Tom Benson

Saints Owner Tom Benson Dead At 90

Saints owner Tom Benson has died at the age of 90. According to an announcement from the team, Benson passed away peacefully with wife Gayle Marie Benson at his side.

Benson purchased the Saints in 1985 after learning that the team was on the verge of being sold and relocated. Since being purchased by Benson, the Saints have earned eleven playoff berths and won a Super Bowl ring in 2009. Back in 2012, Benson also bought the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans).

We learned earlier this week that Benson was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at Ochsner Medical Center (via ESPN’s Mike Triplett). He was admitted several weeks ago with flu symptoms. Benson has battled several ailments in recent years, and he was hospitalized back in October for exhaustion.

Besides owning the two major sports teams in New Orleans, Benson was also known in the area for his charitable work. Through his Gayle and Tom Benson Foundation, the owner was “dedicated to assisting a myriad of charitable, faith-based and educational causes in the New Orleans and South Texas communities” (via a Saints press release).

We at PFR offer our thoughts and condolences to Benson’s family and friends.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Cousins, 49ers, Saints, Cardinals

If Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins becomes available either via the trade or free agency this offseason, the 49ers reportedly plan to pursue the 28-year-old. That would seemingly be a welcome development for Cousins, who praised the 49ers’ new leadership – rookie general manager John Lynch and soon-to-be head coach Kyle Shanahan – on Thursday. Cousins told KNBR 680 (via CSN Bay Area) that Lynch is “smart guy” and a “class act,” adding, ” I think it was a good hire and credit the 49ers for going outside the box and doing something different, and not just getting stuck in a rut of the same old thing.” Shanahan is an “offensive genius,” according to Cousins, who played under the longtime coordinator in Washington from 2012-13. “I’ve always been a big fan of Kyle’s,” Cousins said. “I’ve always spoken very highly of him from the day I was picked. And he called me right after the draft and preached belief in me and encouragement … I loved his system right away and saw it successfuly run with Robert Griffin. I’ve seen it now run successfully with Matt Ryan.”

More from the NFC:

  • Colts COO Pete Ward stated last month that an “associate” of Saints head coach Sean Payton reached out to Indianapolis about its head coaching job, but Payton denied that Friday. Payton told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that his only “associate” is agent Don Yee, who didn’t call the Colts, and the coach added that he had never even previously heard of Ward. While there were reports earlier this winter that teams – including the Colts and Rams – could explore trading for Payton, the Saints never made him available, he informed Florio.
  • Payton’s boss, Saints owner Tom Benson, brought an end to a long battle Friday in settling an ownership dispute with his heirs centering on both New Orleans’ NFL franchise and the NBA’s Pelicans, details Greg LaRose of NOLA.com. If not for the settlement, the parties would have headed to trial Monday (the trial would not have impacted Benson’s control over the teams). Prior to Friday, Benson had been looking to remove ownership shares in the Saints and Pelicans from trust funds created for his daughter and grandson. The family had a falling out on account of Benson’s third wife, Gayle, whom he married in 2004 and who, in the heirs’ opinions, has too much control over Benson’s business affairs.
  • The Cardinals are planning to have left tackle Jared Veldheer and right tackle D.J. Humphries trade places in 2017, offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin revealed Thursday (via Darren Urban of the team’s website). “Jared is a team player, D.J. is a team player, so I’m sure we’re going to have a little coach-to-player conversation, but right now, throwing it out there of my own accord, I think D.J. at left and Jared at right and we’re rolling and kicking butt,” Goodwin said. Veldheer went on injured reserve in October with a partially torn triceps. That opened the door for Humphries to move back to the left side, where he spent his college career at Florida. Humphries was impressive enough there with the Gators to end up as a first-round pick in 2015, though he was inactive for his entire rookie season before beginning last year on the right side. In a combined 13 starts at the two positions, he graded as Pro Football Focus’ 42nd-best tackle among 78 qualifiers. Veldheer, meanwhile, was far better at the time of his injury (No. 18 out of 74), but that won’t stop the Cardinals from moving him off his typical position. The 2017 campaign will be the penultimate season of the five-year, $35MM deal Veldheer signed with the Cardinals in 2014.

Saints Notes: Brees, Benson, Lewis

We learned yesterday that Drew Brees and the Saints have not discussed a new contract in the last three months, and Brees is therefore still on track to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2016 season (for which he currently carries a $30MM cap hit). Mike Triplett of ESPN.com believes both sides are being unduly stubborn, that they should be more eager to get something done, and that this past week–the last week before the start of training camp–would have been the perfect time for team and player to reach an accord assuring that Brees would remain in New Orleans for the rest of his career.

