In other news today, Heisman Trophy winning RB Mark Ingram is training in Metairie (Is there a way to keep him here? Is kidnapping still illegal?), Sean Payton does a lengthy interview with Brian Allee-Walsh (Yes, they discuss the Dallas move in detail), and the league finally provides its version/interpretation of the union's 50-50 proposal in the CBA talks (league version/response: shove it, NFLPA!)
NFL.com news: Payton's new home shouldn't be an issue with Saints, fans
But this is a perception issue, a potential public-relations problem that Payton has created for himself. There will be fans and media who will be suspicious of the fact that Payton has a home in Cowboys territory. Dots will be connected between the fact that Payton once was offensive coordinator of the Cowboys and remains very close with their owner, Jerry Jones, and has two years left on his Saints contract. Dots also will be connected between the fact that the people Payton cares about the most in the world, his wife and children, are in Texas while he's in New Orleans and the potential distraction that their separation will cause when the season is in full gear.
Nose guard Shaun Rogers reportedly to visit the New Orleans Saints | NOLA.com
He tweeted he was coming in
One week after walkout, silence | ProFootballTalk
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes that the time has come to make a deal. Unless he and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith have mastered the gift of ESP, getting a deal done will be difficult because the two sides simply aren't talking.
League finally provides its version of the union’s 50-50 proposal, sort of | ProFootballTalk
Last week, during the first day of a two-day bargaining session between the NFL and the players' union, the league reportedly walked out after the NFLPA proposed a 50-50 split of all revenues. The league previously declined to provide a specific rebuttal of the report from ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
NFL Hall of Famers are asking the league not to lock out players | NOLA.com
They've sent a letter to the commissioner
Amidst NFL's CBA storm, Brees provides steady influence - NFL - CBSSports.com Football
"He's one of the most important people in this fight," said a person with intimate knowledge of the negotiations. "He's among the toughest and the most liked. That's a great combination."
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Draft Dose: Heisman winners - NFL - Yahoo! Sports
As we debate where Auburn standout QB Cam Newton, 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, should go in the 2011 NFL draft,... - National Football League news
Indianapolis Colts place franchise tag on Peyton Manning | NOLA.com
Four-time NFL MVP would be paid $23 million next season
Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram of Alabama working with local trainer | NOLA.com
"This is like my family away from home," Ingram said. "(Green) is my boy. So if we'd just get a little homesick, we'd hit the road and come down to New Orleans. Really, just sometimes if you wanted to just get away from school, just come down here and chill."
Q&A: Saints Head Coach Sean Payton on state of team, family move
"It’s real easy,’’ Payton said. "We’re not going to work for the Cowboys and Beth and I are happily married. It’s that simple. It was a decision that we spent a lot of time thinking about and a decision that as parents that we make.’’
NEWORLEANS.COM: Did you and Beth anticipate the media stir that this story has created?
SEAN PAYTON: The feedback that I’ve gotten has been outstanding. It’s a great sign of how much people care about our team and care about what we do. I don’t ever take that lightly. I take it very seriously. I think that the fans are passionate about this team and passionate about what we’ve meant to the city. I’m glad to have been a part of the last five years and look forward to the next five years. I think at the end of the Super Bowl, with really a lull in topics to discuss, there’s never a lull when it comes to the Saints in this community. The feedback and the support that I’ve gotten as an individual, and my wife has gotten, and that we’ve gotten, has been amazing. That is something that we don’t ever take for granted.
NOC: That said, can you understand why people thought you might be leaving to join the Cowboys, for an owner (Jerry Jones) who you hold in such high regard?
SP: I still periodically touch base with people in New York with the Giants who I spent four years with. It’s no different than when I went to Dallas and spent three years with Bill Parcells and Jerry. Bill Parcells hired me and those were important learning steps for me in the process of becoming a head coach. Jerry was great to our family. He was great to work for, and those three years (2003-05) for me were like law school to get to this position. I recall the very last conversation we had and Jerry just talked about the risks we take sometimes that can turn out to be our greatest accomplishments. He was very supportive of me and dead on with that.
