I know I said I would continue the offseason series this week, but I wanted to use the Super Bowl as an excuse to look at the Louisiana connections of both teams. (I probably should have done this last week to highlight both teams in case readers needed help deciding who to root for or otherwise finding a way to have a stake in the game.)
First, though, I wanted to make mention of a move that seemingly, though not definitely, brings a sad end to a player’s time in New Orleans, one who had seemingly found a home with the Saints. The team released Nick Fairley on Monday, two days before $5 million in guarantees would have kicked in for the 2018 season. Fairley signed a one-year contract in 2016 and proved to be one of a few mid-tier and bargain free agent chances the Saints have taken that worked out well, as he notched a career-best 6.5 sacks from the interior, providing the kind of disruption the Detroit Lions had hoped for when making him the #13 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Based on his play that season, the team signed Fairley, then 29, to a four-year, $28 million contract which included an $8 million signing bonus.
Unfortunately, follow-up testing after his physical revealed a chronic heart condition that was thought potentially career-ending. Doctors would not clear him to play and so Fairley spent the 2017 season on the Reserve / Non-Football Injury list. This move seems all the more likely that the Saints think he will never play again, or at least, that they can’t risk $5 million on it. Perhaps if he his cleared to play, he can rejoin the Saints, but this may just be an unfortunate bad break for both parties.
Now to our main topic. We’ll start with your world champion Philadelphia Eagles.
It all starts with the coach. As an NFL player, Doug Pederson was mostly known for being Brett Favre’s longtime backup, but he played college football at Northeastern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana-Monroe.) When he retired in 2004 and decided to get into coaching, his first job was as head coach of Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, then in their second year as a football program. After four successful years, he was hired by Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid as an offensive quality control coach, and rose in his time under Reid (including following him to Kansas City to be the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator) until he was hired by the Eagles as their head coach in 2016.
Unsurprisingly, the team has several players who previously played for the Saints. Starting safety Malcolm Jenkins, a two-time Pro Bowler since joining the Eagles, was a former Saints first-round draft pick, as was nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Eagles also still have Darren Sproles on the roster after the Saints traded him away in 2014, although he was injured three games into the season and spent the year on injured reserve.
Two Eagles played college football in Louisiana. Starting cornerback Jalen Mills went to LSU and was a seventh-round pick in 2016. Punter Donnie Jones, now 37, is another LSU alumnus, having been drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round in 2004. He’s been the Eagles’ punter since 2013. Jones is also the Eagles’ only player to have attended high school in Louisiana, as he punted for Baton Rouge Catholic before attending LSU.
The team does have one other high school connection to the Saints, though: Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who rose from backup to hero with a pair of incredible performances in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, attending Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, the same high school which produced another Super Bowl MVP, soon (he’s less than 1,500 yards away) to be the all-time leader in passing yardage, and the best quarterback in Saints history: I’m referring to Drew Brees, of course.
The runner-up New England Patriots have their own handful of Louisiana connections. Brandin Cooks, of course, was a Saint until he was traded (along with a fourth-round draft pick) for first- and third-round draft picks, selections the team used on Ryan Ramczyk and Trey Hendrickson.
Punter Ryan Allen was undrafted out of Louisiana Tech in 2013, but the Patriots signed him and he won the job in training camp, beating out veteran Zoltán Meskó. He’s held the job ever since, although unlike his counterpart for the Eagles, he wasn’t needed at all on Sunday. (Jones punted once.) Backup defensive tackle Ricky-Jean Francois was originally a seventh-round pick out of LSU by San Francisco in 2009. He bounced around the league after his rookie contract expired; indeed, he played six games for Green Bay earlier this year, being released, then re-signed, then released for a second time, before signing with the Patriots, who also released and then re-signed him.
Only one Patriots player attended high school in Louisiana: Brandon Bolden, who played at Scotlandville in Baton Rouge before attending college at Ole Miss.
One more note: I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another Saints-Patriots connection develop soon. The Saints’ interest in Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler was well-documented last year, although the two teams could not come to an agreement on a trade that included him. Butler infamously didn’t play a single snap in the Super Bowl for reasons that are still vague and unclear, and he’s a free agent this offseason; based on his comments after the game, his time in New England is almost certainly done. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints were the first team to call him; assuming they don’t have to break the bank, the addition of Butler would upgrade their secondary even further, and provide a potential lockdown trio if Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley continue to develop as expected.
Next time: We actually will look at what the team might do at wide receiver and tight end.