Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2019 NFL Draft Recap

Mickey and Sean contemplating another trade up 

           The never-ending NFL draft is finally over and, as promised, let’s take a look at the New Orleans Saints picks. Even though the Saints went into the draft down their first, third, and fourth round picks, they still managed to do what they always do—trade away future talent to meet current needs and believe way too much in their own talent evaluation relative to the rest of the league. 

 Round 2, No. 48 Overall: Erik McCoy C, Texas A&M 

            Let’s start with the pick itself. As we discussed last week, the Saints had a desperate need at center after the surprise retirement of Max Unger. McCoy, alongside free agent signee Nick Easton, will compete to fill Unger’s spot. McCoy also possesses the ability to play guard, making him a versatile addition to the Saints offensive line. McCoy is 6-4, 303 pounds and started 39 games over the past three seasons at Texas. McCoy’s ability to stay in the lineup should help bolster the Saints line which has dealt with injuries to Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead over the past few seasons. 

            So if the pick of McCoy makes sense, then what’s the problem? The problem is the same as it always is. New Orleans traded up to get McCoy and overpaid for him in the present, while also hurting themselves in the future.  Here’s the trade that the Saints made to get McCoy. They sent their second round pick, 62 overall, 202 overall, and a second-rounder in 2020 for picks 48 and 116. Using Chase Stuart’s trade value chart, derived from the value that draft picks actually produce, the Saints sent away approximately the value of the 15th overall pick in the draft to acquire McCoy. As a general principle, teams generally don’t take centers with picks that high. They’re just not as valuable as quarterbacks, wide receivers, pass-rushers, or offensive tackles, who play on the outside of the line and lack help from interior offensive linemen to block opposing defenders.  

Round 4, No. 105: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida 

            Once again, the pick here is understandable. The Saints need help in their secondary, especially at safety. Gardner-Johnson played in the slot and swapped between run defense and pass defense with relative ease. Having players with the flexibility to play the run and the pass is especially important as teams not only pass the ball more, but try to exploit opposing defenses by trapping them in pass or run only personnel. 

            And once again, the price is too high. The Saints traded up again (and for the 17th time in 13 years), this time sending the newly acquired 116th pick and their fifth rounder, 168th overall, to move up 11 spots. By the time teams reach the fourth round, the differences between players are relatively small. And while teams may have players they prefer, there’s no need to aggressively trade up unless you have picks to spare. Instead, New Orleans trusted its own talent evaluation over the fact that they might be (and often are) wrong. Rather than guard against that reality, the Saints stuck their head in the sand again, believing they, somehow, can evaluate talent better than any other team in the league. 

Round 6, No. 177: Saquan Hampton, S, Rutgers 

            Now we’re at the part of the draft where it’s hard to evaluate because players drafted this late are often fighting for roster spots and may not make it to September.  As with the Gardner-Johnson pick, Hampton makes sense as the Saints still have needs in the secondary. Hampton will hope to contribute on special teams and pass-heavy downs. 

Round 7, No. 231: Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame

            Mack certainly fits a need, but can he make the team. In 2018, he only caught 36 passes for 360 years with 3 touchdowns, hardly anything to write home about. He’s a developmental pick, but the Saints, who are trying to win a Super Bowl this year, may not have time to wait around. 

Round 7, No. 244 overall: Kaden Elliss, OLB, Idaho

            Elliss has a chance to contribute on special teams and perhaps as a situational pass-rusher. He’ll be competing against undrafted free agents for his roster spot. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

2019 NFL Draft Preview

           The NFL draft begins this Thursday night. For New Orleans Saints, however, there’s very little reason to tune in. The Saints don’t have a first round pick. In fact, Saints fans don’t have much of a reason at all to watch the draft. As the team has gone all-in to try and win the Super Bowl over the last two seasons, they’ve traded away draft picks for players who can help the team now. Some of those moves have worked, others not so much. 

            So let’s take a look at few picks the Saints have left, what they might do with them, and where all the missing picks went. 

1-30—In 2018, the Saints traded their  first rounder, 27th overall, and their 2019 first rounder to the Green Bay Packers to move up to the 14th pick and select defensive end Marcus Davenport. The aggressive move was classic Saints, pay too high a price for a player the team’s front office loves. In his rookie season, Davenport looked every bit the developmental prospect that draft analysts had described. He was fine, but was he worth giving up value equal to the 4th overall pick in the draft? Absolutely not.

2-62—Hey, they kept this one! Don’t be surprised if the Saints try and trade up by throwing in a pick from the 2020 draft. Ideally, the Saints would trade down and pick up an extra 3rd or 4th rounder, but that’s not Saints GM Mickey Loomis’ forte. Sometimes it works, see Alvin Kamara, but most of the time it doesn’t i.e. every other trade Loomis has made where he gives away future picks in higher rounds. 

3-93—The Saints traded this pick to the New York Jets back in training camp for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. If New Orleans wanted Bridgewater so badly, they could have signed him as a free agent a few months earlier and kept their draft pick. Bridgewater barely played in 2018 because the Saints have Drew Brees at quarterback. Why pay such a high price for a backup? Especially since if Brees is hurt, the team is screwed anyway. 