Of course, Triplett also maintains that Brees and the Saints could have tried harder to get this deal done prior to the start of free agency, when a reduction of Bress’ $30MM cap number would have been especially welcome. Brees has set the start of the regular season as his deadline for working out a new contract, and while Triplett understands the Saints’ hesitancy to hand out another mega-deal–after all, Brees is not getting any younger, and he has battled a series of nagging injuries in the past two years–he still thinks the future Hall-of-Famer is a safe bet to continue performing at a high level. Triplett does believe, however, that Brees should be willing to leave a little money on the table if that’s what it takes to get him a little extra security now and give the team a better chance to make one last championship run before he calls it a career.

Now let’s round up some more Saints-related news:

  • A federal judge has given Saints owner Tom Benson an additional 30 days to replace at least some of the team shares that he attempted to pull from his daughter and grandchildren with equitable assets, according to Greg LaRose of The Times-Picayune. Benson had agreed to enter into negotiations back in June, just three days before he was scheduled to go to trial with trustees who blocked his attempt to remove stock in the teams. Once that matter is resolved, the NFL will still need to approve the settlement regarding team ownership.
  • Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who missed the majority of the 2015 season with a trio of injuries, says he will be ready for the regular-season opener, as Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune writes. His return will be a welcome one for the Saints, who will pair him with Delvin Breaux to form a fairly solid starting duo outside the hash marks.
  • One thing that would help the secondary, of course, is a better pass rush, and Nick Underhill of The New Orleans Advocate explores some of the Saints’ options in that regard.

Settlement Reached In Saints Ownership Spat

5:54pm: The settlement still requires NFL approval, tweets CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. That means at least 24 owners must sign off on it.

2:45pm: The Saints announced that a settlement has been reached in the dispute between owner Tom Benson and his estranged heirs. Terms of the settlement are confidential and therefore unknown at this time. Tom Benson (vertical)

The agreement means that it will be “business as usual” for the Saints as well as other key Benson properties, including the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, a local television station, and a cluster of car dealerships. The settlement comes on the heels of a court decision in June which ruled that Benson, despite the protests of the heirs he was feuding with, is mentally competent and fit to run his businesses.

Years ago, the Saints owner designated granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc as his handpicked successor. Then, in January 2016, he announced that he decided to instead transfer ownership of the city’s two major pro sports franchises to his wife, Gayle, when he dies. Meanwhile, LeBlanc’s offices at the teams’ Metairie headquarters were vacated and her company-issued Mercedes-Benz and cell phone was seized. LeBlanc, who was less than thrilled by all of this, filed a lawsuit claiming Benson is mentally incompetent and being manipulated by his wife.

Now, the 88-year-old will presumably remain at the helm of his sports franchises and, down the line, they will be owned and operated by his current spouse.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Jets, Saints, Pats, Bucs

The playoff-contending Jets (8-5) are one of the surprises of the NFL this year after finishing the 2014 campaign 4-12 and undergoing major offseason changes. As ESPN’s John Clayton writes, plenty of credit goes to first-year general manager Mike Maccagnan. The former Texans executive was at the helm of a makeover last winter and spring that saw the Jets bring in rookie head coach Todd Bowles, spend over $179MM on free agents (Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, Marcus Gilchrist and James Carpenter being the most expensive additions), and acquire two key offensive cogs – quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and receiver Brandon Marshall – for a mere late-round pick apiece.

While Maccagnan’s methods have paid off this season, the organization is cognizant that it has plenty of long-term work to do, per Clayton. The Jets have 10 starters in their 30s, so they need to stockpile youth. In terms of finding a young, high-impact player, Maccagnan’s draft history with the Jets got off to an excellent start last spring with his inaugural selection, first-round defensive end Leonard Williams.

As far as the upcoming offseason goes, Clayton expects the Jets to give raises to Fitzpatrick and running back Chris Ivory, slap the franchise tag on D-line stalwart Muhammad Wilkerson, and free up cap space by releasing Cromartie.

Elsewhere around the league…

  • As long as either Tom Benson or his wife is in charge of the Saints, Mickey Loomis is likely to remain the team’s general manager, according to Evan Woodbery of NOLA.com. Head coach Sean Payton is under contract for two more years, but his status going forward is less clear than Loomis’. Payton could look for another job in the offseason, and Woodbery doesn’t expect Loomis to stand in Payton’s way if he wants to seek work someplace else. However, Woodbery does believe the Loomis-led Saints would require significant compensation from any hypothetical team that tries to hire Payton.
  • The stellar play of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler means he’ll cash in eventually, and Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald took a look at how much the 25-year-old could make in the coming seasons. Howe thinks the Pats will give Butler a first-round tender as a restricted free agent after next season, which would cost just under $4MM. Then, as Butler pushes closer to unrestricted free agency in 2018, he could end up with a four-year deal in the $36MM range. He might not get that money in New England, though, as the club has decisions to make on a slew of important players other than Butler in the coming offseasons and won’t be able to retain all of them.
  • The Buccaneers have drafted a combined one defensive player over the last two years (fourth-round linebacker Kwon Alexander last spring), but that should change in 2016, opines Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Tribune. Stroud looks for the Bucs to upgrade at cornerback and add outside pass-rushing help to a defense that ranks 28th in quarterback rating against (100.5) and has forced just one turnover over Tampa’s last four games.

