New Orleans Saints: mickey loomis

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jeff Ireland knows a good fit when he sees one. So when the New Orleans Saints’ former player personnel director, Ryan Pace, was hired away as the Chicago Bears general manager, Ireland sent a text message to Saints GM Mickey Loomis:

“Hey, keep me in mind.”

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Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJeff Ireland said he's visiting about three schools per week as the Saints prepare for the NFL draft.

That led to informal interviews with Loomis and Saints coach Sean Payton to “see if we were on the same page.” And it ultimately led to Ireland becoming the Saints’ assistant GM, heading up the team’s college scouting department.

“It was a great conversation [with Loomis], had the same conversation with Sean,” said Ireland, the former Miami Dolphins general manager, who said he considered Loomis a friend and “mentor” from getting to know him over the years as a young personnel guy moving up the ranks.

Ireland also knew Payton well from their days working together with the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells.

“Both sides were comfortable. … And it’s great to be part of this organization,” said Ireland, who met with the local New Orleans media for the first time since his January hire during LSU’s pro timing day on Friday.

Ireland said it’s been a “rat race,” joining the Saints this late into the scouting process. He’s been visiting about three schools per week while also getting to know the Saints’ scouts and coaches and helping to put their draft board together.

But he said it’s been a great experience after he spent last season out of football for the first time in nearly two decades.

“I was watching a lot of football, but it’s different when you’re watching football on the couch versus watching football in the meeting room and writing reports,” Ireland said. “When you’re out of football and you love football, you grow to appreciate the game more. I missed it so much. I missed the relationships that you have.

“It’s good to be back in the mix.”

Among other topics Ireland discussed:

  • Ireland said he “didn’t start the conversation” about trading for former Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, whom Ireland had signed to a five-year, $35 million contract two years ago. But he said he was certainly part of the conversation, since he had intimate knowledge of Ellerbe. "He's a productive football player. He's a great person. He’s a good leader. He's athletic,” Ireland said. “I only got the one year with him. He's transitioning defenses. We've got to get him healthy [after he missed 15 games last year with a hip injury]. And if he gets back to full health, he's going to be a productive football player for this franchise."
  • Ireland joked that it was a “prerequisite” for him taking the job that the Saints load up with nine draft picks, including two first-rounders. But on a serious note, he said that opens up a world of possibilities. “It gives you a lot of flexibility. You can do pretty much anything you want to in the early rounds of the draft. You can slide back, you can move up, you can use a combination of picks to do anything you want. Again, that's going to be up to Mickey and Sean. I'm gonna be part of the process. My job is to put the board together and make sure we've got players in the right positions, and let them make the decisions based on what they need."
  • Ireland said “you don’t want to make a habit of trading young players away.” But he said of the bold moves the Saints made this offseason, including trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills: “In this particular instance, those were some things that Mickey and Sean wanted to do, and we were all for it as an organization. And we’re looking forward to [having so many draft picks now], because we’ve got some holes to fill.”

From Sean Payton to Mickey Loomis to Drew Brees and other veteran leaders, the New Orleans Saints have consistently stressed the need to improve intangibles such as leadership and locker-room culture in the wake of last year’s 7-9 season.

Payton indicated this week that those qualities remained a priority with the players the Saints added through free agency and trades – respected veteran leaders such as center Max Unger, cornerback Brandon Browner, running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

The scouting reports on most of those guys often point to their toughness as well. And Payton singled out Spiller as someone who has a love and passion for the game.

[+] EnlargeBrees & Payton
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsSaints coach Sean Payton is hoping to improve the culture in the team's locker room.

“Mickey and I said this at the start of the offseason, ‘Let’s not lose track of why we’ve been successful and what’s been good to us,’” Payton said during the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “And part of that is putting highly-motivated players in that locker room that care about each other. It’s something that seems so simple and yet, it’s not been our secret; it’s just been our formula.

“Getting the right type of guys that are smart, tough football players. That certainly will be an emphasis this offseason, and going into the draft as well.”

On the flip side, I don’t necessarily think it would be right to draw the conclusion that the players the Saints got rid of lacked those qualities.

I have never heard any strong indications that Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Ben Grubbs, Curtis Lofton or Pierre Thomas were locker-room distractions or malcontents, etc. And there was a specific reason that everyone was traded away.

With Grubbs, Lofton and Thomas, the moves were financially motivated (and both Lofton and Grubbs, at least, were offered the chance to stay if they took a pay cut). And with Graham and Stills, the Saints made it clear that they were valuable commodities who could generate a large return if traded – which both of them did. The Saints believed like they could afford to part with some of their offensive firepower to acquire assets to help build their defense and offensive line. Graham and Stills were the two most tradeable commodities among their offensive weapons.

