graham was busy training in Miami, following a similar routine to the one he undertook during the 2011 offseason, while the NFL was in the midst of a lockout.
Graham worked out with former Saints teammate and fellow Miami alum Jonathan Vilma, a familiar face who helped offer guidance during a difficult time.
"Vilma has trained with me every day this offseason,” said Graham. “He has stayed in my corner and coached me up on a lot of things. He has been great to talk to about (contract negotiations). Everyday we would talk about it then we would lift weights and run.”
The elephant has left the building, and now Saints fans will hope to see more highlight reel plays from their tight end, who officially boasts the most expensive contract ever given to a player at his position.
Camp Preparations Underway
One week from the team's scheduled arrival in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia, the White Sulphur Springs-based Greenbrier Resort is preparing for the Saints.
The resort, known best for its luxury hotel and pristine Golf course, posted images on its official Instagram account which showed official Saints equipment being brought onto the property, following Monday's arrival of eight trucks making the 950-mile journey from New Orleans with the team's gear on board. Construction at the Greenbrier continues in advance of the Saints' arrival next week.
The pictures were captioned, "The @neworleanssaints Are moving in! Less than two weks away from their first day of training camp in #WestVirginia!"
In March, the Saints and The Greenbrier struck an agreement on a three-year contract for the resort to host the club's summer training camps through 2016. The hotel has committed to build three football fields and other facilities for the Saints, at an estimated cost of $20–25 million, adjacent to the medical facilities.
The relationship between the hotel and the Saints reportedly prospered after a visit by Sean Payton to the 2013 Greenbrier Classic golf tournament to play in its pro-am competition. Payton also served as a caddy for his close friend, PGA Tour golfer Ryan Palmer.
Cool, Clutch Brees
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranked Saints Quarterback Drew Brees as his most clutch signal-caller in a recent piece on the league's website. Brees topped the list, while Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck rounded out the top 5. Mr. Clutch: Drew Brees tops the list of the league's most reliable passers in crunch time.
"The eight-time Pro Bowler was absolutely brilliant under pressure in 2013, posting a 118.0 passer rating (69.2 percent completion rate, 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio) when trailing by eight points or fewer," Brooks wrote. "Brees also sparkled last fall in the red zone (23:1 TD-to-INT ratio) and the two-minute drill (65.1 percent completion rate, 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio). Nothing new for a guy who has authored 34 game-winning drives and 23 fourth-quarter comebacks over the course of his illustrious career."
Brees, who has stated his desire to carry on playing into his 40s, figures to pick right up where he left off with the likes of Graham, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and exciting 2014 first round pick Brandin Cooks at his disposal. Brees threw for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns, with an additional 3 rushing scores last season.
Do You Even CrossFit, Bro?
Head Coach Sean Payton has made no secret of his love for the CrossFit training program, a routine he fell in love with while banned from his post during the fallout of the bounty scandal in 2012. Payton took up CrossFit while he was away from the team and living in Dallas. Upon his reinstatement and return, Payton cut a much more noticeably "swole" figure, and decided to integrate concepts into the team's workout routine last offseason, as the Saints laid the foundation for their 11-5 campaign en route to a divisional playoff appearance.
Payton plans to incorporate even more of the routine into this year's training camp. Last summer, the team's strength and conditioning program prior to camp contained the following exercises:
10 Power Cleans
10 Air Squats
10 Shuttle Runs
The Shuttle Runs started at 40 yards and decreased each round, with no rest between circuits. Sean Payton became a fan of Crossfit two years ago.
The coaching staff split the Saints into four squads based on size and position, and the players performed the above circuit workouts.
"They were like the anti-CrossFit people,” Payton said of his team while speaking to Stack.com, adding that the players knew how daunting and rigorous the workouts would be.
With camp set to begin next week, Saints players are likely to see more exercises derived from CrossFit, as the team has worked closely with San Francisco-based Dr. Kelly Starrett, author of Becoming a Supple Leopard. The Saints hope Dr. Barrett can help advise them in their use of the program to further enhance the players' strength and conditioning ahead of the 2014 season.
In the meantime, you can find Payton crushing his workouts at Big Easy CrossFit in New Orleans. It remains to be seen whether or not the Super Bowl-winning coach can convince defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to partake in the exercises.