Tuesday, April 24, 2018

2018 Saints Draft Preview

            From Thursday April 26 through Saturday April 28, the NFL will hold its yearly draft. As has become a DGA tradition, let’s do a little draft preview from the perspective of the New Orleans Saints. Next week, we’ll come back and see how everything went. 

            The Saints currently hold the following picks in the NFL draft. Notated as round-overall pick: 1-27, 3-91, 4-127, 5-147, 5-164, 6-189, 6-201, 7-245 

In total, the Saints hold 8 picks over the seven rounds of the draft, but only two in the first three rounds. They traded away their 2018 second round pick (59th overall)for a 2017 3rd rounder that the Saints used on Alvin Kamara. While it’s unadvisable to trade future high round picks to fill present needs, this trade has worked out well so far. 

Alvin Kamara in action 

            Coming off a surprise 11-5 season that saw New Orleans’ defense make the leap from atrocious (31stin Football Outsiders DVOA in 2016) to outstanding (8thin 2017), the Saints re-signed quarterback Drew Brees to a two year, $50 million contract. Using past performance as a guide, the Saints are about to go all-in for one last Super Bowl push. They’ve brought back some familiar faces, including tight end Benjamin Watson, offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, cornerback Patrick Robinson, and defensive end Alex Okafor. They signed Tom Savage to replace Chase Daniel at backup quarterback and paid linebacker Demario Davis and safety Kurt Coleman top of the market money. 

            While the Saints are down their second round pick, it would not be surprising for them to try and move up in the draft. Over the years, general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton have shown extraordinary confidence in their ability to evaluate draft prospects, repeatedly trading away valuable picks in favor of specific players. All while ignoring the bevy of evidence that suggests that teams overvalue their scouting acumen. 

Loomis and Payton 

            While Saints fans should be heartened by last year’s finish, New Orleans has significant needs on both sides of the football. Let's take a look at their biggest needs. 

1. Pass Rush—While the Saints finished 6thin adjusted sack rate, nearly all of that production from defensive end Cameron Jordan. Jordan had an otherworldly season with 13 sacks and 48 tackles. The next closest players, Alex Okafor and Vonn Bell, had 4.5 sacks. Without Jordan to rush the passer, the Saints are vulnerable to opposing passers tearing up the secondary. 

2. Linebacker—With the trade of 1strounder Stephone Anthony last offseason, the Saints have relied on mid-career veterans to man their linebacking corps. Last year, they replaced 31 year old Dannell Ellerbe with A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o, Craig Robertson, and Michael Mauti (average age of 27). At some point, the Saints need to invest in a long-term linebacking prospect whom they can develop internally, rather than paying premium prices on the free agent market. 


3. Quarterback—With Brees signed for two more years, the Saints need to seriously consider his future replacement. And no, Tom Savage isn't a viable replacement. In his age 38 season, Brees had a 72.0% completion percentage, but threw for only 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns, his lowest totals since joining the Saints. Using Pro-Football Reference’s approximate value, Brees tied for the 2ndbest season ever by a 38 year old quarterback with an AV of 14. No quarterback, however, has ever totaled 14 AV in their age 39 season. When the end comes for aging quarterbacks, it comes quickly and the Saints need to start planning for the future. 

4. Tight End—Following the departure of Jimmy Graham, the Saints have failed to replicate his production from the tight end position. New Orleans paid Coby Fleener a small fortune to catch passes from Brees. In his two seasons in New Orleans, Fleener has averaged fewer than 500 yards per season and 2.5 TDs. This offseason, the Saints resigned Benjamin Watson to a one year contract. Watson’s 2015 campaign was the best performance by a Saints TE since Graham left. He caught 74 passes for 825 yards and 6 TDs. Now, however, Watson is 36 years old and on the tail end of his career. Having a young pass-catching tight end will help diversify the offense and give Brees another pass catching option. 

