FROM THE SIDELINES: Will normalcy resume with the Saints?

John Dupont

It's back to business for the New Orleans Saints.

Or is it?

One week after the Saints hammered out a deal with Drew Brees to keep the quarterback in the Crescent City, it seems that maybe the franchise can enjoy a much needed sense of assuredness and stability as the clock ticks toward the start of the 2012 season.

The contract dispute between Brees and the Saints grabbed a lot of headlines during a very turbulent off season. The Saints front office waited until almost the 11th hour to secure the popular quarterback to a long-term deal worth $100 million, the richest contract in NFL history.

Many feared the Saints would keep Brees to the franchise deal they considered earlier this year. Brees balked at the move and said he would sit out.

Such a move would have proven disastrous, particularly this late in the season. The team would certainly have felt the effects of such a move both on and off the field.

Face it: Brees has been the backbone of the team's success the last six years. He has already established himself among the all-time greats both in the history of the franchise and the NFL in general.

He has also been a symbol for success in a city that has not seen much of it the last several decades. In the days after Katrina, fans have viewed him as something relative to the city's comeback.

Nobody has been able to dig any dirt on Brees. He's a family man, both modest and humble.

Sure, he's an incredibly wealthy man, but he has not forgotten his fan base. He truly loves New Orleans and has used his position to become a symbol of good will.

So imagine what would've happened has Saints management let him loose. It would've certainly been a disaster.

It's not like the Saints haven't had enough disarray, even without the Brees squabbles.

The 'Bounty Gate' that resulted in the season-long suspension for Sean Payton will certainly have an effect on the season. Just how much it hurts the program remains to be seen.

What doesn't help is that the front office replaced him with assistant coach Joe Vitt, who himself will begin a six-game suspension that starts with the season opener.

It means the Saints will most likely turn to offensive line coach Aaron Kromer to serve as an interim to an interim (what a mess).

The franchise will also operate without the services of defensive end Will Smith (gone for four weeks on suspension) and general manager Mickey Loomis, who gets an eight-week forced sabbatical.

Other questions will go unanswered for several weeks of the season.

Many wonder how Brees will fare without Payton at his side. Considering his effectiveness the last several season, it's quite possible he'll fare just fine.

At the same time, many want to see how new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will manage as the replacement for Gregg Williams, who is serving an indefinite suspension.

Considering the holes in Saints defense the last two seasons, it's a strong possibility Spagnuolo will bring a fresh look to the defensive game over the next year.

Believe it or not, in light of the pre-season fallout and chaos, the Saints are still contenders for Super Bowl XLVII, which will be played in -- you've guessed it -- New Orleans.

For the Saints to survive all the off-season headaches and still finish with a winning season would be enough of a storybook finish.

But imagine the Saints going to the Super Bowl in their own backyard. It would be the story of a lifetime.