However, it is fair to suggest that the Saints deemed all of those players expendable – including Graham, whose production was just as inconsistent and frustrating as many of the other players on the Saints roster who underachieved last season.

Meanwhile, the Saints’ culture change can’t just come from the newcomers. In fact, the Saints pointed to their large amount of roster turnover last year as one of the issues they stuggled to deal with (losing longtime veterans such as Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Lance Moore and Darren Sproles).

An improved culture and attitude has to come from a renewed commitment within the current group of coaches and players, as well.

“Every year, every team is different," Loomis said when asked how he feels about the current state of the Saints’ culture this week. "And yet we’ve got a pretty solid core group of guys in that locker room, and I’m pretty confident that we’ll have that straightened out."

General manager Mickey Loomis said it wouldn't be right to suggest that running back C.J. Spiller "fell to" the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

"That'd be a little extreme," Loomis said. "But it's not something that we went into free agency thinking that we'd be able to get accomplished."

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Vaughn Ridley/Getty ImagesThe Saints intend to create ways to get the ball to C.J. Spiller in open space.

The Saints signed Spiller to a four-year, $16 million contract less than a week after they had re-signed their own top running back, Mark Ingram, to an almost identical deal.

"I wouldn't say that we went into free agency thinking that we were going to go after another running back, and certainly a player of his caliber," Loomis told reporters Monday during the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. "But just at some point during the course of free agency, it started to make some sense for us in terms of the makeup of our team and the cost to acquire."

Adding a dynamic playmaker like Spiller may have become an even higher priority for the Saints after they traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks on the opening day of free agency.

When discussing the Graham trade with Pro Football Talk on Monday, Saints head coach Sean Payton singled out Spiller as someone who could help fill the void.

"Now it's our job as coaches to find additional targets. And we feel like we got one in C.J. Spiller, who's a completely different position but nonetheless a playmaker when the ball's in his hands," Payton said.

Payton put Spiller in the class of runner/receiver mismatches like Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, who had previously thrived with the Saints in Payton's versatile offense.

When asked if Ingram and Spiller will be used at the same time or in a rotation, Payton said, "Well, to some degree, all of the above."

"We found Mark Ingram had his best season last year, certainly an every-down player. He's smart. He stayed healthy and did a great job for us," Payton said. "We also realize the attrition and the challenges of playing that position for 16 weeks. And to some degree, we've always had complementary players at running back. A guy like Reggie Bush in the early years, and Darren Sproles. Khiry Robinson's a player that we think gives us a physical presence as well.

"But Spiller's unique. And I think one of the things that helped us sign C.J. was the versatility that we'd look to have when he's in the game. And we'll look at packages to put him out wide, packages where he's back in the game with another running back. The key with him when you watch him on tape is finding a way to give him the ball in space because he's so explosive. So that'll be up to us to do that."

Spiller, 27, agreed with Payton's assessment. Spiller said after signing in New Orleans two weeks ago that a running back with his skill set would be a "fool" not to consider the Saints.

Spiller, who had 3,321 rushing yards and 1,195 receiving yards in his five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, had a breakout year in 2012 with 1,703 yards from scrimmage under former coach Chan Gailey. But he had less of an impact as a receiver under 2013-14 coach Doug Marrone. He also missed seven games with a broken collarbone last year.

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had no complaints about the way cornerback Keenan Lewis handled his public demands for a new contract earlier this month.

“He’s an emotional player, but that’s part of what makes him such a good player for us,” Loomis told reporters Monday during the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.

Lewis took to Instagram and ESPN.com two weeks ago to voice how he wasn’t feeling happy or secure with the way so many of his teammates were being shipped out of New Orleans via trades and releases over the past two years. And he threatened to hold out of offseason camps and become a “distraction” if the Saints couldn’t guarantee the final three years of his contract.

Lewis never demanded more money, and he followed up with statements stressing that his desire was to make sure he stayed put long-term in his hometown of New Orleans.

He got his wish when the Saints restructured his deal to include an extra $10.45 million in guarantees (without adding any new dollars) last week.

Lewis said he apologized to Loomis and coach Sean Payton about the way he handled his demands. But Loomis said he didn’t pay attention to the public comments.

“I only know what Keenan’s told me directly,” Loomis said. “And I know this, he loves playing for the Saints, he loves the city of New Orleans, being around his family, being around his team. And I think for him, his dream is to have a long career with the Saints and finish with the Saints. So there’s nothing wrong with any of that.”

