Here are five reasons why Brandt believes the Saints are Super Bowl contenders:
1. The depleted coaching staff has adjusted remarkably to life without Sean Payton. Interim head coach Joe Vitt has experience, toughness with brutal honesty that allows him to form a strong rapport with players. He has a fantastic relationship with the rest of the coaching staff, allowing everyone to perform their duties without interference.
2. New Orleans has received enviable player commitment this offseason. The Saints' contract dispute with Drew Brees is ongoing, but the players under contract and healthy, the Saints report 100 per cent attendance at offseason workouts. The general training regimen has been stupendous. The team has a very strong core, which is a godsend with all the distractions. Through all this turmoil, the Saints have really come together as an organization.
3. The Saints remain focused on the task at hand, not outside distractions. Despite the emotional toll this team has taken, there are no lingering effects from the NFL's unprecedented punishment. Contrary to what many may think, it's not even a topic of conversation around camp. This team has not gone astray at all. Nobody’s lollygagging at the back of the line. This team is locked in.
4. Chase Daniel is doing his best Drew Brees impression. One thing Brandt remembers from his Cowboys days is how much Tom Landry stressed QB-WR harmony. Landry thought that was the most important relationship on the entire team, having quarterbacks and receivers annually report to camp three days before everyone else.
Daniel looks as close to Brees as you can get for a stand-in. He's worked hard to improve his upper body strength and throws a very nice ball. Daniel routinely hit the back-shoulder fade that Brees has mastered over the years and reacted well to the blitz.
5. Jimmy Graham displays unlimited upside. No player was more impressive than Graham. He's unbelievably fluid for a guy his size and makes outstanding adjustments to the ball. His body type and smoothness are reminiscent of Hall-of-Famer Kellen Winslow.
Brandt writes: "the drama swirling around New Orleans this offseason could bury some organizations, but the cohesive effort I witnessed couldn't have been more encouraging for the team's prospects in 2012. It goes without saying that everything relies on Brees returning to the team. So long as No.9 is behind center, though, this team will remain highly formidable in the fall.
"While the NFC South looks to be one of the toughest divisions in football, I predict the Saints will take their third division title in four years. Despite what some may think, this team will be in the hunt for Super Bowl XLVII, which just so happens to be in New Orleans."
Brees contract update
Former Packers vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt writes in an ESPN column that he expects the Saints-Drew Brees contract dispute to go down to the wire. He worked out contracts with Brett Favre.
"Negotiations are about leverage and options," writes Brandt. "As for leverage, Brees is the most important player on the team and perhaps the most important person in his division. However, because of the franchise tag, his options are limited. The tag gives the Saints a tool -- strengthened by the collective bargaining agreement -- to artificially reduce the market value of their unsigned best player.
"Both sides are entrenched, with experienced negotiators representing their best interests. Saints GM Mickey Loomis has refused to react impulsively to this downbeat offseason, and agent Tom Condon has worked out many elite contracts, including two recent ones for Peyton Manning (and Eli)."
Brandt expects the deal to be done between July 10-15 with a $20 million APY, between $50 million and $52 million guaranteed and $60 million to $62 million over the first three years.
Another reason this thing may drag on until July is because Brees and the NFL Players Association have asked for a ruling on whether his current franchise tag counts as his first. Brees also carried the franchise tag when he was with the Chargers, but that was long before the new labor agreement was signed last summer.
That ruling isn't expected to come until late June.
Former LSU star works out with Panthers
Former LSU WR Brandon LaFell is operating with the Panthers' first unit in OTAs and plans to remain the No. 2 WR opposite Steve Smith. "My whole mindset is to do everything I can so that they don't have to make a decision for me to split time. Make plays, catch every ball, make every block." LaFell had 36 grabs for 613 yards and 3 TDs last season...Ed Reed, the Ravens future Hall of Fame safety from St. Rose: "These hotshot defensive backs in college come to the real world fast in the NFL. There are a lot of defensive backs with great size, speed and they are physically talented, but you are getting challenged no matter who you are. They want to break you mentally. These quarterbacks and receivers will attack you like you stole something from them as a kid. If they break your confidence, you are finished."...
New Orleans Saints-Drew Brees talks down to the wire, endzone or fumble?