Top 10 worst free agent signings by the Saints:
10. James “Tootie” Robbins
9. Grady Jackson
8. Eric Allen
When Free Agency started, I used to joke that for the Saints chose their free agents based on who kicked their ass in a playoff game –Wade Wilson, Brad Muster, Michael Haynes are all examples, so naturally, it was Eric Allen’s turn.
Back in the Wild Card playoff game for the 1992 season, Allen effectively ended the game with a pick 6 of Bobby Hebert to complete the Eagles 26 point comeback in the fourth quarter.
In 1994, Eric Allen had a 94 yard interception of Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason that NFL Films President Steve Sabol called the greatest interception in NFL history.
That reputation was enough for the Saints to make Allen the highest paid cornerback in the NFL in 1995. In 1994, the Saints leaky pass defense allowed more than 4,000 yards passing and 28 TDs. Opposing quarterbacks were completing over 63% of their passes, at over 7 yards a pass attempt. Allen was the first step to a complete overhaul of the secondary.
Allen would be named to the pro bowl in 1995, despite having a very mediocre season with the Saints –only getting 2 interceptions. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin left to join Tony Dungy in Tampa after the ’95 season ended, so former linebackers coach Jim Haslett took over as DC and the Saints brought over two of Allen’s former teammates, safety Greg Jackson and the 5’ 7” cornerback Mark McMillian.
Then came the most controversial draft decision in recent Saints history: running back Mario Bates was the full time starter in 1995, but wasn’t a physical runner. He was very fast and smooth, but seemed to shy away from contact, and run out of bounds as opposed to turning up field and fighting for more yardage.
It was rumored that the Saints were interested in Michigan’s Tim Biakabutuka, but the Carolina Panthers took him in the top half of the draft. Heisman winner Eddie George of Ohio State was beginning his draft day slide, and was available when the Saints went on the clock.
Instead, the Saints took Oregon’s Alex Molden, adding another cornerback to the expensive secondary consisting of Allen and McMillian.
Fans were outraged, and blamed Jim Mora’s son, who was secondary coach, for getting the player he wanted over the player the Saints really needed.
George went to the Tennessee Oilers/Titans, where he would enjoy a fantastic career.
Meanwhile, the 1996 Saints were a train wreck. After Mora’s “diddly poo” tirade following a loss to Carolina, he resigned that Monday morning. Molden held out, got hurt, and was basically an non-factor his rookie season, and the Saints/Eagles secondary combined to only pick off five passes all season, as they were just as porous as they were the year before.
Allen looked like a very old and slow corner as well. After picking off two passes in 1995, he only picked off one in 96. Teams took advantage of the mismatch they had with McMillian, and he was cut the following offseason.
And then the Saints hired Mike Ditka.
It took starting quarterback Jim Everett about three practices into minicamp before he could see what a disaster Ditka and offensive coordinator Danny Abramowicz were going to be, Abramowicz had only coached special teams in the NFL, and had been a New Orleans Catholic High School head coach, so he was clearly over his head trying to run a hybrid scheme of the Bears offense of the 1980s and the Cowboys offense of the early 1970s.
So Everett demanded to be released or traded, and he was.
With Allen it took a little longer. Allen struggled with the 1997 Saints and all of the chaos that came with having Ditka has a head coach, and threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded to one of the teams he listed.
In March of 1998, Allen was traded to the Raiders –and there he had a revitalized career, gathering 5 interceptions in only 10 games (he missed 6 due to injury), then got 6 in 2000 as he once again looked like a shutdown corner that the Saints thought they were getting in 1995.
So why is Eric Allen on this list? Because the Saints shopped for a big name to create a splash in free agency, and took a corner without really putting a great front 7 in front of him. While Wayne Martin and Joe Johnson certainly were good/great players, the change in scheme from the 34 the Saints had been running since 1981, to a 43 for the 1995 season was a struggle in transition as they tried to get more players to run that scheme. Changing DC’s all three seasons Allen was here didn’t help much either.
But the biggest reason was that just wasn’t a good fit here. Both the Eagles and the Raiders took advantage of Allen’s aggressiveness, whereas the Saints played a more cautious defense that tried to take away the big play, but allowed a lot of little ones.