NOC: Somehow, I can’t envision you as a GM/president type, wearing a suit and tie, sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5, especially right now. That's why the rumor didn't resonate with me. First of all, you have two years remaining on your Saints' contract. Secondly, I couldn’t see you walking away from coaching at age 47. Does a front office job interest you at this time or in the future?
SP: You never say never. But, I can honestly say that role doesn’t interest me. I’m still having too much fun on the sideline with the challenge of preparing my team for the challenge week-in and week-out. But I will say this: I don’t see myself coaching 10 or 15 years from now. I would very much like to end my coaching career right here. I like the idea of going into television after my coaching career is finished and being able to watch my kids play sports. But that time isn’t close.
NOC: You took the Saints job in 2006 and Parcells left Dallas after the ’06 season. Had you remained in Dallas one more year might you have been in line to become the Cowboys’ next head coach?
SP: No. In ’06, I had gone through the interview with Green Bay and come here for the interview with the Saints and had another interview scheduled up in Buffalo that I never took. Oftentimes, people will say you could have had that job (in Dallas) but that was so far out there. I was a young assistant and the timing for me was right to take the job in New Orleans. The timing was right for me and I felt ready and looked forward to the challenge and really didn’t look back. It wasn’t a situation where I was leaving an opportunity really. I think in ’03 my decision not to take the Oakland job was a good one.
NOC: You have two years remaining on your current contract. Are you interested in trying to get your contract extended during the offseason? Currently, you rank fourth among NFC South coaches with the fewest number of years remaining on your contract.
SP: The one thing that (GM) Mickey (Loomis) and (owner) Tom (Benson) have done a great job with is finding the right time to deal with these specific needs. At some point, every coach looks forward to that type of job security with a contract extension. In ’08 (when his contract was extended three years), it happened in early fall. I think people oftentimes don’t recognize that a contract means the same to me and Mickey as it does to a tight end or the strong safety or the wide receiver. When you’re under contract, you’re under contract. A more pressing need is Drew Brees with a year left. We have 26 unrestricted free agents. We have a whole building of assistant coaches who have one year left on a contract and we’ll work on getting them a second year. When the time comes, I think it is something I’m sure Mickey and Mr. Benson will have a good plan about.
NOC: It has been nearly six weeks since your team’s 41-36 wildcard loss to the underdog Seattle Seahawks. How disappointing was it to have the rug pulled out from under you in the wildcard round.
SP: For all of us, there is the immediate disappointment. Where it truly hits you is when you’re at the Super Bowl and you’re working it. There were a number of segments we did with ESPN and one of those segments is, ‘OK, what is going on with these two teams this week?’ Being there and yet not being involved in the game was difficult. At one point, Drew (Brees) was on the set with us and I remember when the piece ended and I visited with him, it was like, ‘Hey, we got to get back here and out of these suits and ties.’ There’s a feeling of jealousy. I said that on air. I said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, I’m jealous that we’re not preparing right now and getting ready to play in this game having already done it.’ I do think that the loss to Seattle, as difficult as it was for us, can help light a fire or fuel what we want to accomplish this upcoming season. I got an interesting voice message from (oddsmaker) Danny Sheridan down in Mobile – he deals with point spreads and all that – but he said on his message that we won’t see it now but that loss will be a reason why we end up playing in the Super Bowl again. I get what he’s saying. Hey, part of the season was spent following up our past success with 11 wins, and yet all we’re looking for is that opportunity in the post-season tournament. There’s nothing worse than an early exit. I think that will drive us now during the offseason. I think we will respond the right way.
NOC: As you look back on the late season stretch would you have done anything differently?
SP: I looked closely at the last game of the regular season (a 23-13 loss to Tampa Bay on Jan. 2 at the Superdome) and Atlanta playing Carolina at the same time, and possibly doing that differently and resting starters. It’s a slippery slope going into that game in the event Carolina wins. But we lost Malcolm Jenkins in that game, we lost Jimmy Graham in that game and we lost Chris Ivory in that game. We lost them all early on in the game. As a coach, I think you go back and look at those things. Listen, as difficult as that loss to Seattle was to swallow, I think for all of us it has gone and it hasn’t tasted any better. But it really hits you when you’re at the event and you're not playing.
