Heart-break. For fans of the New Orleans Saints, it's an emotion that older fans over the age of 50 and up have experienced for generations.
But following the team's agonizing last-second loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, many of the newer and younger generation of the team's supporters are now getting a taste of the emotional pain that comes with losing a game in a manner in which they'd only previously heard about in all of the previous re-tellings of "heart break" stories from the older fans.
Nevertheless: despite the now infamous way that the Saints' 2017 season ended, there is still much to be happy about if you consider yourself a devoted fan of the organization.
The Saints in 2018 will return a total of 15 players — which is nearly 1/3 of their entire roster — under the age of 26.
THIS Saints team WILL make a Super Bowl run (or two)..
These players are 26 or younger..
Kamara, Mike Thomas, Armstead, Warford, Peat, Ramczyk, Rankins, Davison, Klein, Anzalone, Lattimore, Crawley, PJ Williams, Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell.
2017 was the start of SB Run #2.
— Doug Mouton (@DMoutonWWL) January 15, 2018
Additionally, another 20 players, including 10 starters on IR; should all mostly return to an organization that took arguably the conference's very best team in the playoffs (Minnesota) "down to the wire" and certainly appear to be capable of making at least a handful more of Super Bowl runs in the forseeable future.
Long story short: the Saints have a very young "core" of players and they are set up to become of the League's top Playoff contenders for the next several years, barring any type of circumstances or events that would take them off of that current path.
Which means that as the team heads into its 2018 off-season, their #1 goal should be a simple one: finish what they started in 2017, and go all the way and win a Super Bowl title that they just fell short of winning this past season.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Except of course, there will be 31 other NFL teams hell-bent on preventing that from happening, meaning that the Saints need to put the "heart-break" of the loss to Minnesota behind them quickly — and begin focusing on how to make the 2018 team even more dangerous to face than the 2017 team was.
"Reflecting on the season itself and what we were able to accomplish and some of the memories made and relationships that were built, and just the way this thing came together, it really leaves me excited for the future of Saints football," quarterback Drew Brees said to reporters after the loss in Minnesota.
"Especially when I think of this window over the next few years."
Brees is exactly right, and the team's first priority of off-season business will likely first include addressing who among the team's current veteran players on the roster, will be back for the 2018 season and beyond.
Not everyone will be back; and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, defensive end Alex Okafor and versatile O-Lineman Senio Kelemete are among a handful of potential free agents that possibly could end up with a different team when the 2018 regular season kicks off in 8 and a half more months from now.
There's also Brees himself of course, although after his comments following the game, there's no reason to suspect that the 39-year old won't re-sign with the Saints for one last final contract that should take him up to the point of his final NFL season and eventual retirement.
Then of course, there's 2018 NFL Free Agency (beginning March 14th) and the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26th-28th); both events which will give New Orleans even more opportunities to further strengthen their current "core" group of players already in place.
Among the current 2018 Free Agents that could be potential Saints "targets":
Patriots CB Malcom Butler, Panthers DT Star Lotulelei, Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, Giants guard Justin Pugh, Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry, Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah, Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, 49ers safety Eric Reid, Eagles LB Nigel Bradham, and Raiders DT Justin Ellis, to name a few.
The Saints will be picking with the 27th overall pick in the 2018 Draft (they won't have a 2nd Round pick because they used it last year to trade up to select Alvin Kamara), and the likely roster positions they'll be looking to upgrade include LB, TE, WR, DE, another versatile O-Lineman who can play both guard and tackle, and possibly even a QB, to one day become Brees' eventual successor in the next 2 to 3 years.
So for the next few months, the Saints will have even more chances to further strengthen their team and prepare to make an all-out assault on a run for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3rd, 2019.
When you take into consideration how their season just ended and based on all of the comments made by both the players and coaching staff following the game and then once again on yesterday, there can't be any doubt that the entire Saints organization already knows just how close they are to becoming one of the NFL's best teams for YEARS to come.