The New Orleans Saints know they will eventually need to replace 36-year-old quarterback Drew Brees. And there has been more speculation than ever that the team might take that leap this year, since they're loaded up with draft picks now and coming off of an ugly 7-9 season.

But Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said during Monday's NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that it's not something the team can force if the right player isn't available at the right time.

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AP Photo/Bill HaberDrew Brees tied for the NFL lead with 4,952 passing yards, and ranked in the NFL's top six in touchdown passes (33), passer rating (97.0), and completion percentage (69.2) last season.

"Well, that's a good question," Loomis said when asked when is the right time to look for a replacement and whether it's better to be early than late. "I think that's something that you can't really force. But I think we've treated it much like we treat any position. We're always looking to get a good player at every position that can push the starting player in the position and can develop into a starter. And then he's either your starter or you can have an asset that you can use and get something for later or be a great backup. So I don't know that that's changed any.

"And yet we're not gonna be able to just force a pick and take somebody just because we think Drew's getting older. It's gotta be the right guy at the right time, and that hasn't happened yet."

The Saints have the 13th pick and the 31st pick in Round 1 of this year's draft, as well as a second-rounder and two third-rounders. When asked specifically whether the Saints would consider packaging picks to move up for a quarterback in Round 1, Loomis said, "Well, we'll have to see what happens in the draft. You're giving me a lot of what-ifs here."

When a reporter followed up by saying there's been "a lot of crazy talk out there," Loomis replied, "I think it's mostly crazy talk." But that also could have been in reference to reports Loomis shot down earlier in the conversation about rumors of Brees being on the trading block or the Saints having a "for sale" sign on all their players this offseason.

Brees had a down year by his lofty standards in 2014 with a total of 20 turnovers -- some of which came in big moments in close losses. But he still tied for the NFL lead with 4,952 passing yards and ranked in the NFL's top six in touchdown passes (33), passer rating (97.0) and completion percentage (69.2).

When asked specifically about his confidence level in Brees, Loomis said: "I have high confidence level in Drew. I just said a little bit ago, we've finished No. 1 in the league in offense five of the last nine years. And we've been in the top [six every year with Brees]. I think that speaks for itself."

My take on Loomis' comments: I think he's being genuine, and agree with him when he says it has to be the right guy at the right time. The Saints have not yet reached the point that they need to reach for just any quarterback. I think Brees will remain a high-end starter for at least two or three more years, and think the Saints feel the same way.

However, it also sounds like Loomis is opening the door a crack wider than he has in years past to the possibility of drafting a quarterback. And the way the Saints have been aggressively tweaking the roster this year, I wouldn't be surprised at anything. As I've mentioned a few times now, I'd handicap a trade up for someone like Marcus Mariota as a long shot, but I also won't completely dismiss it.

Guard Jahri Evans appears to have survived the New Orleans Saints' flurry of trades, releases and pay cuts as they reshaped their roster and their salary cap over the past month.

General manager Mickey Loomis gave a short but sweet vote of confidence when asked Monday if Evans is going to be back in 2015.

"Yeah. Jahri's on our roster and on our team, yes," Loomis said.

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Duane Burleson/AP PhotoJahri Evans is due a $500,000 roster bonus on Tuesday. If the Saints decide to pay the bonus, it's a good indicator that he will remain with the team.

Today should provide even more concrete evidence.

Evans is due a $500,000 roster bonus today -- which is only a small portion of the $7.5 million he's due in salary and bonuses this year. But paying the bonus will be a pretty good indication of the Saints' intentions.

Evans, 31, was considered as a possible candidate for one of those salary-saving measures this offseason because of his lofty price tag and the fact that the six-time Pro Bowler has shown signs of regression in recent years. But it seemed unlikely that the Saints would replace both Evans and former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs in the same offseason -- and the Saints traded Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth-round draft pick after Grubbs reportedly declined to accept a pay cut.

Loomis said Monday while speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix that third-year backup Tim Lelito is the current front-runner to replace Grubbs in the starting lineup -- though he'll have to earn it.

"We're gonna have a competition for that left guard spot. And I would say coming into camp that (Lelito) is probably the leader. But we'll say what else happens this offseason," Loomis said of Lelito, a former undrafted free agent who has started games at guard and center as an injury replacement over the past two years. "He's got some versatility, Tim does. That's a good find for us, a great job by our scouts and our coaches and our offensive line coach to develop Tim. And so we feel confident that he can play both guard and center. And we'll just see how it plays out during training camp."

Loomis didn't expand much when asked about the decisions to trade Grubbs and release veteran linebacker Curtis Lofton -- both of whom were due roughly $7 million in salary and bonuses this year.

