The Saints made a sound investment in Drew Brees, who has been the face of the franchise since signing as a free agent in 2006.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/SI
BEST TRADE: Patriots deal a fourth-round pick to the Raiders for wide receiver Randy Moss; April 29, 2007
The fourth-round pick became cornerback John Bowie, who never started a game for the Raiders and was cut in 2009. Moss caught 23 touchdown passes for the Patriots in his first year and became the deep threat Tom Brady never had. Classic case of the Patriots pilfering a problem child from a bad team, and the problem child being so happy to be out of football jail that he becomes a model citizen and helps the Patriots win big.
WORST TRADE: Jets deal two first-round picks (Nos. 13 and 22) and a fourth-round pick to the Bears for the No. 4 overall pick in the 2003 draft (Dewayne Robertson); April 25, 2003
Robertson was supposed to be Warren Sapp and the centerpiece of a Jets defensive rejuvenation. He was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill defensive tackle in his five years there, and the Jets were 12 games below .500 and winners of one playoff game in his time in green.
BEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: Saints sign quarterback Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million deal; March 14, 2006
The Saints were coming off a 3-13, Katrina-ravaged season in 2005, and the city was petrified that it would lose the team to San Antonio or Los Angeles in a year or two. Miami passed on Brees because he was fresh off major shoulder surgery, and the Saints jumped to sign him. No quarterback, including the great Peyton Manning, has thrown for as many yards as Brees in the past four years, and the Saints are entrenched in a city that still has hurricane scars. The biggest reason is Brees.
WORST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: Raiders sign wide receiver Javon Walker to a six-year, $55 million deal; March 5, 2008
Before free agency in February 2008, Denver coach Mike Shanahan had a pro scout compile an analysis about all looming Broncos free agents, including Walker. The report on the oft-injured Walker: He couldn't stay healthy, and the scout wrote it would be a terrible risk at any salary. So with no competition on the market for him, Oakland still gave Walker $16 million in guaranteed money. An idiotic signing if there ever was one (the contract has since been restructured). In nearly two years, Walker has produced this: 15 catches, 196 yards, one touchdown.
BIGGEST DRAFT STEAL: Tom Brady, 2000, 199th pick (sixth round), Patriots
Spergon Wynn was drafted 16 picks higher. Enough said.
BIGGEST DRAFT BUST: JaMarcus Russell, 2007, first pick (first round), Raiders
He obviously has time to turn around his career, but Russell's story seems a classic case of a kid who got too much money way too early in an immature life.
Click here for Don Banks' views on the decade in trades, free agency and the draft
SIGNATURE PLAY: David Tyree's leaping helmet catch on the game-winning drive of Super Bowl XLII
With Plaxico Burress nursing a sore knee, Tyree had to play more than anyone on the Giants' side would have wanted -- which might have been a bit of a competitive advantage for New York. "We never prepared for Tyree,'' Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "We never thought we'd see him on offense.'' And in practice two days before the game, he dropped four balls, was down in the mouth about it, and got a rare bearhug from Eli Manning back at the team hotel to tell him to shake it off.
The Giants had a third-and-five at their 44. Manning went back to pass. Three Patriots got their paws on Manning, and Jarvis Green nearly took him down. He rainbowed a ball into the deep middle. Tyree had run past Asante Samuel toward the post. The wideout leaped and, as Harrison crashed into him from the left, caught the ball and gripped it to the side of his helmet. Oddity of the decade: That could well be Tyree's last catch in the NFL. He caught on with Baltimore this season after being cut by the Giants, but as a special-teamer only. Not a bad catch to have as the last on your résumé.
BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: Spygate
There'd been rumors and sketchy reports of the Patriots using an in-house cameraman to videotape opposing sidelines, then matching up the signals from coaches to the defense the team played later, giving the team an illegal competitive advantage. The league issued a memo in the 2006 season warning teams that such a practice was illegal. Then, in the first game of the 2007 season, the Patriots were caught -- and of all the nerve, they were caught on the archrival Jets sideline -- videotaping the opposing signals again. Commissioner Roger Goodell came down hard on New England, docking the Pats their first-round pick in 2008, fining Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team an additional $250,000. In the three seasons since the incident, brushfires about Spygate still rage. This year, Miami's Joey Porter was the latest player to say the Patriots' three titles were tainted by the videotaping.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Ray Lewis, Super Bowl XXXV, Atlanta
A year earlier, in 2000, Lewis was on trial for his life, charged in connection with the deaths of two men in an Atlanta fight. After being exonerated on the major changes but found guilty of obstruction of justice, Lewis was fined $250,000 by the NFL ... and then Lewis went out and had a season like few others in his career. He won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award, and was MVP of the Super Bowl, flying around the field, breaking up four passes and pressuring the Giants into mistakes in the running and passing game.
