Saints make tough call to fire docs, but Delvin Breaux deserved better

It’s official. My greatest regret of the NFL preseason is not the New Orleans Saints’ decision to hold training camp in swampy, sweaty Metairie rather than mild, temperate West Virginia.

It’s that HBO’s “Hard Knocks” elected to document the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ training camp instead of the Saints’ this preseason.

This Delvin Breaux fiasco would have put Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” to shame.

Can you imagine the reaction from Saints coach Sean Payton when informed that Breaux, his best cornerback, was (1.) injured worse than originally diagnosed; and (2.) set back two weeks in his recovery because of the misdiagnosis.

Hell hath no fury like an NFL head coach misinformed about a star player’s health.

The misdiagnosis of Breaux’s fractured leg cost doctors Deryk Jones and Misty Suri their gigs with the Saints on Wednesday. And that’s unfortunate because I’m sure both are good doctors and well-intentioned men. It’s easy to make them the scapegoats for the teams’ respective struggles the past few seasons and that would be patently unfair. It’s way more complicated than that.

As Payton likes to say, there were a lot of dirty hands in this and few come out looking good in this embarrassing ordeal.

Ochsner has a PR bruise to heal after seeing two of its staff members sacked in national headlines for essentially malpractice.

Payton, meanwhile, has damage control to perform with Breaux and his camp after word leaked that the Saints were frustrated by Breaux’s injury history and dangling him as trade bait around the league.

Few players are more popular in the locker room than the ebullient, hard-working Breaux. Whoever decided to start shopping Breaux or leaked the news that the club was poised to trade him before waiting on the second opinion should be chagrined. Few labels are more damning for a player than being accused of goldbricking or being injury-prone. If I’m Breaux, I’m waiting on an earnest apology for how this whole sordid mess unfolded.

And the optics for the Saints aren’t good, either. In keeping Suri and Jones on board for years despite repeated complaints from players and fans, it looks as if the organization valued its lucrative financial relationship with a corporate partner over the health of its most valuable assets. Suri and Jones work for Ochsner Health Systems, which is a major corporate partner of the Saints.

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“You’re always trying to give the best (medical) opinion possible,” Payton said Wednesday. “It’s one of those positions with every team there’s always that level of importance to come up with the right opinion. For years, those guys have done a great job. Yet, there’s a point in which we just felt as an organization that change was going to be necessary for us.”

The Breaux diagnosis was not a first offense. Saints players have groused about their medical treatment repeatedly over the the years, dating to Brian Young’s botched knee procedure in 2007.

“I think it’s not one event, it probably builds up over a period of time,” Payton said Wednesday when asked about the decision to fire the doctors. “You’re not gonna bat 1.000, but you’re just hoping that more often than not, you’re getting the right information.”

Judging by the reaction on social media from former Saints players, these docs and/or their staff were not batting close to 1.000.

Former Saints linebacker Chris Chamberlain tweeted that he was “not surprised. Unfortunately, I experienced it first hand and it ended my career.” Chamberlain said Saints doctors told him “over and over my knee was fine. Finally got scoped and found out both meniscus were torn & had to have micro-fracture (surgical) repair.”

Keenan Lewis echoed Chamberlain’s sentiments during an eye-opening interview with Gus Kattengel on ESPN 100.3 FM in New Orleans. The former Saints cornerback, who was released last year after dealing with hip, knee and sports hernia injuries during the 2015 season, claimed that his hip flexor injury was misdiagnosed, and that teammates who joined the Saints from other NFL teams said “this has got to be the worst medical staff that I’ve been around.”

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Medical deals like the ones the Saints have with Ochsner are not uncommon. Most teams have similar deals, and the trend is growing throughout professional sports. 

“Hospital system sponsorships are the norm leaguewide,” said Dr. David Chao, the former head team physician for the San Diego Chargers, who writes a popular Monday Morning MD column for NationalFootballPost.com. “Typically, the medical marketing contract is separate from the team physician agreement, but overwhelmingly the doctors are affiliated with the sponsoring institution.”

Consequently, as Chao wrote in a 2014 column about the subject, these medical sponsorships “may be another reason why medical second opinions continue to flourish. New doctors may be top notch, but players will naturally have suspicion that the job was purchased. NFL agents are already told by the NFLPA to demand second opinions, and that trend will likely continue to increase.”

As we all learned in Breaux’s case, second opinions matter. 

Credit Payton and the Saints for addressing the situation and taking the hard road. It would have been easy to sweep the Breaux situation under the rug, ignore the problem for now and address the issue in the offseason.

A cynic — and some former Saints players — would argue that the decision was long overdue, but regardless, this is the kind of tough call that will resonate in the locker room.

For NFL players, nothing is more sacred than their bodies. They rely on them to make a living, so quality healthcare is not just important, it’s absolutely vital.

And that was the message Payton delivered to the team during a meeting with players on Tuesday night.

“I thought he did a great job of basically promising the team that they’re gonna have people that are here in every area of the building — including the medical staff — that players feel like have their best interests at heart and are competent,” punter Thomas Morstead said.

Said defensive tackle Tyeler Davison: “We trust Sean to put somebody good at their

New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux (40) works out on a bike during training camp at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Airline Drive in Metairie on August 3. 

job in that position to help us,” adding, “I definitely don’t think there’s a panic or worry with any of the players about getting good doctors in here. … We’re worried about winning games and this upcoming practice with the Chargers. We’re not worried about the medical staff.”

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And that’s exactly where the Saints players’ focus should be.

Just a few days ago, I was planning a column about how uneventful the Saints camp had been. I can’t remember a quieter camp, and in the NFL quiet is a good thing.

The Dallas Cowboys are reeling from the Ezekiel Elliot suspension. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to navigated the daily, unblinking production of “Hard Knocks.” And in Carolina, the Panthers are dealing with the fallout of the abrupt firing of General Manager Dave Gettleman.

Meanwhile, the Saints have been cruising under the radar, focused and distraction-free.

Then came the Breaux fiasco, and suddenly the Saints’ linebacker competition became an afterthought.

I don’t know if the situation will have lingering effects or even warrant being labeled a distraction. At this point, it’s too soon to tell.

But I do know that Delvin Breaux deserved better, from everyone involved. In that regard, we don’t need a second opinion.

 

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