The possibility exists that the Saints have played their final game in New Orleans.
Long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, many people in the NFL believed that this might be the team's last season in New Orleans. Owner Tom Benson said during the offseason that he had received a $1 billion offer for the franchise and, while he intended to keep the club in New Orleans, he would consider all of his options following the 2005 season.
Now it appears that the Saints might not even play in New Orleans this season, with Katrina having damaged the Superdome and floodwaters having overtaken the city. Team spokesman Greg Bensel said Wednesday it had become clear that the Saints will have to play at least part of this season's home schedule at another site, and added that the club didn't know yet whether it would be able to play at the Superdome at all this season.
The Saints spent this week practicing in San Jose, Calif., for tonight's preseason finale at Oakland. They are to travel to San Antonio after the game and set up operations there, based in a hotel on the city's Riverwalk. While players will be given Friday, Saturday and Sunday off before resuming practicing on Monday, representatives of the Saints and the NFL will spend the weekend sorting through a list of possible venues at which the team could play its home games for part or all of the season.
NFL officials seemed hopeful as recently as late Monday that the damage in New Orleans was not severe enough to prevent the Saints from playing there; the club's first home game of the season is Sept. 18. But that hope apparently dissipated as flooding in the city worsened on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Saints officials will spend the coming days dealing with the logistical nightmares of relocating an entire organization to another city on practically no notice. Players, coaches and team employees will fret about damaged homes back in New Orleans, and about getting family members to San Antonio. Living arrangements must be made; schools must be found for children. And the season begins in 10 days, with the Saints playing at Carolina in their Sept. 11 opener.
The long-term future of the franchise will be determined much later. At NFL owners' meetings in Washington in late May, Benson spoke at length to reporters. He said repeatedly that he planned to keep the Saints in New Orleans and one day have his granddaughter, club part-owner Rita Benson-LeBlanc, run the team. But he also said that he was not completely ruling out moving the franchise or selling it to buyers who would relocate it. Lease negotiations between Louisiana and the Saints broke off, and the team has a 90-day window after the season to decide if it wants to leave New Orleans, in which case it would have to reimburse the state $81 million. Benson's attorney was quoted during the offseason as saying that the franchise possibly could be moved to Los Angeles, San Antonio or Albuquerque.
That, however, is for the future. For now, the Saints have no choice but to take things one chore at a time. They are in uncharted territory, and the next step is to get situated in their at-least-temporary home and find a place to play games from among a list of possibilities that includes San Antonio; Houston; Birmingham; Baton Rouge, La.; and Hattiesburg, Miss.
Warrick Lands in Seattle
Wide receiver Peter Warrick, released by Cincinnati, found a new team quickly. He visited Seattle on Wednesday and agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million contract with the Seahawks . . .
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Kendyll Pope was suspended for the entire season, reportedly for violating the league's substance-abuse policy . . .
Darnerien McCants, released by the Washington Redskins, met with Philadelphia Eagles officials on Wednesday and could sign with the team this week.
Defensive tackle Corey Simon appears close to signing with the Colts. Signing Simon, who became a free agent when Philadelphia lifted its franchise-player tag from him last weekend, would be a major boost to the beleaguered Indianapolis defense . . .
Coach Nick Saban has declared Miami's starting-quarterback competition between Gus Frerotte and A.J. Feeley still undecided entering tonight's preseason finale against Atlanta . . .
Green Bay tailback Ahman Green agreed to perform 100 hours of community service and undergo counseling to avoid a trial on a domestic-violence charge. He accompanied the Packers to Tennessee for tonight's preseason game. Green could be disciplined by the NFL now that the case is resolved . . .
Kansas City quarterback Trent Green underwent minor surgery to improve circulation in his left leg and foot and will not play in the team's final preseason game, but the Chiefs expect him to be ready for the regular-season opener . . .
Dallas is among the teams pursuing free-agent wide receiver Peerless Price, Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells acknowledged. The Cowboys' new quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, played with Price in Buffalo before the wideout's unsuccessful stay with the Falcons, who released him this week . . .
Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington sat out Wednesday's practice because of a sore groin muscle and could miss Friday's preseason finale at Buffalo.