By nearly any measure, this New Orleans Saints' season has been a complete disaster; one filled with so many bad memories, they'd be hilarious if they weren't so painful.
But if you thought that this nightmare will end in three weeks (four if this teams somehow stumbles into the playoffs), think again.
Bill Barnwell, one of the best analytical minds covering football, has written up a detailed and depressing report for Grantland
on how the Saints leveraged their salary cap to win this year and what it means for the future. To sum up: it's not pretty. Despite Drew Brees' contract running through 2017, it's looking like this was the last season he'd have a chance at winning a title.
The article does a great job of breaking down all the ways General Manager Mickey Loomis leveraged the future for a shot at a title this season and the entire article is well worth the read (if you can stomach it). But one passage sums up pretty much everything you need to know:
Loomis swung for the fences and popped one up. The Saints might make the playoffs, but they won’t be serious contenders and it would be an upset to see them make it out of the first round, let alone go further. In return, they sacrificed future flexibility, left themselves vulnerable to massive declines, and limited Loomis’s ability to improve the team in 2015 and beyond. Even if the Saints can ensure the bill doesn’t come due for a number of years, it turns out the meal wasn’t really very good, anyway.
The only upside, as far as I could tell, is that Barnwell assumes that Brees' talents will deteriorate over the next two years to a degree that he either will retire or the Saints won't value him enough to re-sign him. There is still a chance that Brees pulls a Tom Brady, restructures his contract and somehow continues to play at an elite level as he approaches 40.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the best case scenario. And in it, the Saints will still struggle to field good teams over the next two seasons. Which means that the Saints are going to get much, much worse before they get better.