Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jimmy Pays the Price

With the crawfish boil over, now we can turn our attention to one of Louisiana’s other great traditions: the Saints. Unfortunately the 2014 season fell somewhere between disappointment and disaster. Pundits, Saints fans, and even the team thought the Saints would be a Super Bowl contender. With little salary cap space last offseason, the Saints re-signed tight end Jimmy Graham and added safety Jarius Byrd to bolster the defensive backfield and put the team over the top. Instead, injuries and ineffectiveness plagued the team throughout the season. A heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the hated Falcons set the stage for the miserable season that followed. By the end of the year, the Saints were left wondering where it had all gone wrong.

          This week let’s focus on the most significant move the Saints have made this offseason: the trade of star tight end Jimmy Graham and a fourth round pick (109th overall) to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first rounder (31st overall). We’ll break down this trade in a few ways; first, did the Saints get good value for Graham? And second, what does this mean for the Saints going forward? 

Bye Jimmy! 

          Using the draft value chart created by Chase Stuart of Football Perspective (based on the value produced by each pick over a 30 year period), the Saints traded away the 109th pick, worth 4.7 points of approximate value (a measure of individual player production developed by Pro-Football Reference). In return, they received the 31st pick worth 12.7, for a net of 8 AV. 8 points of AV is equivalent to the 65th pick in the draft (the 1st pick of the third round). On first glance, it seems impressive that the Saints netted a 1st rounder for Graham. When you factor in the 4th round pick, the trade is much less than it seems. The values of Graham and Unger going forward are difficult to discern. Unger missed ten games last season due to injury and Graham has been similarly hampered by the injury bug. What is clear is that the Saints traded away their best offensive player not named Drew Brees for a starting center and the equivalent of the 65th pick in the draft. Hardly an impressive haul.

          The Graham trade does provide the Saints something they desperately needed: salary cap relief in 2016 and 2017. As result of the 4 year, 40 million dollar contract signed last year, Graham counted eight million against the cap this year, nine million in 2016 and ten million in 2017. By trading him the Saints paid a heavy price this year. The Saints shed Graham’s salary in the trade, but the remainder of his salary bonus accelerated onto this year’s cap. By trading him, Graham will eat up nine million dollars in cap space this year. After this year, however, Graham is off the Saints books, freeing up nineteen million dollars for 2016 and 2017. The relief will be especially useful in 2016. Currently, the Saints have 131.5 million committed to the cap for 2016, with Graham’s contract they would have been perilously close to the salary cap ceiling again. Now they have money to devote to other areas of the roster, like signing pass rusher Cameron Jordan to a contract extension.

Hi, Max! 

          What does this mean on the field? The trade cost the Saints their best offensive weapon. As a tight end, Graham caused matchup problems for opposing defenses, requiring double teams and opening up other options for the rest of the offense. While the Saints seem high on backup Josh Hill, he can’t and won’t replace Graham’s production. With the downgrade at the tight end spot, the improvements will have to come elsewhere. Unger should bolster the Saints interior offensive line, helping out in both pass protection and the run game. Last season, with Unger in the lineup, the Seahawks averaged 203.8 yards per game rushing. Without him, the Seahawks averaged nearly fifty yards fewer per game (153.9). A better run game will help, but it can’t replace Graham.

          Overall, it’s hard to see how the trade helps the Saints in 2015. They traded away the second best tight end in the NFL for a starting center and the equivalent of the 1st pick in the third round. The deal provides salary cap relief, but not until 2016 and 2017. Last season, the Saints mortgaged their salary cap future to make a Super Bowl run. This offseason that mortgage came due. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Crawfish Boil 2015 Recap

          Saturday March 14 was the 8th Annual DGA Family and Friends Crawfish boil and we are happy to report that it was a smashing success. In the mid-afternoon, the sun broke through after days of rain in south Louisiana. Winos and Tacos once again served as a great location. There was abundant alcohol, crawfish, and we polished off six dozen cupcakes (Benson’s son Ieuan had at least 3). Unfortunately Jamie was at trial and couldn’t make it home in time. Her husband Ryan, however, ably carried on in her absence, watching NCAA basketball at the bar, as he always does.

It's back again. 

          The boil began with Doug’s introductory address on this year’s theme: Do You Know What it Means. DGA favorite Davis Rogan (who fulfilled a longstanding promise to Doug and brought his lovely wife Stephanie to the show) then played his own version of the Louis Armstrong classic, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans. He followed with a set mixing some of his songs from his new CD (So Long) as well as some classic Davis songs (Hurricane, New Ninth Ward). At one point during the show, the DGA employees as well as their spouses came up on stage and served as the background singers for the song, Mr. Rogan, Mr. Rogan. Mostly they just had to chant “Mr. Rogan, Mr. Rogan” on queue. Doug and Mary exhibited a great amount of enthusiasm. The video of the performance will be available on a future blog post.

All the crawfish... 

