Brees told The MMQB’s Greg Bedard that his 14th NFL season was “my most frustrating” after the Saints’ high expectations resulted in a 7-9 dud. Once again, Brees hinted at the intangibles that sunk the Saints – like when he has talked previously about a lack of maturity and a need to get back to some of the things the Saints built their program on.
“I hate the word ‘talent.’ I hate it,” Brees said, according to Bedard, who had suggested the Saints were one of the most talented teams he saw in training camp. “Some of the best players I ever played with, or best teammates I ever played with, that wasn’t their best quality. Everybody’s talented. Their best quality was their work ethic, their leadership ability, their ability to fight through adversity, toughness, reliability. Those are the things I most value.”
The good news, according to the always-optimistic Brees, is, “I think we’ve identified the problems or the things that got us beat or the things that didn’t allow us to be as good as we know we can be, and we have the solution to fix it. ... It’s going to take a lot of work, but I know we can get it done.”
Meanwhile, the Times-Picayune’s Katherine Terrell also did a nice profile on Brees, who said his four children have become one of his top motivators at age 36. Brees said he’d love for all four of them to be able to see and appreciate what he does for a living.
Brees said he's just as excited as he's ever been about where the Saints are headed, according to Terrell. But he also knows his opportunities are dwindling.
"You just know the chances are less and less,” Brees said. “At some point, you're not going to be able to say, 'Well, there's always next year.'"
Last but not least, Brees made it clear on Twitter that he didn't like being split up from Saints teammates Jimmy Graham and Mark Ingram in the Pro Bowl -- especially since Graham wound up beating him with a late TD catch -- from rival Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan, of all people.
I had some strong disagreements with some of PFF’s grades (especially when it came to cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Curtis Lofton, whom they inexplicably categorized as "bad" players in 2014). Those two were on my short list of the New Orleans Saints' MVP candidates for 2014 -- a belief that was only further backed up when I chatted with some personnel folks last week at the Senior Bowl.
Where I agreed most with PFF, though, was that the Saints didn’t have enough players playing at an "elite" level in 2014 -- or even at the level PFF designated as "good." They had a total of five players in those categories in 2014, with quarterback Drew Brees and outside linebacker Junior Galette listed as elite, and running back Pierre Thomas, tight end Jimmy Graham, and offensive tackle Zach Strief as good.
A strong argument could be made that the Saints had no elite players in 2014, which was their biggest problem.
As I’ve written several times in recent weeks, the way the Saints have structured their roster, they have invested heavily in six to eight guys that are supposed to be elite – including Brees, Graham, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, receiver Marques Colston, safety Jairus Byrd, Galette, and defensive end Cameron Jordan. Brees makes $20 million per year, and all the others make between $7 million and $10 million per year, if you include the 2015 option the Saints exercised on Jordan. But all of them underachieved to one level or another.
Check out the full breakdown of the Saints’ roster and other rosters around the league. It goes deeper than just the grades -- with breakdowns of the teams’ biggest needs, their best and worst values, and the good news and the bad news looking forward.
ESPN scouting analyst Matt Williamson also wrote an intriguing companion piece (which requires Insider access), ranking which NFL teams have the best talent aged 25 and under . The Saints are in the middle of the pack.
One of the most intriguing revelations in the story was that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he and Goodell haven’t talked much since Goodell replaced him as commissioner and that “Bountygate didn’t help.”
Tagliabue was brought in at the tail end of the NFL’s 2012 investigation into the Saints’ alleged pay-for-injury program to hear the appeals of four players who were suspended by Goodell. Tagliabue vacated all four suspensions.
Although Tagliabue strongly rebuked the Saints for wrongdoing, he found that there was no justification for such unprecedented punishments against the players -- stressing that the punishments were more for pregame “talk” than any actual misconduct on the field.
"I talked to him after I issued the bounty decision," Tagliabue told GQ. "I explained I was doing it and why. He didn't think I would vacate all the discipline. He said, 'I was surprised where you came out.'"
