Courtesy of NewOrleans.com.
"For the last few weeks, we've been meeting as a staff, myself, Sean (Payton), our college scouting staff and our coaches. We've had a thorough review of all the draft eligible players at each position and I feel very good about the work we've done. I want to comment Rick Reiprish our college scouting director and our college scouts. This is the culmination of a year's worth of work for these guys. They're just a critical element of our success. They've been a critical element of the success that we've had and most certainly will be critical to the success that we're going to have in the future. Looking forward to the new draft format, I think it will be interesting. It will be interesting for me. It will be interesting for you guys to see how the process is impacted by this new schedule. I think we have a few ideas of what could happen, but until we live through it once we don't know. On Monday, our offseason program begins. We started this new league year with 17 restricted free agents. Eight of those guys have signed their contracts; Remi Ayodele, Jermon Bushrod, Jeff Charleston, Anthony Hargrove, Chris Reis, Zach Strief, David Thomas and Leigh Torrence. We're expecting on Monday three more guys to sign; Marvin Mitchell, Courtney Roby and Usama Young and there are five guys that I don't really have an answer yet; Jammal Brown, Jahri Evans, Roman Harper, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas. I've spoken to each one of their agents, but I'm not clear on if they will be here on Monday or not, so we'll have to see."
Does the format change impact your pre-draft preparation?
"No, we've prepared exactly the same way. Frankly I don't expect there to be any major differences this year from the past. I think there's speculation that the top of the second round will be more valuable because you have a whole day and night to maybe evaluate your board and target certain players. It will certainly give teams opportunity, a lot of time to discuss with other teams trade options. When you have that kind of opportunity, you expect there to be more deals. Beyond that, I don't think that will have a major impact."
Once the first day of the draft is over, can you continue talking with teams through the night?
"Yes. Certainly you have an opportunity to do that, but after a long day and evening, I'm not sure that's the optimum time to be making decisions, but you have a lot of time to think about it within your staff. During the draft when you're on the clock and have ten minutes and five minutes in some cases, there's not a lot of time to discuss it amongst your staff. This at least allows to the top of the second round and top of the fourth round."
Do the breaks make this draft format attractive to you?
"It probably would if we weren't picking 32nd. For us, it's probably not going to be a lot different"
Are there any negatives to the new format?
"I don't know. We've thought about it, but haven't' really come up with any negatives. There's a lot more time to sit around and eat. That's probably a negative. At least it is for me."
In terms of your general philosophy do you go into a draft thinking team need or best player and do you like guys who are said to have upside whose production hasn't matched their potential yet?
"I think it's a good question. I think that sometimes changes from year to year. Generally what you try to accomplish in an offseason is to fill enough of your major holes so that when you get to the draft, you're able to take the best available player and so that's always the goal. We've been able to achieve that most years. You need to pay attention to the holes on your team and if you do have a particular need at a position what you hope for is that the best available player is at that position or at least graded very closely to it."
What about the guy whose production hasn't matched his upside?
"I think there's more to it than just that. It depends on the round you're taking. In the first round you want to make sure you have a productive player for performance and so you're not looking to take a lot of risk in general. You need to get a good player there. Now as you get further down the draft, you take a risk."
At 32 are you inclined to do your mock draft the same way as you have conducted it before when you were picking earlier?
"We're going to do that, but there's so much uncertainty that when you're 32 players into it, I'm sure if we did it 50 times, we'd have 50 different scenarios. We're going to do them, but recognize that there's a lot less certainty as to the group and the circle of players that will be available to you as opposed to picking at an earlier position."
Would you agree that there is a good group from between the 21st and 45thplayers available where you could trade down and still get a guy you wanted?
"I don't know where those breaks are. I think every year there are breaks between the top five and six and then there are breaks a little farther down in the way you have them graded. I don't know that we're ready to say where those breaks are internally , but if we don't think that there's a player available to us at 32 that we don't think is worthy of that pick, certainly we'll entertain the option of moving down. As you guys know, we've moved up in the past too, so I wouldn't rule that out either."
Are you necessarily possibly not in favor in accumulating picks because of the climate today with the restricted free agents?
"No. We like draft picks, absolutely."
Do you consider yourselves in a good position because you can draft a player at 32 that you don't necessarily need to come in and start?
"I don't think I'd say it that way. We'd love to bring somebody in here in the draft that could start for us. I think there are positions where guys would have an opportunity to do that. Our goal is to select guys that can start for us, either now or in the future. I don't know how to answer that any other way."
Do you think there are players you could bring in that could start?
"That's our goal absolutely."
You have gotten some guys in the third, fourth and fifth round that maybe haven't finished their college careers on a high level. How much is projection and team fit a part of the equation?
"It does play into it. When we discuss a college player, we always ask the question of how this guy is going to fit into this group both as a player and his character makeup. It definitely plays into our decision."
