saints (n.) - NFL franchise presently based in New Orleans; boondoggle (n.) - an unnecessary or wasteful project or activity; saintsdoggle (n.) - the Saints' potential relocation situation in New Orleans, and the resulting boondoggle by Louisiana to keep the team from leaving

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Benson makes speech at NFL meeting; NFL comments not encouraging; Possible lockout could impact situation

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Tom Benson made a 35-minute speech Wednesday to NFL owners at their meeting in Kansas City.

The speech included Benson's comments about his team's situation, and also an expression of concerns about New Orleans' future viability. Interestingly, Benson also asked the owners to, according to the article, 'decide on the team's 2006 location as quickly as possible to ease the uncertainty for staff members.'

If it's up to the remaining owners on what is to be done with the Saints, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney's comments are indicative of other beliefs, then the outlook for keeping the team in Louisiana long-term can't be too promising.

Rooney, who was quoted yesterday as praising Benson, told the Times-Picayune, "It's a very difficult situation, and it's going to take a lot of money. There is insurance money involved, but that's not going to take care of everything. I just don't know what we can do...I would want it to be something that's worthwhile, not just a show."

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue also informed the league's owners that New Orleans is like "a war zone after a war."

Additionally, the article states that Tagliabue intends on making a trip to New Orleans in two to three weeks to check on how the city is progressing in its recovery efforts, and that some league owners may join him.

I'm not so sure such a check, just over three months after Katrina, will be an accurate depiction of the recovery's long-term progression. I'd contend that such a recovery is akin to a snowball gaining in size going down a hill - the further along things go, the faster the rest takes place. Hopefully, they will see satisfactory steps in the right direction.

But while many of the other comments expressed by the league have been encouraging, the ones pointed out above are not.

John DeShazier of the Times-Picayune also penned a column entitled, "Benson about-face a promising start." In it, DeShazier acknowledges that while Benson's comments and attitude in the last couple of days have been reassuring, it "doesn't mean he actually is working toward that end."

DeShazier also notes that "[n]o one expects him to go bankrupt attempting to keep the Saints in New Orleans. He's a businessman, first and foremost. It's idiotic to hope he will be blind to New Orleans' problems..."

In other words, DeShazier understands that Benson's recent statements are, at a minimum, an improvement in public relations, though the team's New Orleans situation is dire.

At least Tommy Boy is coming across better. A smile at a television camera usually is preferable to a swipe.

That goes along with the league's acknowledgement that players will need additional inducements to come and play for the Saints as free agents.

Couple that with some comments cited in the San Antonio Express-News about Saints players being "critical of the turf at Tiger Stadium and skeptical about New Orleans' ability to refurbish the Superdome," and you've got a real problem.

Which is why the league is trying to get the Saints' 2006 schedule finalized in January, two months before the rest of the league. It's to at least show stability to potential free agents, either those looking at playing for the Saints or those who presently do play for them that may be looking elsewhere.

All in all, the NFL commitment to Los Angeles may be more likely to come to fruition that for New Orleans. The circumstances may dictate that more than anything.

Put it this way - if you were a free agent looking at signing with a team in a rebuilding New Orleans or a team in an established L.A., where would you sign?

I'd like to think that the NFL would take a lead role in the rebuilding of the city, providing a new stadium and helping to develop other newly constructed areas including stores and restaurants that could not just be used for tailgating, but for year-round events. Call it something like Saints City, and you've got yourself an attraction befitting of multiple Super Bowls.

I'd like to think that the NFL could flex its multi-billion dollar muscles, proudly lead the way, and bravely show other businesses that New Orleans will be back stronger than ever.

I'd like to think that such steps would ensure a bright future on the league and civic fronts, encouraging free agents to sign there.

I'd like to think that such gracious steps also would encourage those who left New Orleans to return home.

I'd like to think that.

But I'm not overly optimistic.

Especially when owners like Dan Rooney state that they "just don't know what we can do."

One very important development in all of this, however, is the distinct possibility of a lockout for the 2008 season.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that NFL owners have started to consider a lockout that season because the collective bargaining agreement is approaching expiration.

As the article notes, this major hurdle clearly would be at the front of the line for the league to leap past before making a final decision on lease agreements with the Los Angeles Coliseum and a proposed stadium in Anaheim.

Because there's not much point in determining a team should move to L.A. if there's not going to be any games played in '08.

All things considered, this is a crucial situation for the NFL to resolve, and could mark a crossroads for the league. It has long been viewed as the preeminent professional sports league in America, and gambling its public relations goodwill by moving a franchise away from a city devastated by a natural disaster, along with engaging in a lockout, would be akin to rolling snake eyes.

As always, we shall see what the future holds...


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