"Like anything else, there's lots of variables involved," Loomis said. "Both of those guys were good players for us and did a lot of really good things and have tread on the tires, both of 'em. And yet when you look at your team and that construction of the cap and just every variable on your team, you've got to do some things. All so all those pieces were involved in those decisions."

Speaking publicly about the Jimmy Graham trade for the first time Monday, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said he knows it’s especially tough for quarterback Drew Brees. But Payton said it’s up to the coaches to make up for the loss.

Payton spoke during the NFL owners meetings with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who asked what Brees’ reaction was. Payton didn’t answer directly, though he acknowledged that it’s difficult for Brees to lose such a valued and familiar target.

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Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports"It's nothing that we've discussed as something immediate," Saints coach Sean Payton, right, told PFT Live of a potential contract extension for Drew Brees, left.

“I think it’s tough. Especially -- and Drew’s been, shoot for nine years now, he’s played with a lot of different receivers, a lot of different tight ends,” Payton said. “And what’s lost a little bit is there’s an energy that’s required when you’re the quarterback and you’re watching film with these players and working on certain routes. And so it’s difficult.

“And yet, from a bigger picture standpoint, you’re wanting to play better defense and reduce the amount of points you may need to score to win a game. So losing players like that … those are always difficult. But they impact a quarterback, especially when it’s a tight end like Jimmy Graham. And now it’s our job as coaches to find additional targets. And we feel like we got one in (pass-catching running back) CJ Spiller, who’s a completely different position but nonetheless a playmaker when the ball’s in his hands.”

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said earlier Monday that no one player will replace Graham’s production, but the Saints are confident that a group of players including running backs Mark Ingram and Spiller, tight ends Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill and receiver Brandin Cooks can all be part of the solution.

Payton echoed Loomis’ comments that the Saints feel like their offense has always been a strength over the past nine years with Payton and Brees -- and that they felt they could use assets like Graham to help shore up other weaknesses, including the defense.

Last year, neither side of the ball was perfect for a Saints team that finished a disappointing 7-9. But the offense still ranked first in the NFL in yards gained while the defense ranked 31st in yards allowed.

The Saints sent Graham and a fourth-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick, while also freeing up some future salary-cap space just one year into Graham’s four-year, $40 million contract.

“What’s unique this year is there have been a few trades,” Payton said of a busy Saints offseason that has also included the trade of guard Ben Grubbs for a draft pick and receiver Kenny Stills for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a draft pick -- among other free agent comings and goings that Payton said are more common to the Saints’ history.

“Of course it’s a significant trade when you’re trading a guy like Jimmy Graham, who’s a Pro Bowl player,” Payton said. “It’s really looking at, hey, where are those areas where we feel like we need to improve, where are those 'must' areas, and then where are the assets that we feel we can do that? Mickey and I discussed this trade for, shoot, a week leading up to it. And we really felt strongly it was gonna require the player, Max Unger, but also a first-round pick.

“And so, you don’t go in skeptical with something like that, because typically there aren’t a lot of trades with players like that. And yet with Seattle for about a week it was able to work out. So we gotta look at, ‘How do we improve our defense, how do we improve certain weaknesses of our team?’ You don’t ever want to lose a player like Jimmy, and yet we feel like this gives us an opportunity to do that.”

General manager Mickey Loomis downplayed the notion that everyone on the New Orleans Saints' roster was "for sale" this offseason -- and specifically shot down the notion that they had considered trading quarterback Drew Brees. But clearly the Saints were willing to make some bold trades, including the one that sent tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks.

While speaking with a group of reporters during the NFL owners meetings on Monday, Loomis didn't get into too many specifics on how the Graham trade with Seattle developed, but he did explain the reasoning behind the deal.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSaints GM Mickey Loomis said the Saints felt like they could afford to trade an offensive player such as Jimmy Graham to acquire resources that may help on defense.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider had told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that Loomis had first suggested the names of a couple of Saints receivers. But Schneider asked if anything was off limits, and Loomis said no, so Schneider asked about Graham.

“I think that evolved. That's the best way to describe it is that evolved,” Loomis said of the trade that wound up sending Graham and a fourth-round pick to Seattle in exchange for center Max Unger and a the 31st pick in the draft.

Loomis said the Saints felt like they could afford to trade offense to acquire resources that may help on defense.

“You know, we're trying to do some things to help our overall team. And we've been fortunate to have a really good offense for the entire time that Sean Payton's been our head coach,” Loomis said. “I think we've finished first in the NFL five of the nine years, and the top five every year that he's been our head coach. And the one year he was suspended, we still managed to finish sixth in the NFL.

