1. With former commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruling that the Bountygate suspensions should be vacated and placing the blame for the scandal squarely at the feet of the New Orleans Saints management and coaching staff, we can safely now conclude on who the real losers were in relation to this whole fiasco. First off, the Saints organization and their fans come out as losers as they watched their team struggle out of the gate to an 0-4 start on their way to their current 5-8 record. A team just two years removed from a Super Bowl victory and with a talented roster was not able to overcome the adversity that Bountygate brought to the organization and head coach Sean Payton shares plenty of blame in this regard. Not only did Bountygate happen on his watch but Payton refused to hand over the reigns of the coaching staff to an experienced hand such as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo, instead relying on inexperienced offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who in fact held that title in name only prior to this season. General manager Mickey Loomis presumably also had a hand in that regrettable decision. Secondly, Roger Goodell has clearly been exposed as a commissioner more interested in laying down his version of the NFL’s law and playing the league’s top sheriff as opposed to being a calm voice of reason, capable of balancing the facts of a case, arriving at a fair conclusion and dishing out punishment that is warranted without being heavy-handed. One can only guess as to Goodell’s true personality but it’s not hard to imagine him being the smartest person in all the rooms he walks into. He clearly wants his legacy to be that of the law and order commissioner who stood up for player safety but his desire to fulfill that legacy clearly clouded his judgment in this case. And having scuttled the Saints season because he was unable to view the facts in the proper light should net Goodell some sanctions of his own, perhaps even his job. However, given the solid state of the league’s overall affairs, and especially their sound financial footing despite the state of the American economy over the last several years, that is a remote possibility at best.
2. Sticking with the Saints, their prospects for 2013 aren’t great given the uncertainty surrounding the team’s coaching staff as well as the team’s current salary cap situation and a defense loaded with aging veterans. Payton will be a free agent once he is reinstated by Goodell, leaving him free to negotiate with any team. Saints owner Tom Benson isn’t exactly known for tossing money around like a drunken sailor so there are no guarantees Payton will return, particularly given the uncertain future of Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. On defense, the Saints have struggled in 2012, relying on veteran mainstays such Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper. While all of those veterans remain useful players, collectively the Saints defense lacks the speed necessary to defend against the league’s faster skill position players. In addition, the lack of a pass rush hurt the team this season although 2011 first-round pick Cameron Jordan appears on the verge of being a Pro Bowl quality player. With the Saints well over next year’s expected salary cap, New Orleans will be forced to purge a number of veterans from the roster and the defensive shortcomings this season dictate that the purge will focus on that side of the ball, particularly if Payton, an offensive minded coach, returns in 2013.
3. Entering a contract year and having suffered an abdominal tear in Week 1 that caused him to miss eight games while watching 2011 2nd round pick Randall Cobb emerge as a potential leading wide receiver in the Packers offense, veteran Greg Jennings has plenty of reasons to be motivated over the final three games of the season. Jennings has clearly not been his normal self over the past two weeks, hauling in just five receptions for 73 yards. Clearly the Packers leading wide receiver entering the season, there are now serious doubts as to whether he will remain in Green Bay following 2012. With Cobb emerging as a solid threat, Jordy Nelson coming off a career year in 2011 and James Jones having a career year this season and signed to a modest contract in 2013, it won’t qualify as a surprise if Jennings is in a new uniform in 2013. Not helping matters is the team’s desire to sign certain veterans to contract extensions before their current deals are up.
4. The Steelers offensive line struggled to stay healthy in 2011 and that remains the case this season with only left tackle Max Starks, signed to shore up in the line during the preseason, remaining healthy for the entire season. At this point, veteran guard Ramon Foster will line up on the left side for the injured Willie Colon while rookie 1st round pick David Decastro is expected to see his first action of the season as right guard playing alongside fellow rookie Kelvin Beachum, a 7th round pick. Center Maurkice Pouncey has missed time for the second consecutive season while rookie 2nd round pick Mike Adams has struggled when in the line-up at right tackle for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Add it all up and it appears that the Steelers are likely to address the offensive line once again in the 2013 draft.
5. Despite the readily apparent lack of playmakers on the Dolphins offense, there are no assurances that veteran running back Reggie Bush will return to the team for the 2013 season. A free agent at season’s end, Bush entered 2012 coming off a contract year but he has not lived up to the team’s expectations, even being benched at one point this season. With 2011 3rd round pick Daniel Thomas and rookie 4th round pick Lamar Miller waiting in the wings, the Dolphins could very well decide that it is time for a changing of the guard at running back with the salary cap space that re-signing Bush would require being allocated to the wide receiver position, where the Dolphins have what is arguably the least talented depth chart in the league. With Miami having made little to no effort to re-sign Bush, the odds are looking good that he will be elsewhere in 2013.