The NFL Draft is an important factor in turning a franchise’s fortunes around. Just as important, if not more so, is player acquisition. Combing the waiver wire to pluck gems out of other GMs’ table scraps. Recognizing potential talent before it’s out of sight, out of mind or snatched up by another needy team. Occasionally working trades for not just players you covet, but ones that will actually make an impact on the current roster.
Of course, there’s a flip side to all of that. Knowing when to cut your losses and move on. Recognizing the decline or stagnation of older players. Properly discerning player value and not giving up the farm for the tractor, so to speak.
With 48 years worth of give and take in our rear view, I thought it would be interesting to look back on both the direct and indirect comings and goings of Saints’ players, in regards to their OTHER known address(es). What teams have the Saints reaped the most talent from over the years? Conversely, what teams have benefited most from the personnel decisions Saints’ GMs have made?
In order to tackle this project, I decided to use Football Reference’s approximate value (AV) statistic to gauge hindsight worth, as it pertains to the Saints franchise alone. This is far from a perfect method, especially since tenure automatically inflates this number, while rash decisions could see it skyrocket, albeit on (an)other roster(s).
One glaring example of the latter is Rob Ninkovich, who has blossomed into a exceptional DE/OLB during his six seasons with the Patriots. Having only played in three games for the Black & Gold, he holds a zero Saints AV and doesn’t even appear on this flow chart. Off the top of my head, Marc Bulger, Jake Delhomme, Cheap Ken Burrough Jersey, Shayne Graham and Rafael Septien are a few others that fit this description. Examples of coming aboard too late to help: Cheap Haywood Jeffires Jersey, Germane Crowell, Carl Lee, Cheap Allen Pinkett Jersey and Bryan Cox.
In short, if I was basing this presentation on overall AV, these players would all appear somewhere on this list. As is, it’s “as Saints” only and a cutoff point of 4+ AV, since that’s how far I had to descend the list, in order to gather at least one direct move to/from each of the other 31 NFL franchises. In case you’re curious, Troy Evans (from Texans to Saints) is the lowest rated Saints player involved in a direct shift, as featured on this list. The highest is, of course, Drew Brees (from Chargers to Saints).
For the sake of trying to look like I know what I’m talking about, I will offer commentary on each head-to-head match up, briefly analyzing the direct moves, first and foremost. I will also attempt to determine a “winner” in each; that being based entirely on my opinion. As far as the order listed, try not to read too much into that. As someone who has followed this team for decades, I have a pretty good feel of what was a good or bad move, even without the AVs. I mainly utilized it for the sake of relevance and list appeal, not a hard fast value tag, in terms of credits/debits.
Directly From: Jerry Fontenot, Dave Whitsell, Doug Atkins, Al Dodd, Andy Livingston, Brian Schweda, Alex Brown, John Gilliam, Jerry Moore, Brad Muster
Directly To: Jermon Bushrod, Emanuel Zanders, Sedrick Ellis, Brian De La Puente, Josh Bullocks, Tommy Barnhardt, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Steve Walsh, Terry Schmidt, Tyrone Hughes, Eddie Kennison, Jimmy Hester, Troy Wilson
Also From: Tommy Barnhardt, Bobby Douglass, Earl Leggett
Also To: Charles Grant, Doug Brien, Billy Newsome, Jeff Blake, John Gilliam, Danny Wuerffel
Fontenot was a solid center for several seasons and Whitsell was the first Pro Bowl player in Saints history, leading the team with 10 INTs in their inaugural season. He’d go on to pick off 9 more over the next two seasons before retiring. Doug Atkins is a HOFer that at least brought leadership and respectability to that same fledgling defensive unit, even if he happened to be running on empty (there’s your complimentary Jackson Browne concert, Dave). Al Dodd was one of Billy Kilmer’s favorite targets and was instrumental on the last minute drive that set up Tom Dempsey’s record breaking 63 yard field goal in 1970. John Gilliam provided a few cheap thrills as a returns specialist. His 94 yard return of the opening kickoff against the Rams will forever stand as the quickest scoring play of any team in NFL history. He’s also one of few Saints players with multiple tenures, briefly returning to the team ten years later, before hanging up his cleats. In the loss column, Jermon Bushrod and Sedrick Ellis both started on the 2009 Super Bowl champion squad, though neither was spectacular. Tyrone Hughes was one of the more dynamic returns specialists in team history, once taking two kickoffs back for TDs against the Rams. While a fan favorite, Ironhead did little to help his cause during the Mora regime and remains one of the more enigmatic players in franchise history. Steve Walsh was 10-9 as a Saints starter and helped lead the team to the playoffs in his first (and only) year under center. He also came at a steep price, but we’ll save that demerit for the Cowboys recap. This one’s close, but I have to give it to the Saints, as Chicago didn’t truly benefit from anyone we sent their way.