“So we've been able to generate offense throughout that period. And yet our defense has been up and down. So when you look at your team, you're trying to assess the assets that you have and, ‘How can we help ourselves in areas of weakness?' And sometimes that requires you to take a strength of your team and turn it into something else. And the trade just evolved that way.”

Loomis said the reasoning was similar when the Saints traded receiver Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round draft pick. Loomis said Stills is a good player, but since he was a fifth-round pick in 2013, Loomis said the team looked at it like turning a fifth-rounder into a third-rounder and the opportunity to acquire another player.

When asked if young tight end Josh Hill's potential was one of the reasons the Saints felt comfortable trading Graham, Loomis said there's not any one player whom the Saints expect to replace Graham's production.

"Jimmy's a special player," Loomis said. "But we've got some guys we've got confidence in, in (tight end Benjamin Watson) and Josh. And there will be other guys on offense that help pick up the production that he's had for us. You know, (running back) Mark Ingram can do more. And (running back) C.J. Spiller. And (receiver) Brandin Cooks, we have high hopes for and we've seen some good things from. So it's not just any one person, necessarily, replacing his production. It's a number of guys on our team."

As for how he feels about the state of the Saints after all the moves that have been made, Loomis said, “Yes, but the proof will be in the season and how it impacts our team.”

“I think every team would say they're pleased with the things that they've done in an offseason, and we're no different,” Loomis said. “And, look, we've still got a long ways to go here. There's other players available, we've got an important draft for us coming up. We've got five picks in the first three rounds, and we have to take advantage of that.”

Free-agency review: Saints

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
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Most significant signing: There are plenty of candidates for a New Orleans Saints team that overhauled its roster during a dizzying week (adding cornerback Brandon Browner, running back CJ Spiller, center Max Unger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and re-signing running back Mark Ingram). Browner was the most critical, though, since the Saints' top priority is to fix their dreadful defense -- and the No. 2 cornerback spot in particular. Browner gives them a physical presence they haven't had as a press corner who can knock receivers off their routes. If the Saints can shore up their coverage on the back end, it should also help a talented group of pass-rushers that underachieved in 2014.

Most significant loss: Obviously tight end Jimmy Graham, whose trade to the Seattle Seahawks might have been the biggest shocker in the NFL last week. The Saints decided they can still manufacture a strong offense even without one of the game's most unique weapons -- and that they could use him to gain resources to help fix their defense and offensive line (they got back Unger, the 31st pick in the draft and future salary-cap space). The offense was flatlining even with Graham at the end of last season, when he caught only one touchdown pass over the final five weeks; and the Saints won a Super Bowl before Graham arrived. However, New Orleans is taking a tremendous gamble by trading away a rare talent who made defenses game plan around him even when he wasn't putting up huge numbers.

Biggest surprise: The Graham trade was just part of a jaw-dropping makeover by the Saints. They also traded away veteran guard Ben Grubbs and young receiver Kenny Stills, released veteran linebacker Curtis Lofton and longtime running back Pierre Thomas, spent big on four newcomers and loaded up on draft picks (five of the first 78 this year). All told, it didn't really add up to a salary-cap dump or a tanking of 2015 to rebuild for the future. It added up to a bold (perhaps desperate) attempt by coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis to force their way out of the 7-9 funk they found themselves in last year. Whether it will work remains to be seen, but they refused to sit idly by.

What's next: I'm afraid to guess, but I assume the pace has to slow down, especially since the Saints are running out of ways to create cap space. At some point, they'll turn their focus to making more waves with all those draft picks, among the top priorities for which a pass-rusher, linebacker, guard and maybe wide receiver should rank. … In the meantime, the Saints might not be done making trades, since they've shown a willingness to move players who are in their prime if the return is good enough. And they have to trim at least a few million dollars more in salary-cap space, whether that's through restructures or releases. I'm pretty confident quarterback Drew Brees and core young players such as offensive tackle Terron Armstead and receiver Brandin Cooks are safe, at least.

General manager Mickey Loomis explained that the New Orleans Saints traded Jimmy Graham because they felt like they "had to make a bold move" to help improve their defense.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Paul SancyaGM Mickey Loomis said the Saints' consistent success on offense enabled them to trade Jimmy Graham and seek defensive improvement.
"I think at the end of the day, it comes down to this," Loomis told SiriusXM Radio. "We've had a good offensive team for a number of years. ... We feel like we do well on that side of the ball, but we've got to improve ourselves on defense. And there's three ways to get players in our league. That's through free agency, through the draft, and then trades. We kind of believe in using all avenues.

"So we took one of our assets on offense and turned it into some resources hopefully we can improve our defense with. But it was a tough decision, because love Jimmy Graham. He's been a great player for us. ...