Tagliabue only ruled on player suspensions, so the unprecedented punishments against the organization, coaches and general manager Mickey Loomis all remained -- including a full-season suspension for coach Sean Payton.
The GQ report also quoted Houston Texans owner Bob McNair as saying that when Saints owner Tom Benson resigned from three league committees in 2013, Goodell’s pay package and his handling of Bountygate were two of the reasons -- though GQ said that Benson denied that through a spokesman.
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons aren’t exactly “besties.” But when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needed a touchdown late in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl, he didn’t let the NFC South’s oldest rivalry get in his way.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Ryan went with an option he’s seen work plenty of times from the other sideline. He fired a pass into Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s breadbasket -- despite Graham having Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie draped all over him.
It turned out to be the game-winning score for Team Irvin in a 32-28 victory over Team Carter.
It was the second touchdown of the night for Graham -- and it was followed by Graham’s second dunk of the night (no word yet on whether Graham will be fined for his illegal TD celebration of choice, though the NFL confirmed earlier in the day he and other players would be “subject” to the same fines as if it were a regular-season game).
Graham, who caught three passes for 30 yards overall, wasn’t the only Saints player who shined in an exhibition game that turned out better than most of New Orleans’ regular-season games this year.
Saints running back Mark Ingram also played a key role in the Team Irvin victory (named for honorary captain Michael Irvin). Ingram ran for a game-high 72 yards on 11 carries while visibly continuing to relish his first Pro Bowl experience throughout the night.
Former Saints running back Darren Sproles also came up big for the winning side with three rushes for 42 yards, six catches for 79 yards and a fumble recovery -- even though he was technically voted in as a special teamer.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees wound up on the losing end for the team captained by Cris Carter, despite throwing two touchdown passes (a 21-yarder to Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and a 10-yarder to Carolina’s Greg Olsen) and a 2-point conversion pass to Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton.
Brees completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards. He also threw one interception -- though in Brees’ defense, it was a spectacular pick by Miami’s Brent Grimes, who ripped the ball away from Hilton in the end zone.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If it were a regular-season game, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham would be digging into his wallet in the coming days for his touchdown celebration Sunday night at the Pro Bowl.
Graham, playing for Team Irvin, caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford with 9 minutes, 51 seconds left in the second quarter. After he snagged the ball in the back-right corner of the end zone, Graham jogged down the end line and dunked over the crossbar.
He then dunked the ball over the goalpost a second time after catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter.
"That was amazing. For me, it made the entire week," Graham told reporters. "Hopefully, one day they'll look back and change this rule so I can do it in a real game. And hopefully one day in the Super Bowl."
Graham said he had told the NFL that he wanted to do it.
"I mean, I told them I'd be gentile,'' Graham said after Team Irvin defeated Team Carter 32-28. "Hopefully they won't fine me.''
While under league rules Graham would technically be subject to a fine for dunking over the crossbar in the Pro Bowl, as he would be in the regular season, it is unclear whether the league will fine Graham.
"I hope they don't,'' Graham said. "I don't think I even nudged [the crossbar] when I did it.''
Delvin Breaux, a standout cornerback in the CFL who worked out for 13 NFL teams, has reached an agreement with his hometown New Orleans Saints, a league source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Breaux, 25, was highly recruited out of New Orleans' McDonogh 35 Senior High School but suffered three broken vertebrae in his back and a partially blocked artery while covering a kick in high school in 2006. Breaux has said in the past that a doctor who treated him told him he should have died on the field.
Breaux lost his opportunity to play in college, but he was discovered by the CFL after a long recovery while playing arena football for the New Orleans Voodoo of the Arena Football League.
