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.
“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."