“Sometimes the best deals are the one you don’t make.”
So said former Saints general manager Jim Finks on many occasions.
On one of those occasions where Finks lost sight of that axiom, his forgetfulness was expensive. The Saints traded first-, second- and third-round picks to Dallas for Cowboys backup quarterback Steve Walsh. Walsh, who played for the Saints from 1990 to 1993, did little here.
With those picks acquired from the Saints, Dallas turned them into defensive tackle Russell Maryland and offensive tackle Eric Williams.
As the draft approached and the Saints were in trade talks with New England for Malcolm Butler, this should be their strategy: Just draft.
With five picks in the first 103 selections, an outstanding draft is possible. Throughout the 50-plus years of the franchise, those drafts have set the table for the Saints’ best seasons.
In 1986, the Saints’ first five picks were offensive tackle Jim Dombrowski (137 starts in 11 seasons), running back Dalton Hilliard (13 rushing TDs in 1989), running back Reuben Mayes (1,353 yards, eight TDs as a rookie), pass rusher Pat Swilling (17 sacks in 1991) and running back Barry Word (future 1,000-yard rusher in Kansas City).
One year after that draft, the Saints made the playoffs for the first time. The Saints would make the postseason four times in six years.
The 1987 playoff team also was anchored by a superb 1981 draft class that included running back George Rogers (1,674 rush yards and 13 TDs as a rookie), linebacker Rickey Jackson (future Pro Football Hall of Famer) and solid veteran mainstays such as defensive tackle Frank Warren, tight end Hoby Brenner, running back Hokie Gajan and defensive tackle Jim Wilks.
In 2006, the Saints signed free-agent quarterback Drew Brees. But Sean Payton’s first draft included running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper (108 starts as a Saint), guard Jahri Evans (169 starts), and two seventh-round picks. Twelve seasons later, Zach Strief is still penciled in as the Saints’ right tackle. Wide receiver Marques Colston retired as the Saints’ all-time leading receiver.
Stay patient and just draft. It isn’t a sexy philosophy, but it is one used by two solid organizations, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, as the Saints head to April, they should disdain the quick fix. Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis should heed the words of the coach who won more NCAA men’s hoops titles (10) than any other. It was one of the best quotes ever from former UCLA coach John Wooden: “Never confuse activity for achievement.”
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.