The New Orleans Saints are gearing up for training camp, but that's going to look different than anything else we've ever seen before. General manager Mickey Loomis met with the local media on Tuesday evening to discuss the state of the team and how they intend to handle camp and evaluations.
“I can’t speak to other teams. I can only speak to what our experience has been," Loomis said.
"I think it’s an advantage that Sean (Payton) and I have been together for a long time. I think it’s an advantage that we have a (coaching) staff that’s been together for a long time, as well as a core group of players who have been together for a long time. And look we’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through a lot of things that are outside of the norm of the course of business. This is different than all of that. This is something that is unprecedented and so I can’t answer whether or not we’re better equipped or less equipped to handle this because this is so different compared to a hurricane or some of the other things we’ve had to deal with.”
Loomis, like everyone else, is concerned about personal health, families, and the entire community. COVID-19 has impacted so many, and nothing has been normal for anyone. Right now, only testing is allowed on campus. The team is also discussing the 90-man player roster limit currently.
"We spent a number of months where we couldn't even come to the office. And so having to work at home, work virtually, I think our staff’s done a great job of dealing with that. And yet, it's not the same as having face to face conversations and talking about nuances of different things that we have to get done. So it's been different and yet I'm really proud of our staff. We've got a lot of guys, particularly our medical staff, our trainers, doctors and our administrative staff who had a lot of work to do in a short period of time in order for us to adhere to these protocols. And so we're grinding through it is probably the best way to describe it, maybe.”
To Loomis' knowledge, every Saints players showed up for reporting other than tight ends Cole Wick and Jason Vander Laan, who elected to opt-out of the season. Specifically, that means there were no contract holdouts like last season. Loomis admittedly said that there were more player opt-outs around the league than he expected on the first day. Some thought that Alvin Kamara could fit into that category, but that wasn't the case. Loomis politely declined comment on where things were at with a contract.
“Look, this is always a tough question. You guys always ask these questions about contracts. And I always say I don't like discussing that. That's really between the team and the player until we're ready to announce something.”
Obviously, the league's 2021 salary cap situation for next season could play into some of this, but Loomis is confident that the team will be able to navigate it. It also hasn't affected any decisions about contract extensions or potentially signing another free agent. However, tryouts aren't allowed right now, and the procedures and processes are still to be determined. Loomis did mention that the team is always looking to see who's available and who's out there.
“Well, it's never easy and having a lower number next year, significantly lower next year will make it more difficult, no question about it, but look, we'll handle that. We will manage it. And we don't know what that number is going to be. That's just, the way we understand that's just the floor for next year and we'll see what the results are for this year before that number is determined for next year. But look, I'm confident we can handle (it) and be able to manage our team and our roster under whatever cap (number) we have.”
“I think that there's been a damper (in free agency) because of the Coronavirus because of the uncertainty relative to the economics of the game and look, we haven't had the ability to bring somebody in for a visit that maybe we might consider otherwise, that happens an awful lot after that first wave of free agency. You get interested in someone and you bring him in and we talk about what your vision is for the player and now his vision of how you might fit in so that hasn't happened and so I would say yeah, that's been slower than normal.”
Loomis didn't want to discuss specific details of new things the team was doing to try to protect against the virus because he would leave something out, but said the Saints are doing all the things that everyone would expect. There have been some modifications done to the team's locker room, with some barriers being placed between each locker as part of the protocol and team's plan they sent to the league. Loomis said they aren't moving walls or tearing them down, but they're continually seeing what else they can do to accommodate.
"We are planning for the best way to social distance. We're planning on how do we clean the surfaces and facility on a regular basis and as often as we can. How do we provide PPE to our players? How do we how do we provide the materials that our players need in order to feel safe in the building and our staff? It's not just players, it's our entire staff. So there's just a myriad of things, including all of the protocols that we've been given by the league. And then the things on top of that, that we might want to do that we feel unnecessary here. So it's, the volume is pretty big.”
Scouting poses a challenge this season, and the path for undrafted rookie might be a little harder for the Saints, but not impossible. Loomis said the team won't get the looks they normally get at new players in the league that can showcase their talent in the preseason, and they also aren't able to watch other team practices or open scrimmages. With less information, the Saints are going to have to rely on college reports and prior year pro reports. For undrafted players, it'll really behoove them to be on top of their game at all times.
"We're going to get to have these guys in our building. For the next month, we're going to have a lot of time to watch them and to see them in meetings, to have practices, see them compete against veteran players. So look, I think we'll do a real good job of evaluating, but the evaluation will be different.”
There's no set date for the first day of practice yet for the Saints, as they'll have to get through the testing period first. There will be a ramp up period and then OTA level practices before they get to normal training camp practices, which are sure to be intense. There's a lot of expectations for the Saints in 2020, and Loomis expects the Saints to go farther than last season. However, it won't be easy.
"Look, I think going in, I would say everyone in our building feels good about our team. And yet we also understand that each year is brand new. Because we won some games last year doesn't mean we're entitled to winning this year, but we feel real good about our roster, feel good about our leadership, great about our coaching staff. And so look, all the elements are there, but we've got to put in the work, we've got to put in the time, we have to find a way to focus on football and it's right there in front of us. I would say, look, our expectations and our goal is to be successful, to go farther than we did last year and farther than we did the year before.”