NFC Notes: Washington, Panthers, Rams, 49ers

On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Virginia ordered the U.S. Patent Office to cancel registration of the Washington Redskins‘ trademark registrations, upholding an earlier ruling by the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Responding to the news, team president Bruce Allen released a statement soon after.

“I am surprised by the judge’s decision to prevent us from presenting our evidence in an open trial,” Allen said in the statement (via CSNWashington.com). “We look forward to winning on appeal after a fair and impartial review of the case. We are convinced that we will win because the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name Redskins for more than 80 years.”

No one expected Washington to roll over and allow its trademark registration to be canceled without a fight, so Allen’s statement didn’t come as a surprise. As we wait to see how that case plays out, let’s check in on a few more items from around the NFC….

  • Greg Hardy‘s reduced suspension is good news for the Panthers, who will be eligible to receive a compensatory draft pick in 2016 if Hardy is on the Cowboys’ roster for 10 games, writes David Newton of ESPN.com. Under the terms of the initial suspension, Hardy wouldn’t have been active for more than six regular season contests in 2015.
  • The Rams were wise to bolster their offensive line depth by taking Clemson tackle Isaiah Battle in Thursday’s supplemental draft, Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. Battle joins 2015 draft picks Rob Havenstein, Jamon Brown, Andrew Donnal, and Cody Wichmann as part of a rookie-heavy unit for the Rams, and while he’s green, Battle is said to possess serious upside. The cost of selecting the underclassman was a fifth-round choice in the 2016 draft, a small price to pay in Gordon’s estimation.
  • The 49ers have made a habit of using some of their draft picks in recent years on “redshirt”-type players who are coming off injuries So far, those draftees haven’t made a real impact for the team so far, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, who examines a few players who fit the bill.
  • Tom Benson‘s lawsuit seeking to cut his daughter and grandchildren out of ownership of the Saints will continue in New Orleans, after U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo denied a motion to dismiss the case. The Associated Press has the latest details on the Benson family feud.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

NFC Notes: Morris, Benson, Haslett

The addition of third-round rookie Matt Jones clouds the future of running back Alfred Morris in Washington, writes John Keim of ESPN.com, noting that a source said in the spring that the odds of Morris signing an extension before the season were about 50/50. According to Keim, however, the team still has room to make a deal happen for Morris, who is worth keeping even if he’s not elite.

Here are a few more Wednesday notes from around the NFC:

  • The attorney for Tom Benson‘s heirs announced today that his clients are filing an appeal after the Saints owner was declared mentally competent last week, tweets Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. The battle among the Benson family over ownership for the NFL franchise – along with the NBA’s Pelicans – has been ongoing for several months.
  • Former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, who spent the last several year in D.C. as Washington‘s defensive coordinator, has joined the Penn State staff as a consultant, tweets Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. Haslett was replaced by Joe Barry in Washington following the 2014 season.
  • Former NFL running back Herschel Walker recently declared that he could still play in the league at age 53. While Walker’s comments weren’t taken all that seriously, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was asked if his team would have room for the former Georgia back and replied in the affirmative, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution details. “He’s one of my all-time favorite players. Yeah, we have room for him,” Quinn said. “For him, the legacy he left at Georgia. … He’d definitely fit in great from a competitive standpoint.” In spite of Quinn’s response, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the Falcons to offer Walker a spot on their 90-man roster.

NFC South Notes: Saints, Panthers, Falcons

A judge on Thursday ruled 87-year-old Saints owner Tom Benson mentally competent and fit to continue running his business empire, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear. Benson announced in January that he was cutting his daughter and her children out of Saints ownership and leaving the team to his wife of 10 years, which led to lawsuits in both Louisiana and Texas. Those lawsuits were filed by his daughter, Renee, and her children, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc, who tried to prove that Benson was incapable of running his businesses. That failed, but his daughter and grandchildren might appeal, writes Andy Grimm of NOLA.com, and it could set off a years-long fight for ownership of both the Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Here’s more on the Saints and two of their NFC South rivals:

