METAIRIE â€“ The New Orleans Saints put the finishing touches on their draft Saturday by picking defensive end Greg Romeus of Pittsburgh and linebacker Nate Bussey of Illinois in the seventh round.
But it's what happened before those picks and what will happen moving forward that are the real attention-getters. New Orleans was the headliner of this draft, taking Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan with the 24th pick in the first round, then trading for the 28th pick and selecting Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
Those selections left everyone around Airline Drive and throughout Who Dat Nation eager to see the newcomers and the rejuvenated Saints back on the football field, but the stalemated labor negotiations have that on indefinite hold.
General manager Mickey Loomis said the Saints have multiple plans for off-season workouts, mini-camps, and training camp based on various timetables. The offseason work could start at almost any time, even this week if the courts deny an NFL request and reinstate a ruling forbidding the lockout.
Or the lockout could stay in place until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, in June, July, August, â€¦? Who knows?
New Orleans' bold move to grab Ingram, the clear-cut consensus best running back in the draft, and the bolstering of the defensive front seven left fans with appetites whetted, making the delay and uncertainty even more frustrating.
NFL teams can't talk to undrafted players about signing free-agent contracts, which they normally would have started doing as soon as the draft ended. But everything could change almost as quickly as New Orleans pulled the trigger on the Jordan and Ingram acquisitions.
â€œWe have to be on standby for any change that would immediately all of a sudden put us in a recruiting mode,â€ Payton said.
The Saints can't conduct any business with players while the lockout is in effect, but they were able to bring Jordan and Ingram to their practice facility Saturday.
â€œWe were allowed to do everything you would do (normally),â€ Payton said, â€œintroduction to the program, players had a chance to once again tour the facility, say hello to the coaches, scouts, ownership, Mickey Loomis, myself. I know they had lunch here and all of that. What they were prohibited from doing was sitting down and meeting on football or any of those activities.â€
Loomis said New Orleans is prepared for every potential scenario in the labor saga.
â€œWhenever we get the green light, weâ€™re ready to go,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re waiting patiently. The league and the union will handle their business at some point (and) weâ€™ll be ready to go.
â€œSean and I have talked about what the schedule might be. Depending on how long this period is whether itâ€™s a few days, a few weeks or a month, weâ€™ll be able to readjust that calendar accordingly. Itâ€™s late April here. Itâ€™s not like weâ€™re talking about June 15 or a date like that at this point. Thereâ€™s a lot of time to make adjustments and fit normal activities into that period at this point.â€
If you're a Saints fan, those normal activities can't start soon enough.
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