NOC: I know you are disappointed by that loss and the suddenness of being ousted. Can you honestly say that this team was poised to make a run deep into the playoffs, considering the number of injuries that hit your team at the end of the regular season?
SP: I think so. You’re constantly trying to pay attention to your competition and how you’re playing. I think that we felt we were a dangerous team in that tournament because we had been there and been through the process. We knew as a wildcard team that you had to get hot and you had to play well during that three week period leading up to the Super Bowl. That’s what made it hard, being a wildcard team. But I don’t think by any means that we felt excited just to be in the postseason. I think it was disappointment. Our expectation level was not to be a wildcard entry.
NOC: Although you lost in the wildcard round this past season, are you a more viable Super Bowl contender now than you were when you lost to Chicago in the 2006 NFC Championship game?
SP: I know what you’re saying. The loss to Seattle is different, say, than the ’06 loss to Chicago. We accomplished in ’06 maybe more than we ourselves even thought we could. We came away from it feeling, ‘Hey, we were close’ and yet …’ But the Seattle loss was different. I think we have the locker room and the coaching staff to utilize this loss for something special. Part of that is what we expect of ourselves and where we see ourselves, and I think that is half the battle in sport. How do you see yourself? What do you tolerate? And I know just from visiting with some of the veteran players how much that loss (to Seattle) hurt?
NOC: Did the proverbial window of opportunity close very much this past season? Is the potential still there to return to the Super Bowl next season or in 2012?
SP: Absolutely. We’ve got our work cut out for us this offseason with a number of free agents and that’s a challenge every year. But I think we have the nucleus of a group that is prepared to win for quite a while. Now, we’ve got a lot of work to do here from right now till, let’s call it March 4, and beyond that. That being said, I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to continue on the current course we’re on. We’ve got to be flexible enough to adjust and deal with the ongoing labor issues and yet the window you’re referencing sits there for us.
NOC: I know you won’t address specific players with me but will you at least target some areas of your 53-man roster that need to be upgraded in the coming months?
SP: Like all teams, when the season ends we grade our 53, the players on IR, the players on the practice squad, all the players in the building and try to have an honest assessment of where we’re at as a team. I think we can get younger in certain positions – our defensive front, specifically our down linemen, and the linebacker position. We need to look at adding some youth there. We have to look at it with the idea that our free agents aren’t currently here. So, for example, when you look at our offensive line, you look at Jermon Bushrod and Jonathan Goodwin as being unrestricted players right now. We’ve got depth at the wide receiver position. I think Adrian Arrington had a good season, although he didn’t play a lot, but he played a lot on the practice squad and was elevated to the 53 at the end. So we’ve got depth there. I think the running back position will be a key spot for us as we look at the players who are in the building and the players who technically are not -- Pierre Thomas is an unrestricted free agent. I think we’ve got depth at corner. It’s going to be important at the safety position. I think Malcolm Jenkins had an outstanding year. I think Roman Harper (an unrestricted free agent) is a guy who will be a critical piece to what we’re trying to accomplish. I do feel that we when we ran the ball in the ’09 season, there is a key element there that helped us win consistently and we weren’t as good in that area offensively this season. Defensively, we didn’t have the takeaways that we had the year before. I think we feel like we can improve in the kicking game. Part of that is the depth at the positions that I talked about. When you have an injury to (linebacker) Jonathan Casillas, that impacts the defense but it also impacts the special teams because of his skill set. That is a broad overview. We’re young at the punter and we’re young at the kicker and we’re certainly young at the long-snapper position. So there are some key elements in place there that are crucial to being successful. But the overall depth is something that will help us in all three phases, especially in special teams.
NOC: Do you need to upgrade the running back position during the offseason or is that an area that will improve on its own when everyone gets healthy?
