Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Saints Nation: Will Smith and Charles Grant's performance will play a big part in possible success of 2009

Lots of money has been invested in the bookend linemen Charles Grant and Will Smith. Their performance since the signing of their most recent contracts has been disappointing to say the least. Grant signed a 7 year $63 million deal in 2007, while Smith signed a 6 year $70 million deal in 2008. If you're good at math, you'll notice that means that between the two, they're looking at maxing out at over $130 million for the life of their deals.

Taking a look at what they've done since they've received their lottery tickets, Grant has recorded 5.5 sacks in 2 seasons (an average of 2.75 per season) compared to 36 in 5 seasons prior to his major deal (an average of 7.2 per season). Smith had just 3 sacks last season, his first season since signing his new contract. In the 4 years prior, he amassed 33.5 sacks (an average of 8.375 sacks per season). One could deduce from these numbers that both moves in hindsight were poor investments by the Saints, but the production of these players prior to their massive contracts is undeniable. Still when you're talking about 5 less sacks per season after signing their respective deals, that is staggering. While sacks do not paint the whole picture for how a defensive lineman is performing, it's hard to argue that both players have played at a much lower level post-contract than what we as fans had grown accustomed to seeing them play.

Looking ahead to the 2009 season, first and foremost Drew Brees needs to stay healthy. The Saints organization has been spoiled by his ability to stay out of the infirmary as he has started every single contest in 3 years with New Orleans, and hopefully the good fortune will continue. Second to that, the Saints desperately need for Grant and Smith to regain the form that has eluded them since they hit the jackpot. Even with an improved secondary in the offseason, the Saints cannot afford a complete lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

What still looms is a possible suspension for both players which would result in both players missing the first 4 games of the regular season. Smith and Grant, along with Deuce McAllister, who is no longer on the team, failed a drug test last year and their appeal is ongoing. This could mean that Paul Spicer and Bobby McCray would start the year at defensive end for the Saints. While we can hope for the best in the appeal efforts, it's realistic that this scenario will play out. Spicer and McCray are capable players that can hold down the fort, but it really doesn't leave much room for depth or error. The Saints cannot afford to lose a player at the position, or have their backups suffer in performance. Should Grant and Smith be banned until week 5, this will leave them only 12 games in a shortened season to prove they can still play at a high level. Both players are also coming off nagging injuries from a season ago, so health will be as much of a hurdle as their likely suspensions. How well these two players can rebound will ultimately dictate the Saints' success and separate them from being a competitive team versus a team that is capable of going very far. Based on the amount of money the Saints have invested in these two players, they are married to them for the near future: win, lose or draw. How these two can rebound from a disastrous 2008 will tell a large tale of 2009.