Click here for a gallery of memorable performances in the decade
VILLAIN: Terrell Owens
The human distraction flitted from San Francisco (where he criticized quarterback Jeff Garcia's arm) to Philadelphia (where he said Favre would have been a better fit for Philly than Donovan McNabb) to Dallas (where he was a professional whiner if he didn't get the ball thrown to him enough) to Buffalo (where the franchise is losing but hasn't burned down yet). All in all, quite a nice decade for the man known as T.O.
HERO: Drew Brees
In 2006, the city of New Orleans was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina (it will be recovering until 3006), and Brees was recovering from postseason shoulder surgery, major surgery, in San Diego. As a free agent, he seemed headed for Miami, but Dolphins coach Nick Saban had doubts about Brees' readiness for the season, so Brees signed with the Saints instead. There, he's raised more than $5 million for projects, like three new ballfields in the city at depressed schools, and became the symbol for the area's recovery. It doesn't hurt that the Saints are 12-0 for the first time in their history, and Brees is the primary reason why.
OUTSIZED PERSONALITY: Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson)
He plays games in the end zone that have nothing to do with football. He takes 100 Cincinnatians to the movies, free, on Friday nights. He plays football pretty well, though he drives his coach and quarterback crazy with his off-field nuttiness. My favorite Chadness of the decade: When the Bengals played in Pittsburgh this season, upon arrival he tweeted that he'd treat whoever met him in the lobby of the team hotel to a shopping spree at a local mall, if that person would drive. And he did.
BEST TEAM RIVALRY: Colts vs. Patriots
The Ravens-Steelers interceded, briefly, in 2008 with three memorable games, including the AFC Championship slugfest. But Manning-Brady, Belichick-Dungy -- you can't beat that with a stick. The Pats won six straight from 2001 to 2004. The Colts have won five of six since. To say there's some distrust between the two organizations might be slightly understated. The Pats are sure the Colts jacked up the noise on the speakers every time they played in the RCA Dome. The Colts have been careful about security every time they go to Foxboro. And with Brady and Manning not retiring anytime soon, this one should be the best rivalry for a few years to come.
BEST INDIVIDUAL RIVALRY: Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
Amazing thing is, they actually like, admire and text each other.
BEST INNOVATION: The first-down line on TV
Brilliant idea. The "1st and Ten'' line, invented in 1998 and on most NFL games by 2002, uses yellow pixels superimposed on the screen to create a clear vision of where a team has to go to get a first down. What'd we do before this to figure out the first down?
BEST PERSONNEL MAN/SCOUT: Scott Pioli, Patriots and Chiefs
There's always been a debate when the Patriots' greatness comes up. Who deserves the architectural credit for assembling the players built into champions -- Belichick solely, or Belichick and Pioli? It's certainly the latter. Pioli built such a good relationship with Belichick that Pioli was the only one in the building who could tell him he was nuts. The relationship was so strong that Belichick trusted him implicitly on many of the draft picks down the line, like Brady in the sixth round in 2000 and Matt Cassel (who hadn't started a college game at quarterback) in the seventh round in 2005.
BEST COORDINATOR: Dick LeBeau, Bills and Steelers
With the Bills in 2003, he parachuted in and built the league's No. 2 defense. (Buffalo shut out the Pats in the season opener.) Then he went to Pittsburgh, refined his fire-zone concepts (linemen dropping in coverage, back-seven players rushing) with solid talent, and in three of the five years that followed, he had the top defense. What's more, his players borderline-worship him. Five current and former Steelers defenders have pushed me to select LeBeau for the Hall of Fame when his candidacy comes up this year.
FACTOID OF THE DECADE THAT MAY INTEREST ONLY ME
The 2008 Lions team that went 0-16 also went 4-0 in August, winning four preseason games by an average of 12 points
BEST NEW STADIUM: Cowboys Stadium, 2009
The square footage for the beer room (yes, a beer room, a refrigerated place where every keg and bottle in the place is stored) was more than the square footage of the spacious house where my wife and I raised two girls and two golden retrievers in New Jersey for 18 years. The TV hanging over the middle of the field is the biggest high-def TV in the history of the world. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanted to build the most comfortable stadium in American history, and he did.
|2000s: The Decade in the NFL|