Loss of quality players hampers Saints’ best roster

For those with football fever, your wait is just about over. 

At the end of next week, your New Orleans Saints will open camp in Metairie for the first time since 2013.

On occasion, fans will ask about what it was like at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

My answer is nice … cool … and a long way from home. It isn’t the end of the earth, but you can see it from there.

And, for the record, training at the Greenbrier and sleeping in a posh resort didn’t make the Saints a 7-9 team for three consecutive seasons. It wasn’t the quality of the beds but the quality of the players sleeping in them.

For the first time since 2013, the Saints appeared a few weeks ago to have their best roster heading into camp. But then, hard luck struck again. Left tackle Terron Armstead, the Saints’ best offensive lineman, was lost for four to six months with a torn labrum. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who posted career highs in sacks and combined tackles in 2016, was lost for the season, and his career is possibly over due to a serious heart condition.

The losses of Fairley for good and Armstead for much of the season will be difficult to overcome. The loss of two key players only underscores the ability to accumulate depth, especially through the draft.

When the Saints drafted Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the last pick in the first round, some eyebrows were raised. After all, this was the selection acquired from the Patriots in the trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Now Ramczyk could possibly be your starter at left tackle to begin the 2017 season.

Inside the facility at 5800 Airline Drive, there is belief that the club has survived its pigskin storm. The Saints lost two second-round picks in the bounty penalties and made two very big mistakes in free agency, signing Jairus Byrd and C.J. Spiller to big free-agent deals.

The 2014 draft was a disaster. No pick from that year’s class is still on the roster. But over the last three springs, the Saints have added five first-round selections to the roster.

The rebuild has been painstaking. Will it pay off? Well, we will find out on the night of Monday, Sept. 11, when the Saints play the Vikings in Minnesota. It is one of the most important openers in franchise history.

Think that is an exaggeration? The three games that follow are the Super Bowl champion Patriots at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, then at Carolina and in London against the Dolphins.

If you think it is silly to place such emphasis on one game, I understand. But if the Saints are the team they think they can be this season, then winning on a Monday night at Minnesota is beyond critical.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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