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SmashMouth 12-29-2012 09:15 AM

New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton can now truly start fresh together in 2013
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Two huge thumbs up to Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, Tom Benson, agent Don Yee and anyone else involved with getting a new contract extension done before the end of the 2012 season - even if they waited until the final weekend. Thanks to them, the New Orleans Saints can now truly turn the page when the calendar shifts to 2013.

As I wrote just a few hours ago, it was understandable why both sides had stayed patient throughout their contract talks up until now. But there were going to be some harmful repercussions starting Monday.

Now, there's nothing to worry about. And now it feels like there never was.

Even if it is just symbolic, there's got to be something cathartic about the Saints starting off their 2013 season with optimism and excitement instead of lingering doubts and uncertainty.

They had enough of that this year.

Offensive tackle Zach Strief certainly feels that way, based on his strong reaction to the news Friday night:

"I think things are starting to go for us rather than against us," Strief said, adding that he thinks the news gives Sunday's regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers even more importance. "I think that we are playing our best football at the end of the year, and that is what Coach Payton would expect and demand from us. We want to finish this season the right way and give ourselves some momentum. Coach re-signing is like getting a big shove at the top of the hill.

"We just spent the last 12 weeks trying to climb it, and now we can start rolling. It really excites me for next year. Coach Payton is the reason this organization has turned around, and we can't wait to get him back in the building where he belongs."

Make no mistake, Payton's job won't be easy when he gets back to work. The Saints' arrow isn't pointed in the same direction right now as it was when he left. And now they're going to lose more veteran players because of salary-cap constraints, and they won't be able to afford any kind of defensive overhaul.

But I truly do believe they'll be serious playoff contenders again in 2013, especially with Payton back. The Saints underachieved in 2012. Their offense is better than this. And their defense has shown vast improvement to at least offer hope of being a middle-of-the-road unit next year.

Add in the fact that everyone from Payton on down will be champing at the bit to get back on the field next season, and you've got that deadly combination that has worked well in the past - talent plus hunger.

Has a team ever been more excited about the start of a new year?

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