"But, man, in order to improve ourselves we felt like we had to make a bold move, and so we did."

The Saints didn't immediately help their defense, since the only player they received in the swap was two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger. But they also upgraded from a fourth-round draft pick to a first-rounder. And they wiped $27 million off the books that was owed to Graham over the next three years (though the salary-cap savings won't really kick in until next year).

The Saints can use that space, though, by back-loading the cap costs on any new deals they sign -- an approach they've been using for years. And they've already targeted one of the top free-agent cornerbacks in Green Bay Packers veteran Tramon Williams, who was scheduled to arrive for a visit Tuesday.

As for the draft, Loomis said an emphasis will be placed on defense with picks No. 13 and 31. And he said there are no immediate plans to package those picks to move up.

"But you know how these drafts go," Loomis said, hinting that the Saints will explore all options based on their draft board at the time.

Asked how the Saints plan to fill the tight end void, Loomis complimented current backups Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill and said, "Obviously we'll be looking for another guy, whether that comes in the draft or later in free agency we'll wait and see. ... And Drew has a way of throwing a lot of these guys open."

Loomis was also asked if the team approached Brees about restructuring his contract, which still owes him $39 million over the next two years (with cap costs of $26.4 million in 2015 and $27.4 million in 2016.)

"No, that wasn't necessary for us," Loomis said.

That makes sense, since I never expected the Saints to demand a pay cut from Brees, despite his struggles with turnovers in 2014. I thought an extension might make sense. But if they wanted to simply restructure contracts to push money into the future, then they had other avenues that made more sense than Brees' deal.

As I keep saying, the Saints aren't being forced into these player releases just because of their cap situation -- and there could be more to come. They're mostly making these decisions in the wake of a 7-9 season that has forced them to abandon the status quo.
Better leadership remains a big focus for the New Orleans Saints after a disappointing 7-9 season.

It was one of the first topics Saints coach Sean Payton brought up this week when asked what led to the Saints’ struggles in an interview with Pro Football Talk. Payton said the Saints could look to players both within and outside the organization to help improve it.

“I think we struggled with some leadership positions. I think, overall, there was a big change when all of a sudden guys like Will Smith, Jon Vilma, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman HarperDarren Sproles in one offseason leave. I think the price of that experience and leadership hurt us some," Payton said of former Saints veterans who were either released, traded or unsigned in free agency last year.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsSean Payton will address leadership and maturity issues with the Saints this offseason.
“I think there’s gonna have to be a few guys we look at in free agency," Payton added. "I also think we have a good, young nucleus of players, a good locker room, by and large. And yet you can never take that for granted.”

Concerns about things such as leadership, maturity and professionalism were addressed often by veteran players late last season.

No specific players were singled out as offenders. But some of the complaints were that guys didn’t always have the right energy on game days and that too many players were letting the little things slide, such as being late to meetings or flights.

Payton said this week that the blame lies with him and other leaders of the organization as well.

“I think it’s creating the environment for leadership to flourish,” Payton said. “Sometimes that can be stifled, if you will. I’ve gotta do a better job of creating that environment, certainly better than we did a year ago.”

Payton said leadership was one of the topics discussed by him and general manager Mickey Loomis just one night earlier while they were in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine.

“That one theme for us has always been finding the tough, smart football players, guys that love playing,” Payton said. “And I think we’ve got that by and large, and yet that leadership element is something, starting with myself and Mickey and all the way down through the club, that we’ve gotta do a better job with. …

“We just keep paying attention to what’s winning. And again, you look at New England, the success they’ve had, the consistency that they’ve done it with. There’s been a formula for them and it’s something we tried to emulate when we first got here in ’06.”

As for the other issues that stymied the Saints in 2014, Payton mentioned too many turnovers on offense, not enough turnovers on defense, being “awful” on third downs on defense and an inability to finish games down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, we lost a number of close games.’ But there’s a reason why,” Payton said. “And that kept repeating itself.”
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson sent out a letter to season ticket holders Friday. Among other topics, he announced that there will be no increase in ticket prices for 2015 and he thanked fans for their “love and support” during his legal battle with his daughter and grandchildren.

“[Wife] Gayle and I are overwhelmed by the kindness and encouragement you have given us,” Benson said in the letter. “Please know that the future success, continuity and stability of the New Orleans Saints and our Pelicans will always be our first priority and I can assure you I have never been more eager to pursue another championship for you and our great fans across the Gulf South and the world.”

