New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton breaks down the start of a new season
INDIANAPOLIS - As promised, here are the highlights from my conversation with New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton this afternoon at the NFL scouting combine:
- He used some strong words to emphasize that the team is planning to keep tailback Reggie Bush in the fold, regardless of the fact that Bush is due a base salary of $8 million this year and $12 million next year.
"He'll be with us. He's not going anywhere," Payton said. "Mickey (Loomis) and I talked the other day about it. We value what this player brings, what he's been in three of the last four years ... really in all four seasons here. So I think we've spent more time in the other areas than we have discussing his status. So he's full speed ahead, he finished strong, and he'll be with us."
Those comments don't surprise me one bit. No, Bush wouldn't be worth that kind of money on the open market, but that's the price the Saints had to pay for drafting him with the No. 2 overall pick out of USC in 2006. They'd love to work out a more palatable contract, but Bush might not go for that, and I don't think there's any way the Saints would cut Bush outright or trade him for a mid- to low-round pick. They value Bush as much or more than any other team in the league does.
Of course, the Saints could push for a restructured contract behind the scenes, but it's clear at least that they aren't planning to put any public pressure on him for now.
- Payton spoke highly of free agent safety Darren Sharper, as well, but didn't go so far as to guarantee he'll remain in a Saints uniform. The Saints will continue to discuss a contract extension with the 34-year-old, but they made it clear they won't overpay for him when they decided not to lock him up with the franchise tag at one year and $6.455 million.
"Darren's been a big part of our success and someone who's certainly helped us tremendously," Payton said. "So, you know, the free agency period is getting ready to begin. And he's a guy that we want on our team. The key is just Mickey Loomis and Darren's agent (Joel Segal) really going through the process and getting that kind of stuff done. But there's still plenty of time."
Sharper is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 5. It's possible the Saints will work out a deal with him before then, or they might be willing to let him test the open market to gauge his value around the league.
- It doesn't sound like the Saints will pounce on free agent tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, even though he's a close friend of quarterback Drew Brees. Payton didn't rule out the possibility, but he said he likes the Saints' stable of tailbacks ... and it sounds like restricted free agent Mike Bell is still part of the Saints' plans even though he hasn't been tendered a qualifying offer yet.
"(Tomlinson) is a special guy," Payton said. "And yet as an organization, we've been fortunate to develop some running backs ourselves, younger players that have really stepped up. When you look at Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, Lynell Hamilton's another player who has a bright future with us. So we're deep at that position. And that's a good problem to have."
- The Saints are also deep at left tackle, with former starter Jammal Brown coming back from hip surgery to join a lineup that includes fellow experienced tackles Jon Stinchcomb, Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief. Payton said it would be "too early" to say the team is seeking to trade any of them, and it would also be too early to pencil either Brown or Bushrod in as the starter to begin the offseason.
"We haven't seen Jammal's health and where he's at," Payton said. "Right now we look at it that we have a young player and a veteran player. So we feel like we're deep at tackle. Zach Strief, Bushrod, (Jon) Stinchcomb and Jammal Brown, those are all four good players."
- Among other pending free agents, Payton didn't say anything definitive on linebacker Scott Fujita and quarterback Mark Brunell, though the team certainly thinks highly of both veterans and would like to have them back.
... Obviously the team is intent on keeping most of its restricted free agents after tendering qualifying offers to 13 of them, with more still to come.
I didn't ask Payton about guard Jahri Evans specifically, but it's clear that the team plans to keep him. They'll offer a one-year tender to him at the highest level soon, then they'll likely work toward a long-term extension this offseason.
- Payton also talked at length about getting back to work so quickly after winning the Super Bowl shortened the usual offseason routine - another good problem to have. He said the team adjusted its offseason schedule, setting the start date of the offseason conditioning program for two weeks into April instead of late March.
"I think the key is to not lose sight of the journey it takes to get there, how much work it takes to get in that game," Payton said. "And in every aspect of the program, from the evaluation of talent, the decisions in regard to your roster, the decisions in regards to what we're doing as coaches and evaluators, you know, all those things, it's easy to be critical when you don't have success. What's more challenging is to be that same objective voice of reason, or have that same objective evaluation process when you do have success. ...
"You start off behind. You start off five weeks in a calendar year behind. And you have to spend time allowing the players to digest the win, and then really looking at your schedule and being ready to adjust. ... I think what's important is that they have this time now to let it settle in and at some point, you know, you get the blood flowing and the juices flowing as players, and they're ready to get back at it. As coaches, that's kind of begun already."
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton breaks down the start of a new season | - NOLA.com
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