At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, Breaux is known for his physicality and cover skills. Breaux finished with 33 tackles, five pass breakups, and three forced fumbles for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season. He also notched his first career interception, which he returned 27 yards for a score. He reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
Breaux worked out for the Saints on Friday, and the Tiger-Cats agreed to let him out of his contract so he didn't have to wait until Feb. 10 to sign with a NFL team.
The Saints have shown a willingness to take a chance on CFL prospects in the past. Marcus Ball made the roster last year as a part-time safety and special teamer. And defensive tackle Tom Johnson was a heavy part of New Orleans' defensive rotation for three years before joining the Minnesota Vikings last season.
But Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton was hard to miss.
The massive, 6-foot-2, 343-pound Shelton came into the week as perhaps the most highly-touted draft prospect in the game – a possible top-10 pick (or perhaps the 13th pick if the Saints decided to add some explosion to the middle of their defensive line).
Shelton “lived up to the hype” throughout the week, according to Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL general manager Phil Savage.
Shelton was named as the defensive lineman of the week by a panel of NFL scouts (though fellow defensive tackle Carl Davis from Iowa was honored as the most outstanding practice player overall).
Shelton’s greatest asset is his pure power and ability to both push the pocket and swallow up blockers. But many analysts have also remarked about how fluid he is for his size and how much athleticism he shows while chasing down plays to the edges as well.
“This is not the best platform for him to show what he can do,” Muench said of the Senior Bowl practices, “because you’ve got to watch him on tape. He’s not a player that’s gonna make a lot of flash plays. … What Danny Shelton’s gonna do for you is he’s gonna keep your linebackers clean. He’s gonna help your run defense.
“The thing you saw in one-on-ones, I don’t know if he was trying to show that he could be more of a pass rusher early on, but as the week went on he just stopped messing around and started driving guys. And that’s what you want him to do.”
Although Shelton had nine sacks as a senior, Muench said he doesn’t think Shelton will be a “high-volume sack player” in the NFL.
“But I do think he can be disruptive in the sense that he can get quarterbacks to move off the spot,” Muench said. “He can line up over the center, he can drive that guy back and force the quarterback to get to the outside and move the spot, make him a little less comfortable.”
In other words, Shelton could be a more athletic version of the Saints’ other young giant nose tackle, John Jenkins. And there could be room for both of them in New Orleans’ defense because they like to rotate so often at the position. Veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley’s future is in doubt because of his high salary.
Shelton said he could play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front, though he predicted 3-4 teams would be even more interested in looking at him to fill the middle of two-gap fronts.
Shelton said he spent the week trying to work on the “details” such as hand speed, his eyes and attacking off the ball. When asked why teams should draft him, he said, “Because I do my job and I’m gonna try to be the best at it. I take up two or three blockers.”
Shelton’s sizeable personality was also on display this week. He comes from Samoan heritage and has long, golden locks flowing from his helmet. He wore a traditional Polynesian skirt called a lava-lava to Senior Bowl media night.
He made an animated fist-pump gesture during weigh-ins when he weighed in at 343 pounds – telling ESPN colleague James Walker that he had let himself balloon to 360 earlier in the month and was intent on getting that weight down.
When asked why he didn’t skip the Senior Bowl, as some other top prospects do, Shelton said, “Honestly, I just always wanted to play in this game.”
“Growing up, seeing all these elite players in this game, I was just star-struck,” Shelton said. “So when I got the invitation, I had to come, for the love of game and to finish my season. And kind of preparation in prolonging my season. The NFL season’s pretty long, so I want to be prepared for it.”
Those might seem like odd word choices, considering that Benson, 87, is now in a high-profile, high-stakes legal battle with his daughter and grandchildren, who levied scathing accusations about Benson’s mental capacity and the intentions of his wife, Gayle, in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
But "stability" and "continuity" were precisely the terms used to describe Benson's decision to transfer ownership of his vast business empire to Gayle upon his death.
Multiple sources within the two sports franchises, both on and off the record, applauded the move. Many believe the transition will be much smoother if Gayle Benson becomes owner instead of Tom Benson’s daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.
