Top 10 Worst Free agents signed by the Saints
10. James “Tootie” Robbins
9. Grady Jackson
In 2000, under new General Manager Randy Mueller, new Head Coach Jim Haslett and new Defensive Coordinator Ron Zook, the Saints’ defense changed radically from a rag tag group to a formidable force that set a team record with 66 sacks.
Leading the charge were the front four: Joe Johnson, 2nd round pick of the 2000 draft Darren Howard, the Big Wiggle, Norman Hand, a FA pick up from the Chargers, and Le’Roi Glover –who tied a team record with 17 sacks, but from the defensive tackle position.
That 2000 team went 10-6, and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs.
But in 2001, the defense struggled to match the previous year’s performances. Inconsistencies in stopping the run, injuries -particularly on offense to Willie Roaf- and a fractured locker room lead to a 7-9 season.
What’s worse, the Saints were 7-5 heading into the last four games of the season, and the playoffs were still in reach. Three of those games were at home. However, the Saints collapsed losing all four games by a combined score of 160-52.
Zook left to become head coach at the University of Florida; Johnson and Glover left in free agency; Ricky Williams and Roaf were traded away and GM Randy Mueller was fired.
Haslett, and new defensive coordinator Rick Venturi decided to improve the middle of the defense by getting stout run defenders in the middle, protecting the linebackers by tying up the center and guards, and allowing their blitzes to create pressure. The idea was to pattern their defense after the Baltimore Ravens –who were one of the most dominant defenses in the league with Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa controlling the middle and keeping blockers off of Ray Lewis.
One of the team’s free agent targets was Grady Jackson of the Oakland Raiders. At 6’2”, 325 lbs., Haslett stated that Jackson was “unblockable” but added a dangerous caveat: “when he wants to be”. The Saints signed Jackson to rotate with Hand and reserve DT Martin Chase –both of whom tilted the scales at 315. Together, the threesome were dubbed “The Heavy Lunch Bunch”.
Jackson signed a 2 year, $3.275 million contract with a $750K signing bonus.
That nickname became a prophetic label, as Jackson ballooned up to anywhere from 345-370 lbs. as the season wore on. Hand and Chase also put on the pounds, tipping the scales around 325-350 –and the added weight showed in their play.
In football, the old saying for offensive and defensive linemen is “low man wins” –meaning, if you can get underneath your opponent, you win the battle of leverage and you can push your man back. As the Heavy Lunch Bunch’s girth expanded, their ability to bend lower contracted.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the third to last game of the season, on the final play against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings decided to go for it on fourth and goal on the Saints one. The Vikings season was over, and were playing for nothing more than pride. Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper took the snap, dropped it, scooped it up and ran through an enormous hole between the center and the guard for the game winning TD. The Heavy Lunch Bunch were Weeble Woobles who fell down before the Vikings offensive line.
The Saints were 9-4, and needed only one win over the last three games to get back in the playoffs. Instead, the Vikings games began a chain of three straight defeats –all to losing teams- to end their chances of returning to the playoffs.
Hand and Chase were gone by the end of the 2002 season, and the Saints traded both their #1 picks to Arizona swapping their 17 & 18 picks for the 6th pick and grabbed another “big guy” in DT Jonathon Sullivan.
Jackson lasted 7 games into the 2003 season. After being fined every week for not making weight, Jackson failed to report to the team hotel for the game against the Carolina Panthers, then suspended the following week against the Bucs. Jackson’s laziness and milking injuries became such a problem, he was waived, but the Saints paid the rest of his salary for the ’03 season.
One of the concerns was that Jackson was becoming a bad influence on young Sullivan -apparently, that concern was justified because Sullivan’s weight shot up from 313 to 350 in his second season, was once found in the press box eating the media’s food in a game he was inactive for, and spent the last 8 games of that season on that inactive list because of poor play, a bad attitude and a lack of a work ethic.
And what of Glover? He signed with the Dallas Cowboys, finishing his career with the Rams -and went to six straight pro bowl seasons (2000-05) as an effective pass rusher.
Glover was named to the Saints Hall of Fame in 2013.