Is your mindset different going into this draft in that you're trying to maintain a championship level rather than reach a championship level?
"I like picking 32nd even though presumably you're not going to get as good a player as picking higher. But, I don't think the mindset's any different. We approached it the same way. Our time frame was a little shortened, but that's a good problem to have."
Do you think overall this is a deep draft for the needs you have to fill?
"I think that the consensus of our group is that there are a lot of good players in this draft. Whether it's deep or not, is going to be determined three years from now, but our perception is that there are good players in this draft."
What do you see from Drew over the course of a game when he struggles?
"He's a confident player. He has great body language. Sometimes you take that for granted, but all of us watch enough football. At times you see the opposite of that. He's very competitive. All of us early in that game thought like we could have done a better job. Yet, it is what it is and you're down 24-3 and you're going to find out quickly a little bit more about everyone. That was the encouraging part of the game. I think with him it's contagious with other players."
Does the restricted free agent situation affect how you pick?
"I think we've anticipated the restricted free agents we had were going to be back with us for a couple reasons. One is that historically not a lot of restricted free agents change teams. Secondly, I haven't had a single player discuss the desire to be somewhere else. Really all of them have expressed a strong desire to stay with the Saints. We've anticipated all along that these guys were going to be with us and so I don't view any of those positions as holes. In fact, we can view them as strengths.'"
How much does the uncertainty of certain unrestricted free agents and their status affects your strategy on draft day?
"It depends on the year. I would say some years it has some impact. It's not going to force us to draft at a particular position."
Is Jammal Brown in good enough condition to pass a physical with your team or any other team right now?
"He's made excellent progress. When he gets here then we'll be able to give him a physical and say full go or not, but we're anticipating he's going to be full go. He should be given the time frames, the surgery and the rehab we saw in the season and immediately after. We think he's going to be fine."
Was there anything such as the Donovan McNabb trade or anything else in this offseason that surprised you at all?
"There have probably been a few that have surprised me. I don't really like to comment on other teams moves and there's been a lot of activity it seems morose than other years. I don't have the numbers, but it feels like there's more activity and obviously with some bigger names, but I don't spend a lot of time thinking about whether it was good or bad. Obviously the guys with those teams know what they're doing and both sides feel they're doing right for their team, but there has been a lot of activity. At least it seems like that to me."
Was any player moved that maybe you had an interest in?
"No, nothing we were involved with."
Is there less pressure picking at #32 as opposed to near the top of the draft?
"I haven't thought about that. I suppose there is less pressure because of the magnitude of the contract. When you're picking in the top ten, with the magnitude of those contracts, it's just so critical and you feel so much pressure to make not just a good but a great judgment in who you select. As you move farther down the draft, obviously the magnitude of that contract is less. I hadn't really thought about it in terms of that but just sitting here and answering that question, it feels that way."
How does the rookie pool work this year without a CBA? Do you still have a specific amount of money to spend on draft picks?
"I think there's still going to be a rookie pool. That's a good question. But really, we're not going to approach it any differently. We're going to have our restrictions. I'm sure there is a rookie pool; I just haven't thought about it yet. We're generally so focused on who we're going to select that the contract process doesn't really come into play now."
Is there any position that you can rule out drafting?
"Kicker or punter. We can eliminate those two."
With the five RFAs that may not be signed by Monday, did you anticipate going into free agency that they might take longer?
"I wouldn't say that. I know all five of those guys want to be with our team and they want long-term deals, and we want them with our team. But I really haven't had enough discussion with any of them individually to know if they're going to be here for the beginning of the offseason program or not. It's voluntary. In the past, we've had a number of guys that have come without a contract, without the tender being signed; they can sign a letter of protection. And some have chosen not to come. That's up to them. Until we get to Monday, I just won't know on these five guys."
What kind of progress have Stanley Arnoux and Chip Vaughn made? Do you kind of look at them as bonuses heading into this draft?
"Both of those guys are going to be healthy and going to be full-go. I know they're chomping at the bit to get going and show us what they can do; particularly Stanley, who got the first day a year ago. We're excited about those two guys' prospects. It is kind of a bonus."
You said that the ideal scenario is that the highest-rated guy on your board when you pick is in a position of need. Ideally, what position would that player play?
"The trick to this press conference is to give you guys your answers without giving our competition any information, so I'm going to choose not to answer that one."
Can you give us a general sense of where you'd like to get better in the draft?
"I think that if you look at our team, we've lost some guys on defense and have the potential to lose some guys on defense. Obviously we had the number-one rated offense in the league last year and our defense performed very well, but we can improve in that area. I probably would lean toward the defensive side of the ball, but there's always the but. There's always that guy that jumps up at you that you don't expect to be there. In years past that guy has been Deuce McAllister; he's one example of someone where we had no intention going into the draft of selecting a running back and at 22, Deuce was there staring at us and we said, ‘Let's take this guy.' That's the caveat."