SP: The first thing you have to look at is the current running backs in the building. Pierre Thomas is an unrestricted free agent so we have to sort through that. He had the injury and missed a lot of snaps and we certainly missed him. We missed the snaps that Reggie Bush gave us two years ago, Chris Ivory was a bright spot for us and yet we’ve got to look closely at keeping him healthy. We had some veterans who stepped in and did a real good job in Ladell Betts and Julius Jones. But to answer your question, the school of thought always is you have to be deep at that position, whether it’s through free agency or the draft? Free agency might mean (resigning) Pierre Thomas. But after going through a season with injuries at that position, and we had that in ’07 to some degree with Deuce (McAllister), that is something we need to look at. I do think at 10 years ago, it might be a little different than it is today. It’s hard to play a full season.
NOC: When all are healthy, do you have the nucleus to succeed at running back?
SP: Absolutely. You’re never standing pat when it comes to addressing good players. But with the emergence of Chris Ivory … going in you’d like to say that Chris Ivory will fill the Mike Bell role, and then you have Pierre and Reggie and Lynell Hamilton who was a factor in ’09, and you’re where you were a year ago. We’re excited about the guys in the building. I don’t know if we will pay attention to guys in free agency past Pierre. It’s been a position where it’s maybe been easier to find a running back in free agency than it is a cornerback, a tackle or a defensive end. That being said we don’t take it for granted. There is a role that each of those guys has. The key is having a vision and clearly we have a vision for what we ask and what we want Reggie Bush to do, Chris Ivory to do, Pierre Thomas to do, Lynell Hamilton to do. Outside of that, each year, if the right player is available … I think we’ve hit on some guys who weren’t drafted in Pierre and Chris Ivory. And those guys are good football players.
NOC: Will Bush come back at his current number ($11.8 million base salary in 2011)? Is that being debated behind closed doors right now?
SP: In fairness to your question, we’re very sensitive to whether it has to do with negotiations or players’ contracts and we’ve typically left that to when an announcement is to be made. I’m sensitive as the head coach to these guys focusing on their rehab and their offseason plans. I’ve shared that with these guys in the last team meeting – I’ve told them to come see me if they have any questions. But it won’t be something that we discuss with the media. But yes, I have a vision for Reggie Bush on this team.
NOC: Do you have a vision on the team for Jeremy Shockey, Devery Henderson, Dave Thomas, Scott Shanle, Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Goodwin, Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, Anthony Hargrove, Pierre Thomas, etc, etc.?
SP: It would be crazy for me as a head coach to sit down with you and go through who we have a vision for and who we don’t have a vision for before ever discussing any of these things with the players. But we’ve had these discussions in house and we know where we want to go.
NOC: Do you plan to put the franchise or transition tags on any players?
SP: I don’t see us using any tags. That is something that is always fluid, but the answer to your question is no.
NOC: Where are you in the process of hiring a replacement for Dennis Allen, who left his job as secondary coach to become defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos?
SP: We’re still in the search process. We haven’t done anything formally yet but I have a stack of potential candidates on my desk. Obviously, Tony Oden, who’s been with us since ’06 as an assistant in the secondary, is a strong candidate. And if it ends up being Tony, then we’ll fill his old position. I would say that will happen sooner rather than later.
NOC: The annual scouting combine runs from Feb. 23 through March 1 in Indianapolis. Will that be business as usual for you and your coaches and scouts as the March 3rd deadline for a new CBA fast approaches?
SP: Absolutely. Yes, we’ll evaluate this draft class as normal. Now there will be some potential restrictions in the draft itself with regard to trades if there is not a new agreement. But that preparation hasn’t changed.
NOC: Best player available at No. 24, or will you target a specific need, say a pass rushing end, run stopper or outside linebacker? What will be your tact picking at No. 24?
SP: You have to look closely at the best football player. We try to pay attention to need when you have two players who are very close. We drafted Malcolm Jenkins two years ago and the opportunity to draft Patrick Robinson allowed us the ability to put Malcolm back at free safety. I know for a certainty that that wouldn’t have happened had we not drafted a corner. Malcolm still played a lot of nickel for us in the slot. But picking where we’re picking, we’ll look closely if there is a player who jumps out grade wise. Our scouts have done a great job of really having a strong opinion in favor of or not in favor of certain players. I think the old adage -- ‘worry about who you get and not who you don’t get’ -- proves to be true.
