MARKED TURN: Blanco hopeful Saints will stay 'at least through 2010'; Team apparently considering exercising exit clause by March 31
Blanco told the Times-Picayune, "Our people are in talks. I think we are going to get a consensus (for the Saints) to stay at least through 2010. We are hoping that they don't (exercise the exit clause). I feel like discussions are leading them to staying until at least 2010."
It's a marked turn from previous discussions, where the talk was that the team would remain in New Orleans at least through 2010 when the present lease expires. It has been widely assumed that the team's $61 million exit clause, which was reduced from $81 million in July 2006, would not be exercised.
In fact, in September 2006 it was reported in the Times-Picayune that the team itself announced it would not exercise the exit clause.
(At the time, I questioned whether such an announcement actually took place. It's the only time I read this, and such news has not been indicated since.)
Now, it seems that Tom Benson may in fact utilize that exit clause (he has until March 31 to do so). Why else would Blanco say that people are in talks to keep the team under its present lease? Why else would she say that she hopes the team will stay "at least through 2010"?
Either something very troublesome to Saints fans is going on behind closed doors, or Blanco misspoke.
For what it's worth, Saints spokesman Greg Bensel is quoted in the article as saying that the team won't have any comment "until there is something to report; right now, there is nothing to report."
The article also notes, "The state has the right to cancel the contract after the 2007 season or by March 2008." It's a virtual certainty that the state will not pull the plug on the present deal. To do so would be the death knell of the Saints in New Orleans, initiated by the state and not the team.
Another key note is that Blanco has gone on the record as saying that the state will not pay any more than it has already agreed to pay in the previous agreement. To quote the article, Blanco said, "We are not going to enhance the money" in the present lease, which was hammered out in 2001 for 10 years and $186.5 million. The state is set to pay the Saints $20 million this summer, and owes the team $23.5 million after each of the remaining seasons under the current lease.
It's the only agreement of its kind in professional sports, and has been criticized not only by Blanco, but also by previous NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Presumably the two sides will work towards an alternative agreement to keep the team in New Orleans after 2010.
As for now, based on Blanco's comments, it appears the state is trying to coax the team from leaving by March 31.
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