"Continuity is very important, and this plan ensures that," Benson said in a statement released by the Saints on Thursday. "We have had the same management team in place that oversees both teams for a number of years. It has proven to be successful and it works. Dennis and Mickey will continue to run the operations as they have done day-to-day for the last 10 years or so. They consult with me daily, but they will continue to have the same authority they have always had with making decisions, large and small, and this will continue even when Gayle becomes owner."
"We have nothing but [Tom Benson's] unequivocal support, and that is important. We have been a successful franchise because of it. Nothing will change with that when Mrs. Benson becomes the owner," Loomis said in a statement released Thursday morning. "That stability creates an environment so that players and coaches want to come here."
Benson had long intended to groom his granddaughter as his successor, but multiple sources indicated that Rita Benson LeBlanc never developed into the protégé he hoped she would -- with inconsistency in her attendance, accountability and interest level in team matters.
The concern with her being thrust into the position of ultimate power is more about unpredictability than anything else, according to sources.
Sources confirmed that ownership uncertainty was a concern during negotiations for Saints coach Sean Payton’s most recent contract extension, which was signed in January 2013. The NFL initially denied a clause that would allow Payton to break the contract if Loomis was ever fired, suspended or left the organization.
Gayle Benson, 67, is widely liked and respected throughout the organizations, according to sources both on and off the record. Pelicans coach Monty Williams and Saints players Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham were among those who praised her on Thursday.
So the plan to transfer ownership was met with a sigh of relief throughout the Saints and Pelicans organizations on Wednesday night, according to multiple sources -- at least until Thursday afternoon, when Benson’s family fought back with the lawsuit.
There are also legal issues involving the family trust that could make an ownership change difficult. Ideas of any sort of “smooth transition” are pretty much out the window for now as the two sides appear set for a lengthy legal battle.
What’s being contested now is why Benson was motivated to push his daughter and grandchildren out. The lawsuit alleges his declining mental capacity and the growing influence of Gayle Benson are the leading causes -- claims that Benson denied in a statement Thursday night.
The lawsuit also stresses that Gayle Benson has never owned, operated or managed a substantial business enterprise, has not received any formal training on how to do so and stated publicly that she had no interest in football, basketball or sports in general before marrying Tom Benson.
Meanwhile Rita Benson LeBlanc, 38, began working with the Saints full-time in 2001 and held the title of owner/vice chairman of the board before being fired in late December for unspecified reasons. She was listed in the team’s media guide as the second-highest ranking executive overseeing management alongside Tom Benson.
She regularly attends league owners meetings and votes along with larger ownership groups. She has chaired the NFL Employee Benefits committee, among other committees she has served on with both the NFL and NBA.
However, Benson LeBlanc was not involved with the day-to-day operations of the sports teams. Her role was more in the realm of community and marketing endeavors and public appearances, according to sources.
The Times-Picayune reported in 2012 that Benson LeBlanc was placed on an unofficial paid administrative leave by Tom Benson, which one source confirmed. Benson LeBlanc has been characterized by sources and that 2012 Times-Picayune report as smart and talented, but also unfocused and abrasive at times. Sources confirmed that TP report that she had gone through 30-plus assistants over the past decade.
Benson’s daughter and grandson were based out of Texas and rarely spent any time around the sports franchises. In fact, sources indicated that tension grew when Renee Benson began to spend more time around the franchises this past summer.
Although the lawsuit claims that the "petitioners have done nothing to provoke any of the above, unjustified actions and have sought and still seek to reconcile with" Benson, sources described Benson’s decision as one that had been brewing over recent years and months as he battled more frequent health issues -- and that the family relationships continued to worsen in recent months.
It was widely known, according to sources, that Rita Benson LeBlanc and Gayle Benson did not get along -- a relationship that never improved and ultimately forced Tom Benson to make a decision between the two as he evaluated the future of the franchises.
