It’s time to lower your expectations for the Saints

Welp.  That didn’t take long. 

Less than a week before the Saints began training camp 2021, news broke that star receiver Michael Thomas would miss significant time because of surgery to repair the ankle he injured in week one of the 2020 season.

The day before training camp opened, head coach Sean Payton was unusually forthcoming in his assessment of the situation.

“The surgery took place, obviously, we would have liked that to happen earlier than later and quite honestly, it should have,” Payton said during his pre-camp video conference.  ESPN’s Mike Triplett then asked, “Was there a lack of communication in between?”

“No. I’m going to leave it at that,” Payton responded before briefly directing his icy glare straight into his computer’s camera.

I’m not going to get too deep into the weeds speculating why Thomas waited until June to have the surgery, but it sucks.  There’s no denying the last year has been full of Michael Thomas-related frustration.  Punching safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the ankle injury itself, trying to play through it, the weird social media posts about Russell Wilson and now the botched rehab – none of it is good.

Payton’s response that there were no communication issues really only leaves two possibilities.  The first is that the doctors got it wrong.  It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened – just ask Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux.  The second possibility is that Thomas didn’t do what he was told.

Neither scenario offers any comfort.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nick Underhill reported on Thursday that All-Pro returner Deonte Harris was arrested on July 16 for a DUI, an offense that typically comes with a two-game suspension.  Ostensibly, one of the players the team will lean on to replace Thomas could also be off the board to start the season.

What else could go wrong?  Will the team bring back WR Tommylee Lewis, the harbinger of Saints-related doom and destruction?

Well, shit.

The problems at receiver, combined with the suspension of DT David Onyemata and the potential suspension of cornerback Marshon Lattimore for his arrest, could leave the Saints without three of their best players for most of the first half of the season.

What was excitement for the beginning of training camp has curdled into frustration.  All of these bad things happening at once are likely just happenstance, but it’s hard to stomach considering all of the depth pieces that had to be cut in the Great Cap Squeeze of 2021.  Things could’ve been okay if the team’s best receiver, cornerback, defensive tackle and kick returner were all available to start the season.  Now, it looks like that won’t be the case.

Making the playoffs is certainly still on the table, but at this point, it would be unrealistic for this team to rip off a winning streak of eight games or more and/or get a bye, or any high playoff seed.  The time has come to lower your expectations for the 2021 Saints.  Too much has gone wrong already.

That’s not as bad as it sounds.  With that mindset, the good times will mean more. And there will be some exciting moments.  They’ll definitely be extra special if the Saints get to play in front of a full crowd (get your shots!). 

There’s another potential story line that could emerge if the Saints survive the various garbage fires igniting on their roster, and that is the legacy of Sean Payton.  He will cement his place among the all-time great NFL head coaches (Saints fans already know this, but I mean nationwide) if he schemes his way to a playoff season without an already thin roster’s best players. 

He’s won without Drew Brees in 2019 and 2020.  Who’s to say it can’t happen again in 2021, without some key players that are not quite as important as the starting quarterback? 

Just, uh, don’t bet your life savings on it.

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