Would you agree that some of your favorite or most productive picks in recent years have come in middle-to-later rounds and in some surprising areas that maybe defied conventional wisdom at the time?
"Our college scouting staff has done a great job of finding guys that we were able to target in the mid-to-late rounds - Jahri Evans, Marques Colston and Carl Nicks are three examples of guys that before the draft talked about them as guys that we would really like to have if they were still around at the appropriate time and they have worked for us. We've had some guys that didn't work for us to that we targeted. I think our guys do a great job with that."
Was the Robert Meachem pick an example of that - picking someone that most observers didn't see as a position of need?
"That's true. That wasn't a position going into that draft that anyone would have expected us to take, and we wouldn't have expected us to take a receiver then. But it gets down to when we're picking, all of a sudden there's one guy that's just graded so far above the other guys for us that we didn't really have a choice. Will Smith was that type of pick, and Deuce as I mentioned as well. We may be forced to do that."
Where are you now with Darren Sharper? How badly do you think you need to get him back here?
"We've made it clear to Darren and his agent that we're interested in having him back and he has expressed the desire to be back. As we go forward here, we'll just see if we can make the numbers work. So far that hasn't happened, but that's ok."
Has the surgery he had to have on his knee been a blessing for you guys in a way in keeping teams away from him possibly?
"No, I wouldn't say that at all. I wouldn't want any player to be injured to our benefit. Actually, let me retract that because I think Drew Brees was injured to our benefit.
"That being said, I wouldn't wish that on any player of ours. We have a specific idea of the kind of contract that we want to pay Darren and if he's able as a healthy player to go out there and get a better deal, I'm for him. I'm in favor of Darren Sharper. He did a great job for us and was a critical player for us in that season last year, no different than Scott Fujita. I hated to lose Scott Fujita but I'm happy for him. After the contribution he made to us, he deserves to make the most he can make and I'm happy for him. I'm disappointed as a general manager in losing a player that was a good player for us and the first guy to sign after Hurricane Katrina when we came back, but I would never wish an injury even to the benefit of the team."
Are you optimistic that Sharper will be back here?
"I don't know yet. I'm not pessimistic or optimistic. We're just going to wait and see how that plays out."
Is there an understanding with Darren and his agent that if he gets an offer they will give you a chance to match it?
"No, there's no explicit understanding or even an implicit one. I've dealt with his agent - Joel Segal - a number of times; he has other players on our team. He has expressed pretty clearly that he would prefer to be back with the New Orleans Saints and I understand that. But I also understand that as he gets to the end of his career that he wants to maximize his earnings and we'll just see how that goes. I would not be surprised if he gave us a call if he got an offer that he was close to taking, but he doesn't have to do that; I'm not expecting that."
Where are you in regards to having your draft board set now?
"We have the board stacked but we're still in the process of tweaking that. We just finished hearing the evaluations from our coaches of the players they were given to evaluate and we're going to take that into consideration and we're going to go back and there are several players that we want to get another look at. That's an ongoing process that will happen probably right up to the first pick."
How do you treat the free safety position in the draft? Do you treat it as if Darren Sharper has signed with another team and you have to look at possibly replacing him?
"We have Usama Young, who we feel real good about, and we have Malcolm Jenkins, who we feel real good about and we have the option of moving him to that position. I don't think we feel like it's a must need for us. Obviously if we get in the draft and there's a safety that we have rated really high that's available at a time that we think it's appropriate to take him, we're not going to be afraid to pull that trigger. But we like the guys that we have in our building and we like the option of Darren being out there."
Are you concerned with the unsigned RFAs not coming to workouts becoming an issue around the league?
"We have a little bit of an advantage here in that our program didn't start until after the restricted free agent period ended. I think that really helps us in terms of getting our guys reporting on time. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about what's happening around the league with restricted free agents; I'm more concerned about our own guys. And of the 17 guys, obviously Mike Bell signed with Philadelphia, but out of the other guys, only five of them potentially are not going to be here. I think that's a pretty good number."
Do you think it could turn into OTA or minicamp or training camp holdouts?
"I don't know. I hope not but that's a decision that those players and their agents will have to make."
You had said a few weeks ago that you felt the defensive line was your top priority. Does signing Alex Brown make the line less of a need area?
"Signing Alex Brown is a nice addition for us and helps us with our depth on the defensive line. I think we still have an eye on improving that position, whether it's through the draft or still in free agency it remains to be seen. We have Anthony Hargrove back; he signed his contract and that's comforting in the sense that he can play defensive end as well as defensive tackle. I don't know that I'd say that it's less of a concern, but it probably is a little bit than when I spoke with you guys a few weeks ago."