Loomis on scouting changes: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told the Saints’ website that the team “hasn’t missed a beat” with the transition in the scouting department so far. The Saints hired Jeff Ireland as their college scouting director last month after losing player personnel director Ryan Pace to the Chicago Bears. They also fired former college scouting director Rick Reiprish and lost regional scout Josh Lucas to the Bears. Loomis said pro personnel director Terry Fontenot has taken on a greater role.

“Terry, I knew he was ready for more and he has stepped up, and I would say he’s exceeding expectations,” Loomis said. “And Jeff, who I’ve known for a long time but haven’t worked with before, he has stepped right in and we haven’t missed a beat. And I like the fact that he comes at it from a little different perspective with some different ideas, and I think it’s been real good.”

Miller moving on: Congrats to Doug Miller, the Saints’ longtime executive director of football communications. He left to become vice president of marketing, sponsorship and promotions of The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where the Saints began holding their training camp last year.

Miller, who joined the Saints in 2007 after 16 years working for the New York Jets, said he accepted “a great promotion with the Saints’ blessing” and is very thankful to the organization. He called The Greenbrier an “iconic resort” and said he plans to “help tell the story of the history and future here.”
The NFL notified teams Wednesday that it expects this year's salary cap to be between $140 and $143 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter -- up nearly $10 million from last year, and slightly higher than the league previously projected.

That’s obviously good news for the New Orleans Saints, who are further over the cap than any team in the NFL right now. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Saints’ top 51 salary-cap costs add up to $166.3 million, which means they will have to trim at least $27 million by March 10 -- plus more if they want to make room for free-agent signings.

But as I’ve written often in recent months, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds.

Galette
The Saints can easily trim more than $20 million of that cap space by converting a handful of roster bonuses into signing bonuses. That’s part of the "plan" that Saints general manager Mickey Loomis referenced once again on Wednesday. As Loomis has explained, the Saints planned ahead for this and had "mechanisms" built into recent contracts they signed with guys like Junior Galette, Jairus Byrd, Jimmy Graham, and Curtis Lofton.

As of now, their full roster bonuses are counting against the 2015 cap. By converting them to signing bonuses, they can be spread out over the remainder of their contracts.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of how it will work:

Galette: Due a $12.5 million roster bonus. By converting to signing bonus, it will save $10 million against the 2015 cap by spreading it out over five years.

Byrd: Due a $6 million roster bonus. By converting to signing bonus, it will save $4.8 million against the 2015 cap by spreading it out over five years.

Graham: Due a $5 million roster bonus. By converting to signing bonus, it will save $3.33 million against the 2015 cap by spreading it out over three years.

Lofton: Due a $4.5 million roster bonus. By converting to signing bonus, it will save $2.25 million against the 2015 cap by spreading it out over two years.

Total savings: $20.38 million

That leaves another $6 million-plus the Saints must trim by March 10 by either releasing players, working out pay cuts or restructuring current deals. They have plenty of options, though, many of which I’ve been discussing in my series of Saints' burning questions.
As usual, the New Orleans Saints are taking a pass on formal media interviews at the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week. But general manager Mickey Loomis did chat with NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune on Wednesday.

Loomis didn’t break much new ground, but he did touch on a variety of the team’s most pressing issues as they head toward the start of the new league year and free-agent signing period on March 10.

Loomis reiterated that the Saints have a plan for trimming the estimated $25 million in salary-cap space that will be required over the next three weeks. Although Loomis didn’t specify that plan, a huge part will include converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses with players like Junior Galette, Jairus Byrd, Jimmy Graham and Curtis Lofton. That simple tweak could save about $20 million right away, shifting those cap costs into future years.

“I wouldn't call it easy, yet we know what our plan is," Loomis told The Times-Picayune. "And we've known what it's going to be for some quite time -- in terms of just getting under the cap."

Not surprisingly, Loomis didn’t hint at any names of veteran players who might get released as part of the cap-cutting process. However, I found one of his comments particularly interesting.

Although Loomis and coach Sean Payton had previously stressed the need to make changes and look at everything with a critical eye following last year’s disappointing 7-9 season, Loomis said it’s important they don’t go overboard based on emotion.

"Every year we've got to look at our team with a critical eye and try not to be swayed by the emotional investment we have in any given team," Loomis said. "That's true whether you're 11-5 or 7-9. Obviously we've got a different feeling after 7-9 and not living up to expectations that I think we all had coming into last season.

"But we have to be careful about not letting those those highs and lows -- and obviously last season was a bit of a low -- interfere with what our mind tells us we need to do."

Loomis suggested that the Saints are interested in re-signing free agent running back Mark Ingram, who is by far the most prominent of the Saints’ unsigned free agents. But he also suggested it might be tough for both sides to agree on Ingram’s market value before other teams are allowed in on the bidding.