  • Even though the Panthers signed quarterback Cam Newton to a mega-deal earlier this month, general manager Dave Gettleman told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer that he doesn’t want the 26-year-old to change his dual-threat playing style to avoid potential injuries.  “He’s got to be Cam. You don’t hold back a thoroughbred, you don’t,” said Gettleman. Newton has established himself as an elite running QB during his four-year career, piling up over 2,500 yards and 33 touchdowns.
  • One of Newton’s go-to targets, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, struggled with weight issues at Florida State and has tacked on some pounds this offseason after a stellar rookie year, but Gettleman isn’t concerned. “It really is much ado about nothing. Right now he’s only five pounds off his playing weight. That’s it,” Gettleman told Person.“He’s a few pounds over, that’s all. He’ll be fine.”
  • Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan‘s sack total dropped precipitously last year, going from 12.5 the previous year to 7.5 for a defense that had the third-fewest sacks in the NFC. Defensive line coach Bill Johnson believes Jordan is primed for a return to his 2013 form.“There’s two or three things that we’re going to go after and he’s made improvement on those things. At this time in the year you break down each guy individually and try to give him their needs and I think he accepted them well,” Johnson said, according to Andrew Lopez of NOLA.com. “He’s been consistent on the practice field. It’s a coaching eye. I’ve looked at him going on five years; I know what I’m seeing.”
  • Falcons coach Dan Quinn wouldn’t comment directly Thursday when asked about free agent offensive guard Evan Mathis, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter (via Twitter). The Falcons, like many other teams, are a potential fit for Mathis – a two-time Pro Bowler whom the Eagles released last week.

Judge Rules In Favor Of Tom Benson

Saints owner Tom Benson has been ruled mentally competent and fit to run his businesses by Judge Kem Reese, according to Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune (on Twitter). The official ruling is expected to come down this afternoon.

The ruling is expected to have major implications on the future of both the Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. Years ago, the Saints owner designated granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc as his handpicked successor. Then, in January, he announced that he decided to instead transfer ownership of the city’s two major pro sports franchises to his wife, Gayle, when he dies. Meanwhile, LeBlanc’s offices at the teams’ Metairie headquarters were vacated and her company-issued Mercedes-Benz and cell phone was seized. LeBlanc, who was less than thrilled by all of this, filed a lawsuit claiming Benson is mentally incompetent and is being manipulated by his wife.

Benson, 87, was forced to undergo evaluations by three different doctors to determine whether he remains competent to control his NFL and NBA franchises. One doctor was appointed by Benson, one by his daughter Renee, and the third was named by those first two physicians.

While the ruling was of significant importance to the Saints’ future, Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com recently wrote that relocation was not in the cards regardless of who was put in charge. The Saints are locked into their current stadium lease until 2025.

Over the past five months, the battle has been nothing but ugly both in the courtroom and in the press. Today’s resolution, barring an appeal, should bring the circus to a close.

For more on how the ruling affects the NBA’s Pelicans, head on over to Hoops Rumors, our sister site for the NBA.

NFC Links: Kuhn, Cardinals, Saints, Rams

Most players with John Kuhn‘s resume (including three Pro Bowl selections) would scoff as the idea of competing against a rookie. However, the Packers fullback is embracing the organization’s youth, including the team’s selection of fullback Aaron Ripkowski in the sixth round of this past year’s draft.

“Excitement,” he told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. “We preach around here that competition breeds the best football players. If you can’t embrace that, if you don’t believe it, then what’s the point of saying it?”

Even after re-signing with Green Bay this offseason, Kuhn isn’t taking anything for granted.

“You have to. This is the NFL. Thing happen all the time and if you don’t embrace it — if you don’t truly look at it as an opportunity to make yourself better — you’re only selling yourself short.”

Let’s take a look at some more notes from around the NFC…

  • Count current 49ers wideout Torrey Smith among those who believe Ray Rice deserves a second chance. “Good people make mistakes,” Smith told TMZ Sports regarding his former Ravens teammate. “I believe in second chances and I think society is supposed to be built on the idea that you can suffer consequences and come back. . . . People sometimes want you to apologize a certain way, crying or all upset. He’s made things right with his wife and family and earned respect with his actions since the incident.”
  • Cardinals general manager Steve Keim mentioned the team was open to the possibility of trades before the season, and Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com has picked out a few position groups that could still get shaken up. He picks the defensive line, secondary, and offensive line as places where the Cardinals may have some extra depth that could get moved for the right price.
  • Saints owner Tom Benson’s competency trial should come to a conclusion sometime next week, but Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com assures fans that no matter what the outcome and who is eventually put in charge of the team, the team has no plans to relocate, and are locked into their stadium lease until 2025.
  • The Rams need a new football stadium in St. Louis, and without it the team will be forced to relocate, writes Bernie Miklasz of STLToday.com. However, he analyzed the six owners Roger Goodell put in charge of overseeing possible relocation developments to Los Angeles–Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, John Mara, Bob McNair, Jerry Richardsonand Art Rooney II. With that group in charge, Miklasz feels confident the city of St. Louis will be treated fairly.

Rob DiRe contributed to this post.