The details of the lawsuit filed against Benson on Thursday also paint the picture of a gradual but intense deterioration of the family relationships.
“This is something I have thought about and prayed about for a while now,” Benson said in his statement, adding that his recent knee surgeries have “given me time to reflect on a number of issues that we will face in the distant future.”
On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.
During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.
"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."
Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.
"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."
Graham’s shoulder healing: Tight end Jimmy Graham said there are no current plans to have surgery on his lingering shoulder injury, but he said the Pro Bowl week will be “kind of a trial to see where I’m at” and ensure that no surgery will be necessary.
Graham acknowledged that the pain of the unspecified injury never went away all season after being suffered in Week 5. But he said he has “finally had some time to heal” over the past three weeks and feels “great.”
Ingram, Saints both want him back: Running back Mark Ingram, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, said the Saints have let him know “they want me back, for sure.” And he said, “I definitely want to stay with the Saints.”
Of course, he also added that no contract talks have taken place yet and the free-agent signing period is still more than a month away.
“Of course there's always that 'what if you go somewhere and you could be the main guy and do everything,’ but I love the Saints and want to be a Saint," Ingram said.
In other Saints news:
- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 draft classes for every NFL team in this piece that requires Insider access. Not surprisingly, Kiper was high on first-round receiver Brandin Cooks but underwhelmed by the rest of New Orleans’ underachieving rookie crop.
- The Chicago Bears poached another new hire from the Saints, adding assistant offensive line coach Frank Smith as their tight ends coach, the team announced.
- Both NOLA.com and The New Orleans Advocate reported that Canadian Football League cornerback Delvin Breaux (a New Orleans native) will work out for the Saints on Friday – one of more than a dozen auditions scheduled with NFL teams.
Tom Benson's family is fighting back in court, claiming he has diminished mental capacity after he announced plans to remove them from control of his businesses, including the NFL's New Orleans Saints and NBA's Pelicans.
Benson, 87, announced Wednesday that he plans to hand over control of the franchises to his wife, Gayle, in the event of his death. But Benson's adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming he should not be allowed to do so because his "health and mental capacity have significantly declined" and he has "fallen under the undue influence" of Gayle, whom Benson married in 2004.
Benson responded to the lawsuit in a statement Thursday night.
"I am extremely disappointed by the lawsuit filed against me today by my daughter and two grandchildren," he said. "Their allegations regarding my mental health are completely meritless and their allegations against my wife equally unfounded. I will vigorously defend my decisions and the businesses I have built. The false accusations in this suit further support the actions I have taken in changing the succession and transfer of ownership. There is a small sign that sits on my desk and simply states 'Tough times never last; but tough people do.' Make no mistake, I will be back in the office tomorrow morning working hard, as I do every day, to ensure that the Saints and Pelicans are positioned for long-term success. This State, City and our great fans deserve that. I have instructed my staff to have no comment on this lawsuit moving forward."
A source close to Benson described him as "healthy" on Wednesday night. And chief executives of both the Saints and Pelicans, Mickey Loomis and Dennis Lauscha, both strongly endorsed the ownership transfer in a statement released by the team on Thursday, as did New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
Multiple sources also have cited the longstanding friction between Gayle and the family among the reasons for Benson's decision to change the ownership succession plan.
The 27-page lawsuit lays out numerous examples of alleged "bizarre and uncharacteristic behavior" by Tom Benson -- including an email that apparently was sent from Benson to his family members on Dec. 27, announcing that he never wanted to see Renee, Rita or Ryan again and his intention to ban them from Saints and Pelicans facilities and games, as well as other New Orleans businesses. Soon after that, Benson terminated granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc's position as owner/vice chairman of the board. She once was being groomed as his heir apparent.
The lawsuit questioned the authenticity of the email and made several claims that Gayle has taken multiple steps to isolate Benson from his family while increasingly influencing his actions.
