The National Football League has put down a major punishment on the New Orleans Saints for "bounty" violations, which includes the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was hired by the St. Louis Rams this offseason, has been suspended for an indefinite period of time. Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been suspended without pay for the first six games of next season, while general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended for eight games.
Payton's suspension, which is also without pay, will begin on April 1.
It's that suspension, in addition to the loss of New Orleans' second-round draft picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Draft, that could have the biggest impact on fantasy football. More to the point, owners might wonder if the Saints will have the same explosive offense without Payton's influence.
Remember, Drew Brees is coming off one of the greatest statistical performances of all time. The talented quarterback broke Dan Marino's record for passing yards (5,476) in a single season while also scoring a ridiculous 47 total touchdowns. If Payton were back in the mix, there would be no concerns about Brees.
Now that he's out of the equation, is it time to drop Brees on rank lists?
Not a chance.
We aren't taking about some inexperienced quarterback with a few mediocre fantasy seasons under his belt. This is Drew Brees, who knows the offense well enough to run it with his eyes closed. Also keep in mind that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael did gain some valuable experience calling the shots down the stretch in 2011. Is he at the same level of Payton? Of course not. Will the offense lose some of it's aggressiveness? It's possible. But even without Payton, Brees still belongs at the same level as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
The fact that the Saints lost Robert Meachem to the Chargers and won't have a pick in the 2012 NFL Draft until the third round is an issue, as the team will find it more difficult to replace lost parts in the offense. But Brees is good enough to make even someone like Adrian Arrington a deep sleeper in fantasy land. How much fantasy value would Marques Colston have if he was catching passes from a quarterback like Mark Sanchez? With Colston, Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and a full complement of running backs all at his disposal, Brees will be just fine.
Here's the bottom line.
Losing Payton is going to hurt the team, no question. And while Brees is unlikely to duplicate his awesome 2011 numbers, that might have been the case even if Payton wasn't suspended. He's still an elite quarterback, a tremendous fantasy option and will be one of the first three players taken at his position in fantasy drafts.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to **@Michael_Fabiano** or send a question via **Facebook**!