New Orleans Saints: 2014 Senior Bowl

Loomis: Secret is out on Ryan Pace

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
MOBILE, Ala. -- After losing quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi to the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was asked about another hot name in the organization -- player personnel director Ryan Pace.

Earlier this month, the Saints denied the Miami Dolphins permission to interview Pace for their general manager vacancy. Loomis said Tuesday that they denied the request because the Saints were still in the playoffs at the time. But Loomis said he expects Pace to get away at some point.

When asked if he could describe what makes Pace so talented, Loomis said, "Yes, I can, but I don't like to. I kind of feel like he's been our secret for a while.”

“But look, he's a great, young personnel director,” Loomis continued. “He's got a great eye for talent and guys that fit with what we are doing and what we want to do. He's very talented. He's a guy that we're going to lose at some point.”

Pace originally joined the Saints in 2001 as an assistant in areas like game-day and training-camp operations before working his way up through the scouting department. He was promoted last year from pro scouting director into his current role, where he oversees all pro and college scouting.

MOBILE, Ala. -- Count New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis among the proponents for NFL playoff expansion. (And it sure seems like he'll get his wish with the league leaning toward adding a seventh team in each conference).

Loomis has long been an advocate for expanding the playoff field. If it were up to him, he'd probably go all the way up to eight teams per division.

The way Loomis sees it, more playoff teams is better for more organizations, coaches, players, fans and the league. Clearly, he isn't worried about the loss of byes for top seeds or the fear of a watered-down playing field.

“I've been in favor of it for a number of years,” Loomis said while discussing a variety of topics while attending Senior Bowl practices this week. “I just like the fact that we have more events. I think these playoff games are great events for the city, the communities that they're in. I think it's good for the organization. The first measure of success is making the playoffs. I personally don't like the byes. There's no byes in the NBA. That's just the way I feel about it.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Loomis doesn't feel as strongly about the idea of reseeding playoff teams based on overall record -- even though the Saints have had to go on the road as a wild-card team against a division winner with a worse record twice in the past four seasons.

In 2010, the 11-5 Saints had to play at 7-9 Seattle (and lost). This year, the 11-5 Saints played at 10-6 Philadelphia and won.

“I don't know. I'd have to put more thought into that,” Loomis said. “I've read some things. And yet, I personally think that winning a division should have some meaning to it, some significant meaning to it. Look, there's a pretty stark contrast when you have an 8-8 team versus a 12-4 or an 11-5 wild card. But what about the times when you have a division winner is 9-7 and the wild card is 10-6, so it's a one-game difference and maybe the division winner had a much tougher schedule? There are a lot of variables here. I tend to think that we've got a pretty good system now that has worked well.

“There has been the occasional anomaly and obviously [the Saints' situation was unusual in 2010]. But we could have answered that by going there and beating them. So they beat us fair and square.”

While we're on the subject of potential NFL rule tweaks, it's worth mentioning that Saints coach Sean Payton has long been an advocate for the college football system of replay review, where the decisions to review plays are done by officials upstairs instead of being based on coaches' challenges. Payton thinks it's more efficient and accurate.

And based on the reaction to the fumble that wasn't able to be challenged late in the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game this past weekend, it seems like a lot of public and media sentiment is shifting in the same direction -- though there has been no indication yet that the league will consider such a change.
MOBILE, Ala. -- New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis visited with the media Tuesday to review the 2013 season and look ahead to 2014. The hottest topic, obviously, was the looming contract talks with free agent tight Jimmy Graham and the possible battle over his franchise-tag designation.

But Loomis also broke down a variety of interesting topics during the lengthy Q&A session. He also spoke about the departure of quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi to the Detroit Lions and the Saints’ growing coaching tree. I’ll break down more of the highlights in a variety of specific posts over the next couple days.

But first, some of Loomis’ overall thoughts on the season that just ended – an 11-5 campaign that fell short of the ultimate goal when the Saints lost in the divisional round of the playoffs at Seattle.

“I think this: We had a good year, a lot of real good things to feel good about. And yet it wasn’t a great year because we’re not in the Super Bowl,” Loomis said. “And that’s just where we’re at as a program. We expect and want to play in that game, and we want to win it. And we had a chance. I thought our coaches and players did a great job. And yet when you lose that last one, you’re always wanting more.

“And I think Sean [Payton] said this after the Super Bowl, ‘Once you’ve eaten steak, you don’t want hamburger any longer.’ So that’s kind of where we’re at. We’re still in that mode. ...

“We’re right there. We were in the playoffs and had opportunities to win the game in Seattle and we didn’t. They were the better team in that game. [But] we’re confident in our building that we can play and beat any team on a given day. We’ve felt that way for quite some time.”

Loomis admitted that the salary cap will be a hurdle once again for the Saints this year. They’re currently about $12.5 million over the projected cap of $126.6 million. And they’ll have to make room for Graham’s new deal, among others.

Starting right tackle Zach Strief, starting center Brian De La Puente and starting safety Malcolm Jenkins will likely rank as the other highest-priced free agents among this year’s class.

But the Saints dealt with similar constraints in each of the past two years, as well. As Loomis said, “We’ll navigate our way through it. It’s not our first rodeo in terms of having this circumstance. And yet it does limit us.”

“It’s all part of the puzzle,” Loomis added. “If we were flush with cap room, obviously we’d be able to do more. It’s just a puzzle that we have to piece together and make sure all the pieces fit. And yet, the overriding variable is, ‘Hey, are we improving our team?' We’re not trying to just stay level. We’re trying to improve.”

In recent years, the Saints have let some of their veterans go in free agency (like All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod). They’ve worked out pay cuts with other veterans. And they’ve moved a lot of money around through restructured contracts.

Yet through it all, the Saints have also aggressively added pieces in the open market like cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebackers Victor Butler and Parys Haralson last year; and linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, guard Ben Grubbs and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley in 2012.

“Well, you know, we’re always trying to improve our team,” Loomis said. “And I think the biggest challenge of that is that you just can’t afford to make many mistakes. That your margin for error is decreased. So whether we’re able to do that this year remains to be seen.”
MOBILE, Ala. -- The New Orleans Saints' coaching staff, front office and scouting department have turned out in full force at this year’s Senior Bowl week in Mobile -- reluctantly for some of them, since they would much prefer to still be coaching in late January.

But it’s on to 2014, and this is where most coaching staffs annually begin the process of getting a feel for draft prospects, as well as holding staff meetings to review their current roster with an eye toward the future.

General manager Mickey Loomis is expected to speak to the media on Tuesday. Assistant coaches, however, aren’t likely to visit with the media this week. When defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was approached on Monday morning, he cracked, “Mum's the word until training camp.”

For details on how the various draft prospects are looking this week during practice, you can follow the Senior Bowl coverage from ESPN and Scouts Inc. on this blog, Insider which requires Insider access.