Sean Payton had his customary season-ending press conference on Thursday afternoon with the media, speaking for well over 30 minutes. No matter how you slice it, the Saints didn't hit their ultimate goals, bringing a second Lombardi Trophy to the franchise under their 'Super Bowl or bust' mentality. Now, New Orleans has a lot of things to figure out regarding their future.
Much is made of the impending salary cap struggles the Saints will face, as their projected to be north of $90 million over the league's projected $180 million figure. While that isn't set in stone, the bottom line is that New Orleans will have to make some tough decisions, but they've been here before and can navigate through it. Payton doesn't see it as a problem.
Payton said, "I would like to think it will not. I think, what we do not know is, take the player you are referencing, which could be any player. Well, what is the number for that player to get him back? Or what's the number that someone else may be interested in signing him? Obviously, we have to wait to see where that cap number falls. And we'll begin the process of studying the roster and then looking closely at those decisions, but I think that we've always found a way relative to certainly the players we know, to work through some of the challenges and some of the obstacles and put the best team on the field that we feel like is possible. And that will be something that won't change this year. Will it be challenging? Yeah, I'm sure it will be. But certainly, you know, we'll be looking at solution-based decisions that we feel like are best for the Saints. And that process really begins."
Players like Marcus Williams, Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, and many others are set to become free agents. We previously looked at that list at the beginning of January. Some believe players could return and offer a type of 'hometown discount', but Payton understands the nature of the business.
"I think it can vary per player. Look, there are some players and I understand it, that are going to look to maximize, hey this is it, I totally get it and respect it and understand it. And then periodically, there will be a player that, man, doesn't want to change, where he's at and is very comfortable. Now, he's not, within reason. And that same thing can exist for not just players, that can be employees. And then periodically, there's someone that wants to get back to the northeast or someone that wants to get back to the West Coast. Hopefully, and what we've tried to do is develop a culture that's conducive to winning, where players enjoy coming to work, it's competitive, it's fair. All those things that we think are important to winning. And it's hard to measure how many jump balls, then you win with that."
Those jump balls are going to be important to the future and direction of the Saints, who face a lot of uncertainty right now. It is widely believed that Drew Brees will retire, and Payton said he had good visit with him earlier this week after the end of the season. While we wait on that final decision, there's a lot of belief in Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.
"I'm real confident in the players. We have a real good room," Payton said.
"I'm excited about Jameis Winston, I'm excited about Taysom Hill. Those are guys that we've had a chance, obviously, to see for a period of time. Not as long, maybe not as much time with Jameis. But I think that we will handle it accordingly. I mean, that position is important. It's vital. And that's why we paid attention to, like an offseason signing like Jameis or paid attention to keeping Taysom here. We knew there's a chance at some point in time, we'll be dealing with a transition. And we're going to try to be as prepared as we can when that time comes in. So, I really like the prospects of those players, and having seen them up close and personal."
The interesting part about Winston is that he's not under contract for 2021, but it certainly has sounded like Payton wants him and expects him back. In mid-December, he spoke about this with Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche on an episode of 'Huddle and Flow'. Payton talked about the future quarterback being in the organization, something we've heard before, but his praise of Winston and him saying that he's going to have an opportunity to be 'the guy' when Brees does leave was a good indication of where New Orleans may go.
However it all plays out, there's work to be done, but Payton has been here time and time again, and in all fairness could do this routine in his sleep.
"We'll (attack) first things first, replace the real good coaches or personnel people we've lost. We will begin the process, obviously, of evaluating our team, and then begin the process of evaluating prospects that can help our team, whether they are free agents, or draft eligible players."
It's been said for the past several offseasons, but it holds true again this season. This could be the most important three-month stretch for the Saints organization that we've ever seen. How they attack this will give us a good gauge on what to expect in 2021.