The New Orleans Saints had better not get too comfortable in San Antonio. Their stay there is not likely to last beyond this season.
Representatives of the NFL and the Saints plan to open discussions with LSU officials in the coming weeks about the possibility of the team playing all of its home games at the Baton Rouge school next season, if a more permanent solution isn't found before then. It is becoming increasingly clear that NFL officials want the Saints spending as much of their time as possible in Louisiana -- and, thus, as little of their time as possible in San Antonio -- while the future home of the franchise is being decided.
The Saints are scheduled to play three home games in San Antonio and four in Baton Rouge this season. The Saints might have preferred to have played more of their games in San Antonio for the sake of convenience, since that's where they based their operations for the season after being displaced from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said this week he would have preferred for the Saints to have played all seven of their remaining home games this season in Baton Rouge, if it had been possible.
Tagliabue, speaking on the field at Giants Stadium a couple of hours before the Saints played the New York Giants there Monday night, said he had not yet begun to deal with the issue of the Saints' long-term future in New Orleans. That future had been uncertain even before Katrina hit. The Saints' lease at the Superdome gives them a window of opportunity after this season to leave New Orleans if they choose, and owner Tom Benson said last offseason that he'd received a $1 billion offer for the franchise from prospective buyers who would relocate the club. Benson's attorney was quoted during the offseason as saying that the franchise could be moved permanently to Los Angeles, San Antonio or Albuquerque.
Soon after the Saints fled hurricane- and flood-ravaged New Orleans and settled in San Antonio, there were reports that the team's move to San Antonio could become permanent. Benson has close ties to the San Antonio business community, with several auto dealerships in the city. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis responded to those reports by saying that the club's commitment to New Orleans was stronger than ever. Benson has declined to address the team's long-term future.
But Tagliabue said Monday that the NFL wants to be part of future discussions with political leaders in New Orleans about the rebuilding of the city and it's far too early to speculate what the outcome of those deliberations will be. There still hasn't been a reliable assessment of the damage to the Superdome, although there has been at least one report that the building will have to be torn down. Before Katrina, Benson had contended that the Saints needed a new stadium to be financially viable in New Orleans.
Tagliabue has been eager to place an NFL team in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest television market, and some observers now view the Saints as the leading contender to end up there. But people in the league familiar with the deliberations over the Saints say that even if Benson ultimately wants to move the team from New Orleans, the NFL won't allow him to leave Louisiana easily, as Tagliabue's insistence that the club play the majority of its home games this season in Baton Rouge demonstrates. Those NFL people say that political and business leaders in New Orleans will be given every opportunity to find a way to keep the team there long-term if that's what they want, and that the league's commitment to Louisiana likely will be reinforced by having the Saints play in Baton Rouge -- not San Antonio -- next season while those deliberations about the future of the franchise are ongoing. The NFL people say the Saints would leave New Orleans for good only if the city and state don't want to keep the team or feel they are financially unable to do so.
It's unclear where the Saints would base their operations and hold their practices next season if they're playing all their home games in Baton Rouge. It's possible they'd return to their training facility in New Orleans, which was mostly undamaged by Katrina and has been used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Game Times Set
The NFL set kickoff times for the Saints' remaining seven home games this season. They'll play all three of their games scheduled to be played in San Antonio (Oct. 2 against Buffalo, Oct. 16 against Atlanta and Dec. 24 against Detroit) at 1 p.m. Eastern time. They'll play two of their four games scheduled to be played in Baton Rouge (Oct. 30 against Miami and Nov. 6 against Chicago) at 4:05, and the other two (Dec. 4 against Tampa Bay and Dec. 18 against Carolina) at 1.
Shanahan to Be Fined
Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan will be fined today by the NFL for his comments about the officiating following last Sunday's triumph over the San Diego Chargers, a source close to the situation said.
Such fines generally fall between $20,000 and $100,000. The Broncos had a punt return for a touchdown negated by a penalty for having too many players on the field, assessed when several players stepped on the field in celebration during the play. Shanahan said after the game that such calls aren't made even in high school games.
Tailback Curtis Martin participated in the New York Jets' practice Thursday despite the knee injury he suffered last weekend, virtually ensuring that he will play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Martin last missed a game in 1998 . . . .
Quarterback Byron Leftwich participated in the Jaguars' practice and is slated to play against the Jets. Leftwich suffered a groin injury last weekend . . . .
Quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receiver Terrell Owens practiced for the Philadelphia Eagles. They'd sat out Wednesday's practice, McNabb with a groin injury and Owens with lower-abdominal pain, but it was clear all along that they'd play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field. It also appears that Eagles kicker David Akers will be available Sunday. He tested his strained hamstring muscle during Thursday's practice and things went well. The Eagles had signed kicker Todd France to their practice squad this week as a potential fill-in . . . .
Safety Mike Minter, hindered by a strained calf muscle, participated in the Carolina Panthers' practice Thursday and is slated to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. But the Panthers could be without cornerback Ken Lucas due to a shoulder injury . . . .
The San Francisco 49ers placed tight end Eric Johnson on the injured reserve list, ending his season, because of a torn muscle in his foot.