            Check back next week where we’ll review the Saints draft.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jazz Fest 2018

            The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, otherwise known as Jazz Fest, is a yearly celebration of the music and culture of New Orleans. The festival runs every year on the last weekend in April (Friday-Sunday) and the first weekend in May (Thursday-Sunday). The Fair Grounds Race Course, a horse racing track in Mid-City New Orleans plays host to the festival. The music begins at 11:00 AM and runs through 7:00 PM. Jazz Fest attracts tourists from across the country and the world. It is the second biggest event in the city each year—only trailing Mardi Gras. The festival brings in over $300 million annually. 
Jazz Fest poster 2016

            Jazz Fest features hundreds of performers and performances ranging from local musicians to internationally famous rock and roll bands. There are twelve different stages with musical acts playing all day from 11-7. Aerosmith is headlining this year’s festival and will also have performances by Sting, Sheryl Crow, Common, LL Cool J, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffett, and the Steve Miller Band. Jazz Fest also features a host of local musicians playing everything from jazz to zydeco to hip hop to bounce music. Show up at any day of the festival and you’ll find New Orleans artists like John Boutté, the Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Big Freedia, and a number of Mardi Gras Indian bands. Artists who have performed at the DGA crawfish boil like the Hot 8 Brass Band, Tuba Skinny, and Flow Tribe will all perform this year. 

            The festival began back in 1970 thanks to the efforts of the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association. The Association wanted to highlight New Orleans’ unique musical and cultural heritage to bring tourists to the city—where they would stay in local hotels and motels and boost the economy. The first two festivals, in 1970 and 1971, were held in Beauregard Square—now Louis Armstrong Park—and Congo Square. Admittance to the first festival cost $3 and had only four stages without microphones. Visiting musicians stayed at the homes of the festival’s organizers. The next year, however, the crowd began to grow. By 1972, the festival moved to its current host site, the Fair Grounds Race Course. In the mid-1970s, organizers began producing a yearly poster series to promote the festival. By the late 1980s, the festival was attracting over 300,000 people per year. 

Jazz Fest stage 

            Jazz Fest is owned and operated by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which over the years has become an important civic institution. The Foundation uses the proceeds from the festival to fund education, economic development, and cultural programs. Since 1979, they have donated over $1 million to local schools, artists, and musicians. The Foundation owns the Jazz and Heritage Gallery, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Jazz and Heritage Radio WWOZ 90.7FM, the Jazz and Heritage Foundation Archive, the Jazz and Heritage Center, and the Jazz and Heritage Gala. Educational programs include the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, the Tom Dent Congo Lecture Series, and School Day at the Fest. They provide grants to Raisin' the Roof (a program that assists southern-Louisiana musicians with home-buying costs), the Jazz and Heritage Music and Media Market, and the Jazz and Heritage Music Exchange. The Foundation also organizes and hosts a number of other festivals including the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival, Fiesta Latina, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, Gospel is Alive!, Jazz Journey, the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, and many others. 

            Every year Jazz Fest seeks to celebrate the culture of Louisiana. Make sure you check it out. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wikipedia Louisiana: The French Legal Tradition

            Picking up from last week, where we discussed the Louisiana Purchase, let’s explore Louisiana’s unique legal and administrative system that is descended from French legal traditions.  

            The laws and legal traditions that characterize Louisiana’s justice and governmental systems are different from every other state in the United States. Since Louisiana was originally founded as a French colony (and later became a Spanish one), its legal and administrative structures are derived from French and Spanish legal traditions. These traditions, in turn, stemmed from Roman legal principles. The other 49 states all rely on traditions descended from English common law—since the 13 original colonies were all founded by the English. Over the years, Louisiana lawmakers have bridged many of the differences between these traditions, but significant differences remain. The first is that courts based on the English common law tradition tend to rule based on precedents and are generally bound by them. The logic underlying this principle is that following precedents ensures equal and fair administration of the law. In Louisiana, judges are allowed to make rulings based on their own interpretations of law. The differences between Louisiana’s French and Roman legal traditions especially manifest themselves in civil and family law. As a result, the Louisiana bar exam is the longest of any state, taking twenty-one and a half hours.  

The 19th century seal of Louisiana 

            It is commonly and erroneously claimed that Louisiana’s legal tradition is based on the Napoleonic code. This is not true. While Louisiana’s civil code shares the same antecedents as the Napoleonic Code, the Napoleonic Code did not go into effect in France until 1804, a year after Napoleon had sold the Louisiana territory to the United States.  