NOC: Statistically, it would seem your offensive line overall underachieved and did not fulfill expectations this past season. That said, does this area need to be tweaked or upgraded during the offseason beginning with longer looks at second-year OT Charles Brown and G/C Matt Tennant?
SP: It starts with us dealing with the free agents in that group (LT Jermon Bushrod and C Jonathan Goodwin). Let’s start with the running game. The pressure diminishes on the O-line group when you can run more effectively like we did in ’09. So being healthy at running back can really contribute to that. It’s an area, statistically per pass attempt, that we’ve done a real good job at minimizing the sacks. That is something that Drew does very well. It all gets back to the running game and having that balance. There is a formula that we look at and we feel like if we’re running the ball more efficiently, all those things kind of take care of themselves. With a lack of a good, consistent running game, there is more pressure on that O-line and there is more pressure on that quarterback, and we understand that as well. When we’ve won here _ and I’m not referencing last year when we won 11 games – but in ’06 we ran the ball and had balance and in ’09 we had the same balance. Clearly, we feel like that can contribute to those other areas.
NOC: How much did Brees’ knee injury affect his performance last season?
SP: To his credit he never missed a snap at practice or in the games. Clearly, if you’re not 100 percent healthy, then there is a challenge. One thing about him is, with his preparation and his focus, he’s someone who doesn’t try to do too much. As the head coach, I wouldn’t want to say that was the reason for this or the reason for that. I thought he played extremely well. As a team, when we went through that early stretch and we lost a few games, I think we did a number of things that keep you from winning games. But clearly his knee is 100 percent now and there is no offseason surgery or any of that.
NOC: Were you concerned that he would miss some time last season when it happened?
SP: The question was how did he feel at practice? How did he feel with his motion and with his base and his ability to move? I would venture to say there is a certain part of his game that probably suffered, especially when you look at how much moving he does in the pocket; just the subtle movement. But listen, he’s a tough nut and he battled through that and didn’t miss a wink.
NOC: How long can Brees continue to play at his current Pro Bowl-caliber level?
SP: I don’t think he’s even finished playing the front nine yet and made the turn. With the way he’s played for us the past five years, he’s still a guy we can sell to other free agents who are thinking of coming here and even to our own free agents who might be thinking of going elsewhere. ‘Hey, come join us. We have Drew Brees playing quarterback for us.’ No, he’s still playing at a very high level and I don’t see any reason for that to change.
NOC: Any chance of Brees getting a contract extension before the March 3rd deadline when the current CBA is set to expire?
SP: You'll have to ask Mickey. I know that is on our list of things to try and do this offseason. I know Mickey is in constant communication with Drew's representatives just like he is with all our guy's people.
NOC: How concerned are you about the labor problems and the potential for a lockout and work stoppage?
SP: It’s unsettling because it’s new for me. Mickey has been through this before but this is different (than in 1987) in that it can potentially impact free agency as we know it. More than anything else is what it could do to the fans. Look, we can’t say it enough, but our game has never been healthier. Just having been at the Super Bowl last week in Dallas, you see the excitement that the fans have for this game and the amount of media coverage. It has changed in five years -- dramatically. I’m one of those optimists. I’m kind of a ‘glass is half-full guy’ in regard to anything like this. So, I’m hopeful that this is something that both sides can work through. Yet, the uncertainty of it is something that we work with and live with right now. The key is having our plan in place and recognizing that we’ve got to be flexible.
NOC: As a coach you always like to be in control and yet these are issues that you essentially have no control over. Does that make you feel more uncomfortable because you are a spectator?
SP: We can’t control it so let’s focus on what we can control. That’s how we’re conditioned as coaches. Yet, I’m optimistic and hopeful and realize where we’re at right now, which is unparalleled.
NOC: Are you optimistic that a CBA can be reached without much damage coming to the game?
SP: Yes, that’s just my personality. I don’t know anything more than you know. I read and see the same things you read and see. But we’re hopeful and preparing for all scenarios.