The lawsuit also alleged several examples of Benson's diminished health and mental capacity, claiming that he has been heavily medicated in the past several months, while undergoing at least two knee surgeries. The suit also claimed that Benson has suffered from apparent memory lapses -- including an unspecified occasion when he was asked to name the current president and guessed Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman.
The suit also claims that Benson has forgotten his wife's name and once failed to recognize daughter Renee. And it claims that under Gayle's supervision, Benson's diet has "drastically deteriorated," with candy, ice cream, sodas and red wine replacing full, nutritious meals.
Benson was hospitalized twice and treated for dehydration during the team's training camp in West Virginia last summer before he returned home because he was having difficulty with the altitude. He subsequently had another knee surgery and has often required the use of a wheelchair or walker since then. However, Benson has continued to make occasional public appearances -- including a visit with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Wednesday, when he announced his plans to change his succession plan, and he made an appearance at the Pelicans game Wednesday night.
The lawsuit, however, claims "although he may appear lucid for brief periods of time, such apparent lucidity quickly turns into confusion."
The lawsuit lists a number of alleged "bizarre" actions regarding business dealings, mostly intended to isolate the family, and claims that Gayle Benson urged her husband into an attempt to purchase the Fairgrounds Race Course and Slots, even though the NFL forbids owners from having interests in gambling facilities.
The lawsuit claims that the "petitioners have done nothing to provoke any of the above, unjustified actions and have sought and still seek to reconcile with" Benson.
The attached email allegedly sent by Benson on Dec. 27 read:
"Suddenly after I remarried you all became offensive and did not act in an appropriate manner and even had arguments among yourselves which created a very unpleasant family situation which I will not stand for. It made me very unhappy and uncomfortable. This situation cannot continue at my age. Because of the facts set out above and the heart break you have caused me I want no further contact with any of you ..."
The lawsuit asked for a full interdiction, with Renee LeBlanc being appointed as the curatrix of the person and property of Tom Benson, with Rita Benson LeBlanc as undercurator. It also asked for Benson to be examined by a certified psychiatrist.
Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that Gayle Benson, 67, was in significant debt and had limited credit when she met Benson. And the suit claims she is unfit for ownership of the Benson businesses because she has never owned, operated or managed a substantial business enterprise and had stated publicly before marrying Benson that she had no interest in football, basketball or sports in general.
Multiple sources throughout the Saints and Pelicans organizations have widely praised Gayle both on and off the record, including quarterback Drew Brees
“I’m concerned about it, obviously. We should all be concerned about it. That’s a serious matter,” said Loomis, who said he has not spoken personally to Galette – though he noted two weeks ago that the team’s security director had been in contact.
“We’re going to wait until the legal system runs its course, and the league obviously will do their investigation,” said Loomis, who said he did not know if the league had begun its independent investigation – which is now a part of the NFL’s revamped personal conduct policy.
As Loomis said previously, there is no urgency for the Saints to consider placing Galette under any kind of paid leave or on an exempt list – which are also both options under the new conduct policy – because the Saints don’t begin football activities until late April.
Galette’s contract does call for a guaranteed roster bonus of $12.5 million to be paid in March. It’s unclear how that could be affected by any legal issues or league punishments.
Loomis, however, said he didn’t want to “speculate” on how the team’s view of Galette could be affected by the outcome of the case.
“There’s so many variables in that,” Loomis said. “Obviously it’s a serious matter that we’re taking seriously. We’ve got to let this run its course first.”
This is the second year of the Pro Bowl's new conference-free format. Last year, when Brees was a captain, he drafted all of his Saints teammates to play on his team.
Brees was the second QB selected by his team, which is named after honorary captain Cris Carter. Brees will play behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was selected first overall.
Graham and Ingram will play for the team captained by Michael Irvin. They were reunited with former Saints teammate Darren Sproles, who is making his long-awaited Pro Bowl debut as a return man from the Philadelphia Eagles.