4-132—New Orleans traded this pick mid-season for cornerback Eli Apple. This trade was one of the few draft pick for player trades that turned out well. Apple, who had struggled with the Giants after being the 10thoverall pick in 2016, solidified the Saints pass defense. Lining up as the starting cornerback across from Marcus Lattimore, Apple replaced Ken Crowley and the injured P.J. Williams. 

The rest of the Saints draft picks are in the 5th (168), 6th (177, 202), and 7th (231, 244) rounds. So now let’s take a look at some areas of need for New Orleans. 

Offensive Line—With the surprise retirement of Max Unger, New Orleans needs a new center to anchor the team’s stellar offensive line. Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford will be free agents after 2019 and 2020 respectively. Left tackle Terron Armstead is a great player when healthy, but always seems to miss a multiple games per year. An effective offensive line is key to keeping Drew Brees upright. 

Tight End— Ever since the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham, they’ve struggled to find a permanent replacement. New Orleans signed 32 year old Jared Cook in free agency and he won’t be around forever. It’s time for the team to draft and develop a tight end for the future. 

Defense—Despite the Saints massive improvements over the past two seasons, they still need help just about everywhere on defense. Another edge rusher to complement Cameron Jordan and Davenport would be useful, especially after the loss of Alex Okafor. New Orleans could also use another safety behind Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell. As NFL teams become more and more pass-happy, having 3-4 effective safeties is becoming more and more important and the Saints just released Kurt Coleman. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Jazz Fest 2019

            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 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.

           The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac were originally scheduled to headline this year's Jazz Fest, but both had to withdraw due to illness. But the lineup this year features artists like Katy Perry, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Santana, Van Morrison, the Doobie Brothers, Gladys Knight, Alanis Morissette, and Diana Ross.

           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 and Flow Tribe, will 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 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 9, 2019

New Orleans Chefs Recommend Where to Eat

Over the years, we've reviewed and recommended places to eat in New Orleans. We all have our favorites, but it's hard to go wrong food wise when visiting the Crescent City. Rather than have us again recommend some places to go, we thought instead to let some chefs who put New Orleans on the map let you know where they go out to eat.

First, we'll start with Emeril Lagasse. Underneath the polished TV persona that became self-parody with the the incessant shouts of "BAM!", Lagasse possesses a deep and abiding love of New Orleans and its diverse food culture.

Nina Compton is part of a new generation of rising New Orleans chefs. We wrote written about her stellar restaurant Compere Lapin last year, where Compton blends New Orleans, Italy, and the Caribbean, creating innovative and inspiring food.


First at his restaurant Shaya and now at Saba, Alon Shaya pioneered high end Israeli food in New Orleans. He rose to prominence as a chef and partner at Domenica restaurant before branching out on his own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Christmas Trees in the Marshland

            Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the aid of the Louisiana National Guard deposited over 9,900 Christmas trees into the Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge. Helicopters, carrying bundles of trees, hovered just above the ground before dropping the trees into the marsh. 

            The joint effort has been a spring tradition for over twenty years. In early January, crews collect natural and undecorated trees—no tinsel, ornaments, or lights are allowed--from residents in the Greater New Orleans area. Local waste companies and environmental groups then clean, sort, and bundle the trees together. In March every year, pilots from the Louisiana National Guard—who conduct the drops as part of training exercises—drop the bundles from their helicopters into Bayou Savage. Then workers in the Bayou anchor the bundles into place. 

            Bayou Savage is a 23,000 acre wildlife refuge full of marshes located within the New Orleans City limits. It is the largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States. Situated in New Orleans East, the refuge sits inside the levee system and helps hold back storm surges and regulate water levels in New Orleans itself. It houses a wide range of wildlife including the endangered brown pelican, white pelicans, raptors, alligators, bass, catfish, and the other wildlife you’d expect in a protected marshland. In total, there are some 340 different bird species that call Bayou Savage home. The refuge also features a mix of freshwater and brackish marshes, hardwood forests, lagoons, canals, and bayous. 

            The trees dropped into Bayou Savage provide a stable platform for the growth of new plants. These new plants can then catch silt, cleaning the water and building up the marshes even further. When hurricane season comes, these barriers slow down erosion and most importantly help slow down the storm surge. Refuge manager Shelley Stias explained that “When a storm comes, a healthy marsh will absorb all of that water and slow the wave action down. Not saying that New Orleans will not flood, but it will not flood as bad.” 

            Re-growing marshland takes years, but the decades long effort has added hundreds of acres of marshland to Bayou Savage. As the marshland builds up, there are more plants available for birds and other wildlife to eat, causing a growth in the wildlife population. 

            Captain Richard Suarez of Mandeville echoed the importance of the project. He told 4WWL that “Being from Louisiana, growing up, we know that coastal erosion is a huge problem here. Something I can do personally to have an effect on reversing that or stemming it, is something that has a lot of meaning to me.” 

            When it comes to protecting and growing marshland, who knew that Christmas trees could be such a powerful and effective weapon?