"In free agency, everyone wants to see what the market is," Loomis said. "The question is, can that get done prior to March 10? Can both sides get a good feel for that beforehand and do a deal, or do we need to wait and see where all the offers are and respond accordingly?"

Loomis also confirmed, as previously hinted, that the Saints won’t hire any one person in the specific role of player personnel director to replace Ryan Pace. Instead, newly-hired Jeff Ireland will oversee the college scouting department, Terry Fontenot will oversee the pro scouting department, and both will assist in other areas as needed in an overall collaborative process.
METAIRIE, La. -- Bill Parcells strongly considered becoming the New Orleans Saints' coach during Sean Payton’s suspension in 2012. And the Saints came closer to trading for quarterback Tony Romo in 2006 than people might have realized.

Those were two of the most interesting Saints-related tidbits in Parcells' latest authorized biography, "Parcells: A Football Life," which he co-authored with writer Nunyo Demasio.

Some of this stuff has been out there already, but I finally had a chance to dig into the book now that the offseason is upon us. And it’s even more relevant now that two of Parcells' protégés are working for the Saints -- Payton and scout Jeff Ireland.

[+] EnlargeParcells, Romo
AP Photo/Mike McCarnAccording Bill Parcells' latest book, he and Tony Romo could have been together as Saints in 2012 if a couple of decisions had gone differently.
Here are some of the highlights. Stay tuned for Part 2, to come:

On coaching Saints in 2012: Parcells strongly considered Payton’s plea to fill in for him as an interim coach during Payton’s bounty suspension. The Saints even agreed to let Parcells approach former assistants Eric Mangini and Al Groh about joining the staff so he could have had some of his own familiar guys with him.

According to the book, both Payton and Saints owner Tom Benson embraced the idea, but general manager Mickey Loomis seemed reluctant, perhaps sensitive to the effect on the incumbent coaching staff. The book also noted that some reports speculated Parcells would land an executive role after Payton’s return. Parcells and Loomis met for the first time that spring when Payton arranged for them to discuss the possibility over a round of golf.

"Who knows what Loomis really thought?" Parcells said. "I don’t have any idea. I don’t know Loomis; I only met him once. But guys like me threaten guys like him."

Still, Parcells weighed the pros and cons for more than two weeks and wrote that some people close to him, like Lawrence Taylor, urged him to take the job. Parcells liked that it was a temporary opportunity and that it offered a chance to enhance his legacy by possibly taking a fifth team to the playoffs (especially after his previous job with the Miami Dolphins ended poorly). He also wanted to help Payton, whom he considers like a son.

However, Parcells had qualms about working with a staff to which he had no direct ties, especially considering it was just part-time. "So if things don’t go well, people will say, 'This guy tried to change everything we were doing,'" Parcells said. 'And if it does go well, people will say, 'Well, (expletive), he has a built-in advantage.'"

Parcells, who was 69 at the time, also didn’t like the idea of pushing back his Hall of Fame eligibility five years, though he said he refused to base his decision solely on that.

Ultimately, according to the book, Parcells decided he liked his current lifestyle and was uncertain whether he possessed the energy required to do things in his maniacal way.

As for the bounty allegations that got Payton suspended in the first place, the book said Parcells expressed dismay that Payton allowed it to happen under his watch and said, "I didn’t teach him that stuff." But the book said Parcells also detected some hypocrisy with the way the NFL came down so strongly on the Saints in the name of player safety, even as they were pursuing an expanded 18-game schedule.

On a possible Romo trade: According to the book, the Saints offered the Dallas Cowboys a third-round pick for quarterback Romo when Payton first took over as New Orleans’ coach in 2006 -- when Romo was still a backup. But Parcells and Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted a second-round pick, which the Saints deemed too costly.

Payton had pursued and developed Romo when Payton was the Cowboys’ passing-game coordinator under Parcells. Payton and Romo were both record-setting quarterbacks at Eastern Illinois. According to the book, Payton convinced Romo to accept a $15,000 bonus to sign with the Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2003, even though another Eastern Illinois product, Mike Shanahan, had offered $25,000 to try and lure Romo to Denver.

Payton almost took Raiders job: The book detailed how close Payton came to accepting the Oakland Raiders head coaching job in 2004, even buying a black suit and silver tie. But Parcells joined some of Payton’s close friends in the coaching ranks -- Jon Gruden, John Fox and Bill Callahan -- in advising against it.

"Put my name behind those three," Parcells recounted advising Payton, saying he wanted to talk to Payton "like a son" and not like a head coach talking to an assistant. "You’re going to get your chance. This just isn’t the right one, kid."

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