Top 10 Worst free agents signed by the Saints
10. James “Tootie” Robbins
9. Grady Jackson
8. Eric Allen
7. Wally Williams
6. Dale Carter
5. Jason David
And now, the #4 Worst Free Agent Signed by the New Orleans Saints — Linebacker Andre Royal.
If I told you the Saints could sign an all pro linebacker who amassed 60 tackles and 5 sacks as a strong side linebacker for $4.05 million, you’d jump all over that, right? Add the fact he came from a division rival, and that makes it even more appealing, correct?
That’s exactly what the Saints did in 1998, when they signed Andre Royal from the Carolina Panthers. At 6’2”, 220 lbs, Royal was a fierce hitter and could run like a deer –but he never played a down for the Saints.
When the Saints reported to training camp in LaCrosse, WI, Head Coach Mike Ditka accused Royal of faking a head injury to skip a team drill, and it led to a televised shouting match between Ditka and Royal. Royal was fined $50K, but it was appealed, while Ditka was also fined for “baiting a player”.
Then came the infamous hazing incident.
Although it was described as a “long standing Saints rookie tradition”, this sounded more like a Hollywood inspired nightmare. Rookies were to have pillow cases put over their heads then, run down a long, narrow hallway through a gauntlet of veteran players. The veterans, in turn, would take free shots at the players as they tried to run down the hallway.
Earlier that day, Royal had gone to his teammates gathering loose change, and filled a sock with a bag full of coins and was now lying in wait.
Cam Cleeland was the Saints’ 2nd round pick. The 6’5” 270 lb. tight end had soft hands and could run –he was an ideal weapon for the Saints offense. Cleeland stated it was like a mad house with screaming as the veterans were worked up just punching guys in the body and the face. Cleeland had injured his ankle earlier that week, so even as the players were screaming “He’s got a bum ankle!” they still took their shots. Cleeland stated he had been punched in the face, kicked in the leg, then hit in the nose. When Cleeland lifted his head, Royal struck him in the face with his bag of coins.
And Cleeland’s life would never be the same.
The hit shattered Cleeland’s eye socket, and nearly cost him his eye. Cleeland would have damaged vision for the rest of his life. It also broke his nose.
Another rookie, defensive lineman Jeff Danish ran full speed through the gauntlet, but because of the pillowcase, lost his bearings, went through a plate glass window and only a railing kept him from falling three stories. As it was, he suffered 13 stitches on his left arm, and he later sued the Saints.
While the hazing exposed the chaos that was the Saints under Ditka, it was Royal and his sock full of coins that really brought the hammer down on Royal’s time with the Saints.
The Saints traded Royal to the Colts for back-up tight end Scott Slutzker. Royal would play for two more seasons but was forced to retire because of head injuries.
Cleeland named six Saints in a lawsuit, as well as defensive line coach Walt Corey. Royal denied hitting Cleeland in the face with a sock full of coins, but he did collect he coins –witnesses confirmed that. The Saints and players settled, but Royal did not. Cleeland’s suit against him was dismissed.