            The administration of the state of Louisiana also differs from the other 49 states. Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes rather than counties. Functionally, parishes serve similar functions to the counties found elsewhere in the United States. Forty-one parishes have a form of government known as a police jury. The police jury serves as the legislative and executive government of the parish and together the police jurors elect a parish president. The size of police juries vary from three to fifteen members depending on the size of the parish.  When Louisiana joined the United States, each parish had a parish judge and justice of the peace who were appointed by the governor. Voters then elected the policy jury which was responsible for maintaining the peace and supporting the judicial branch. 

Louisiana's Parishes

            The remaining parishes have a variety of different governmental structures. The majority of the parishes have split the executive and legislative functions between two branches. They use a council-president system where the voters elect a parish president and legislative council separately.  Caddo Parish, located in northern Louisiana elects a parish council which then hires a professional manager to run the government. A smaller number of parishes, mostly in the major metropolitan areas, have merged the parish and city governments together. So New Orleans and Orleans Parish, Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, Lafayette Parish and Lafayette, and Terrebonne Parish and Houma all have consolidated governments.  

            Another area where Louisiana is different from the United States is how the state runs its elections. Next week, we’ll take a look at Louisiana and its jungle primary system.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Introducing Wikipedia Louisiana

            Over the history of this blog, we’ve tried to educate our readers about Louisiana’s unique history. It’s a land of Cajuns and Creoles, crawfish and king cake, and Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima. We’ve explored the history of Mardi Gras, Christmas Eve bonfires, and the Natchitoches Meat Pie.  We’ve written way too many words about the New Orleans Saints. We’ve reviewed New Orleans restaurants and local attractions.  

            Since this is a blog as much about the State of Louisiana as anything else, we’re excited to launch a new recurring feature—Wikipedia Louisiana.  We’re going to use the popular online encyclopedia to highlight the unique features of our home state. So let us explain how this is going to work.  We’ll begin our adventure on the Wikipedia page for the State of Louisiana. Then we will highlight some feature of that page. For the next feature, we’ll follow some link off the Louisiana Wikipedia page to shed some light on some other part of Louisiana. Then the following week, we’ll follow a link from each subsequent page. This way we can explore some of the more interesting and less well-known parts of Louisiana’s culture and history. 

The Louisiana Purchase overlaid the modern US 

            For this week, let’s just start off with how Louisiana became a state through the Louisiana Purchase.  Louisiana became the 18thstate on April 30, 1812. In 1803, the United States had purchased the then Louisiana Territory from the French government of Napoleon Bonaparte for approximately $15 million (equivalent to about $300 million in today’s money). The Louisiana territory included land would become parts of 15 states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado and parts of two Canadian provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.  The land purchase was the largest in the history of the young United States. 

Louisiana becomes American 

President Thomas Jefferson had initially wanted to purchase the port of New Orleans and not the entire territory. As a desire for cotton and other slave-grown agricultural products fueled westward settlement, Jefferson and other southerners wanted guaranteed access for their goods down the Mississippi River. The only way to guarantee that access came by controlling the city of New Orleans itself. New Orleans sat near the mouth of the Mississippi river and any ships passing out into the gulf or up the Mississippi had to stop off in New Orleans. The city had long been a hub of trade since the French founded the city in the early 17thcentury. Jefferson wrote of his desire to control New Orleans that: 

There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half our inhabitants. France placing herself in that door assumes to us the attitude of defiance. Spain might have retained it quietly for years. Her pacific dispositions, her feeble state, would induce her to increase our facilities there, so that her possession of the place would be hardly felt by us, and it would not perhaps be very long before some circumstance might arise which might make the cession of it to us the price of something of more worth to her. Not so can it ever be in the hands of France. 

Napoleon proved more than willing to sell not only New Orleans, but the entire territory. The diminutive French dictator had little interest in reviving French claims to North America and had more pressing concerns fighting wars against his European neighbors.  

            Since Louisiana was originally a French colony, its state government varied significantly from the other American states. Next week we’ll explore this phenomenon.