HUGE: Benson, NFL enter into agreement to return Saints to La. in '06; Benson has little legal ground to oppose; More links
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Saints owner Tom Benson have entered into an agreement for the Saints' return to Louisiana for the 2006 season.
Tagliabue has long been in the corner of Louisiana and New Orleans, which has been proven in large part today.
The agreement likely ends the potential for Saints games in San Antonio for the foreseeable future. The team will practice at its Metairie facility and play in Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium and the Superdome in New Orleans.
It also ends the likelihood of a law suit by Benson against the NFL in coming months. (See below for more.)
A short news conference in New Orleans took place today at 2:15 p.m. with only Benson making remarks and taking no questions.
Among Benson's comments, he said that FEMA kept the Saints away from their Metairie practice facility at gunpoint, that he wants to be an integral part of the rebuilding of New Orleans, and that the Saints have a big economic impact on Louisiana. He also said that his staff gave him a plaque that says, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
(No word on whether the plaque actually said, "When the going gets tough in New Orleans, the tough get going to San Antonio.")
Earlier today, a memo from Benson to team members was circulated, reading as follows: "Today we are very pleased to advise our entire organization -- coaches, players and staff -- that we will be returning to Metairie in January. We are working in Louisiana to play as many games as possible in the Superdome, which may be ready in September."
Of course, Benson lied in the memo as well: "Recently I met with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and told him that I wanted the Saints to resume operations in our training and practice facility in Metairie."
Benson does not want that to happen. Based on his actions for the past four months, he wants the team to be in San Antonio.
But I digress...
Players and staff were told of the news by Tagliabue himself, who visited with them in San Antonio today.
Tagliabue informed the team that the Superdome should be football-ready by mid-September, according to this article in the Times-Picayune by Brian Allee-Walsh.
Doug Thornton, the regional vice president for SMG, the organization that runs the Superdome, indicated to Allee-Walsh that if the facility is ready by mid-September, it won't be finalized and there will still be some ongoing construction.
San Antonio mayor Phil Hardburglar told WOAI in response to today's news, "The enthusiasm and support displayed by the individual fans and our local corporate citizens over this season will pay dividends for our city for years to come. Whether it's professional baseball or the NFL, owners around the country are turning their attention to San Antonio. There is no longer any doubt that San Antonio is a city on the move."
Like Benson, Hardburglar also lied in his statement: "Our only goal was to prove to the NFL that San Antonio is a city that is ready for a team, and we have done that."
No, the intention stated several times - including as recently as Wednesday's comments on encouraging Benson to sue the NFL to get the Saints to San Antonio - was to get the Saints permanently from New Orleans.
Again, I digress...
(No word on whether Benson and Hardburglar will still be negotiating after this season. Okay, enough on that...)
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is quoted in this Boston Herald article to say, "After 30-plus years of supporting the Saints, it is somewhat encouraging that the Saints will play the next season in our city and state. We are happy that New Orleanians who have lost so much will have an NFL team next season to call their own. We look forward to the day when the Saints organization will fully commit to this community and be a vital part of our recovery for many years to come."
To allay Benson's financial concerns for returning to New Orleans, the NFL may help the team through subsidies generated by revenue from visiting teams' shares of gate receipts. Assistance also may be provided for attracting free agents.
However, it is crucial to note that the agreement only runs through the 2006 season, after which it is entirely conceivable that Benson will attempt to relocate the Saints permanently to San Antonio.
Here are links to a few stories on this huge bit of news:
ABC News/ESPN: Saints, NFL have deal to return to Louisiana in '06
San Antonio Express-News: Saints will leave San Antonio
KSAT: Saints to march back into New Orleans
And, for a laugher, be sure to read how the Saints' official web site spins today's news in a light heavily favorable to Benson.
BENSON HAS LITTLE LEGAL GROUND TO OPPOSE
A great piece by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out that Tom Benson would have little chance of winning a case against the NFL to keep the Saints in San Antonio permanently.
Quoted in the article is Gary Roberts, deputy dean of Tulane's law school and sports law expert, who said: "I don't think Tom Benson has a snowball's chance in hell of winning an antitrust suit against the NFL."
Roberts also notes that Tagliabue has situated things in his own favor, which is to keep the team in New Orleans.
And, Roberts says, Benson is not the most cunning of foes. Raiders owner Al Davis succeeded in suing the NFL in the 1980s to move from Oakland to Los Angeles. But, said Roberts, "If it gets to court, the league will win that standoff. Tom Benson is not gong to outmaneuver Paul Tagliabue. Al Davis 25 years ago is one thing. But Tom Benson is another."
Maybe that's why today's news is about the agreement between Tags and Tommy Boy.
An article by Mike Triplett in today's Times-Picayune points out that Saints players are looking for stability more than anything.
However, some also have expressed concerns that the only good thing about returning to New Orleans is the Metairie training facility - something they did not have access to in San Antonio.
Offensive lineman Kendyl Jacox said, "You're asking us to take our families back to a place that you don't even know if it's clean or not. I'm just not willing to do that. I mean, I don't want to leave New Orleans like this. But it's a difficult situation."
Other players apparently have sold their homes in New Orleans, and would have to find new living arrangements.
Another offensive lineman, Jamar Nesbit, said he has not sold his home on the North Shore, and that he is looking forward to returning.
And others seemed that they would just be happy to get clarification of the 2006 situation, one way or the other.
WHAT ABOUT THE DRAFT?
Two of the more concerned minds on the Saints' 2006 location are USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
The Trojan superstars are likely to be the top two picks in the 2006 NFL draft, and if the Saints lose Sunday at Tampa Bay, it's highly likely they will have one of the top two picks.
This interesting piece, by Billy Witz of the Los Angeles Daily News, looks at the perspectives of both players, the sponsorship impact of being picked by the Saints, and the view of a potential agent for both, Leigh Steinberg.
Steinberg is of the belief that if the Saints pick either player, it could be great since the Saints might still end up in Los Angeles.
Said Steinberg, "I believe Los Angeles is definitely in line to get a franchise and the Saints are as likely a possibility as any. Again, not to be presumptuous, but the first pick of a Los Angeles franchise will feel like they died and went to heaven. For Matt or Reggie, it would be an absolutely spectacular opportunity, a marriage made in heaven."
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