New Orleans Saints: Biggest Draft Day Regret In Franchise History
The New Orleans Saints have not always been a winning franchise. The team was founded by John W. Mecom, Jr. and David Dixon and the city of New Orleans. The Saints began play at Tulane Stadium in 1967.The name 'Saints' is an allusion to November 1 being All Saints Day in the Catholic faith, New Orleans' large Catholic population, and the spiritual "When the Saints Go Marching In", which is strongly associated with New Orleans and often sung by fans at games.
The team's primary colors are old gold and black; their logo is a simplified fleur-de-lis. They played their home games in Tulane Stadium through the 1974 NFL season.
The following year, they moved to the new Louisiana Superdome (now the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, since Mercedes-Benz has purchased the stadium's naming rights).
For most of their first 20 years, the Saints were barely competitive, only getting to .500 twice. In 1987, they finished 12–3 (their first-ever winning season) and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, but lost to the Minnesota Vikings 44–10. The next season of 1988 would end with a 10–6 record, proving that the Saints were a competitive team, and that 1987 was not a fluke. The Saints defeated the St. Louis Rams 31–28 in 2000 to notch their first-ever playoff win.
Just like the team that did not know how to win, the Saints at times did not have a clue how to draft players. Taking Russell Erxleben in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft is proof positive of a negative situation. But that pick isn’t as poor as the one made by Mike Ditka in selecting Ricky Williams.
Ditka, who had two great running backs in Walter Payton and Neal Anderson from his days with the Chicago Bears, had this great idea that if he traded up to select Ricky Williams and in doing so, trade away his entire draft class to do so, the Saints would be much better off and instant playoff contenders.
As Al Burke wrote last year on Football Nation, “Unlike most of the other draft choices in the FN "Biggest Regret" series, Williams was actually and outstanding player and was relatively successful on a bad Saints team (they went 3-13 the following season), but didn't really show his value until he was traded to the Dolphins in 2002.
“The regret isn't signing Williams, who was unlikely to fall to them at number 12, but they could have picked up some good talent even if they'd stayed at their original pick. In the first round, they could have had Jevon Kearse or Antoine Winfield; Dre' Bly in the second; Joey Porter or Dat Nguyen in the third, and so on.”
The move proved to be futile as it may have cost Ditka his job. He was fired at the end of the season.
If you want to talk about other NFL Draft failures for the Saints, look no further than Shawn Knight.
As Burke reminds us, in 1987, the Saints wanted Rod Woodson. I mean, really, really wanted him, but they didn't expect him to be on the board at 11. Then, bizarrely, Woodson was passed by again and again until the Steelers picked him at number...10! This left the Saints in something of a bind, and they looked at their other choices - Haywood Jeffires, Harris Barton and Knight. For some reason, despite having an excellent line, they picked Knight, who ended up playing with three different teams in three seasons, then ended up in the World League. Barton and Jeffires combined for three Pro Bowls, and were considered among the best at their respective positions.
It’s a good thing picks like Nick Toon, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills have all been late round finds who are key parts of the team’s passing attack.