          After loading up on more crawfish, jambalaya, and tacos, the boil kept plugging along. Up next was the Philadelphia based Dirk Quinn Band. Dirk proved himself a talented and inventive guitarist. The band imaginatively fused funk and jazz and entertained a whole lot of people along the way. At one point, Mark Levron, Davis’s longtime trumpet player, joined in. Mark’s willingness to jump in and play epitomized what we all love about the boil- people coming together to share a sense of friendship and camaraderie. The Dirk Quinn Band was first instrumental band ever to the play at the boil and they gave us a great show.

Benny Turner knows how to put on a show

          We ended with Benny Turner and the Real Blues featuring Sam Joyner. Benny was the big surprise of last year’s boil. We brought him in knowing that he had the resume of a top flight blues musician and he blew us all away. He sang, he mingled with the crowd, and offered a performance that none of us had ever seen before. We knew we had to have him back again. And this year, Benny managed to do it all again. It’s difficult to render Benny’s performance into words. He brings an infectious spirit and enthusiasm. He not only feeds off the energy of the crowd, he elevates it.

          At around five o’clock or so, the music had finished and the crowd began to disperse. Guests left with bellies full of food and the souls bolstered by some truly wonderful music. And the best part? We get to do it all again next year. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Crawfish boil: This Saturday!

          So we’ve gone over the history of crawfish, taught you how to eat them, told you where to stay, where to eat, and things to do in New Orleans. Now there’s only one more thing to do, actually have the crawfish boil. So let’s run down the full details of the bands, location, and the other important info.


          When: This Saturday March 14, 2015 at 12:00 P.M.

          Where: Winos and Tacos
                   321 North Columbia Street
                   Covington, LA 70433

          First a little background history, this will be the 8th DGA Family and Friends Crawfish boil. Over the years, we have been thrilled to watch the boil grow in size and scope. It started out as a celebration consisting mostly of the DGA employees, their families, and friends from Louisiana. It’s changed locations and bands a few times, but gotten bigger and better every single year. Now we have people who fly in from across the country to spend an afternoon with good food, friends, and music. The boil is an opportunity to share our traditions and we look forward to extending some of that famous Louisiana hospitality.

How could we say no to that face? 
           Now that we have those important details out of the way, let’s get down to the music. Leading off will be DGA favorite, Davis Rogan. This is Davis’s fourth consecutive appearance at the crawfish boil. He never fails to entertain and we’re thrilled to have him back. 

Next up, will be a new band all the way from Philadelphia, the Dirk Quinn Band. The Dirk Quinn Band is known for its experimental take on funk and jazz.

He was so good, we just had to bring him back. 

And finally, we’ve brought back Benny Turner, who if you remember from last year’s boil electrified the audience by playing while sitting in the crowd. So he will close out what will (hopefully) be the biggest and best crawfish boil so far. It’ll take a lot to top last year, but we think we can do it. 

          See you Saturday! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reminder: How to Peel Crawfish

With the crawfish boil coming up next Saturday (!), we thought it would be a good idea to offer a refresher on how to eat crawfish. Peeling them can seem daunting, but with a little bit of practice it's no big deal at all. After a few dozen, anyone can become a crawfish peeling pro. So read up and then next Saturday you can eat 'em just as fast as you can peel 'em. 

Today I am going to show all of ya'll how to peel a crawfish.  The process is relatively simple, and a well-coooked crawfish should give even inexperienced folks little trouble.  
Before you start peeling, remember that crawfish boiled live typically have curled tails, such as the one in the image above.  Those that were dead when they went in the boil (there’s always a few) have flat tails and mushy meat.  You can toss those suckers into your pile of shells if you like.

You might have heard of the twist, pinch, and suck method of peeling crawfish.  This refers to twisting off the head, pinching the tail, and sucking the head.  This is the basic method we’re going to learn, although sucking the head is entirely optional.  Most crotchety Cajuns suck the heads to put newcomers off their crawfish, but there’s also a culinary reason to do it and I’ll explain that at the end.

Although these colloquial terms are wildly inaccurate in terms of a crawfish’s anatomy, the two basic parts you need to know about are the “head,” the main body of the crawfish, and the “tail,” the segmented abdomen of the crawfish. 
To start peeling, grasp the head in one hand and the tail in the other. 

Next, twist the head and pull it away from the tail. 

At this point, you can pinch the tail and pull out the meat with your teeth, but that takes some crawfish experience.  Being new to peeling crawfish, you will have more success if you peel the first segment of the shell off of the tail. 

You can then flip the tail over, use your thumb to pinch the tail at the base, and then pull out the meat.

Last, but not least, you can suck the head.  The reason to do this is that most of the fat is in this part of the crawfish and it doesn’t always come out with the tail meat.  Like crabs, crawfish fat is extremely tasty and it holds a remarkable amount of flavor. You also get a good taste of the spicy boil from sucking the head.