AVONDALE -- The Saintly tandem of coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees suffered their first defeat of 2013 ... on a golf course.
It came in a four-hole celebrity shootout Tuesday at TPC Louisiana sponsored by Capital One Bank with the team of former LSU quarterbacks Tommy Hodson and Jarrett Lee claiming the top prize of $12,000 to split for their respective charities.
But, in reality, Payton and Brees each walked away a winner, earning $3,000 for his charitable cause.
Payton declined to talk with the media afterward, deferring to General Manager Mickey Loomis to answer NFL Draft related questions during a 30-minute press conference at Saints camp Tuesday afternoon.
Brees made himself available after patiently posing for pictures and signing autographs for those fans who had gathered around the ninth green and clubhouse area.
The former All-Pro passer is preparing for Year 2 of his five-year, $100 million contract, a deal that left the franchise cap-poor heading into the 2013 offseason.
It was a necessary evil. Ask any NFL team that wants to keep an elite quarterback.
In order to conduct business, Loomis had to trim nearly $20 million to slide under the $123 million salary cap by restructuring the contracts of returning veterans and releasing others outright.
Essentially, the Dollar General (Loomis) has been reduced to pinching pennies and forced to patch the holes in his roster largely because of the salary and guaranteed money needed to keep Brees in a Black and Gold uniform through 2016. Other than free agent cornerback Keenan Lewis, the other new acquisitions are seen as second-tier players brimming with potential.
Seven players have restructured their contracts -- Marques Colston, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton.
Loomis did not approach Brees to restructure his contract because, in the long run, it was not fiscally sound.
"I'm always open to discussion to do anything to help this team,'' said Brees, who was looking rather stylish in an Irish tweed cap. "I thought there was maybe a possibility they would come to me, and they didn't. Obviously, they had it handled.
"There is much more to it than people know or understand. Restructuring doesn't mean you take less money necessarily. It means that money comes to you at different times, so you can open up cap space. There are a lot of elements to it that are complicated.''
Thus, Brees' contract remains intact for this season and beyond, ranging in base salaries from $9.75 million in 2013, $10.75 million in 2014, $18.75 million in 2015 and $19.75 million in 2016, the last year of the deal. He is also eligible for annual $250,000 workout bonuses in years 2013 through '16.
"I think Mickey has done a good job of planning for the future,'' Brees said. "It's not just how can we get under the cap now. It's how does restructuring these deals affect us next year and the year after and the year after. You have to anticipate three, four, five years out.
"And I think Mickey has done a good job of that.''
HIGH ON A MOUNTAIN
Brees weighed in on Monday's pictorial announcement from former NFL linebacker Scott Fujita, who signed a one-day contract with the Saints then retired while visiting Machu Picchu, a Peruvian historical sanctuary in the Andes often referred to as the "City of the Incas.''
"It's one of the greatest pictures I've ever seen,'' Brees said. "It's unbelievable. Part of it is I know the type of person and the type of teammate that Scott Fujita is, what he means to this community and what he meant to this team.
"It kind of gives me chills just thinking about that picture. I have it saved in my phone right now. I sat there and stared at it for the longest time. Brittany and I talked about going to Machu Picchu and hiking it. Just the history of that site and for Scott to be there with Steve Gleason, for Team Gleason going on this remarkable journey, for the organization to have him sign this one-day contract so he can retire a Saint, all those things are so special.''
Fujita played with the Saints from 2006 through the Super Bowl XLIV championship season of 2009 before signing as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 2010 where he concluded his 11-year NFL career last season.
Gleason, who played with the Saints from 2000 through 2007, is battling Lou Gehrig's disease.
What is your overall view of the strengths and weaknesses in this draft?
“I think we would say it’s a deep draft. There are a couple positions that we think are deeper than others, probably defensively at cornerback and the defensive line positions, but there are good players, there are going to be good players all the way through this draft and so we are excited. We are excited to get five new guys in here, select some guys that are going to be contributors to our team and get them started.”
Have you been more active on the phone than the past in terms of making or receiving calls for trade offers, because you do not have a second round pick?
“No, I wouldn’t say we have been more active. Obviously we don’t have a second round pick and we would like to have one. Particularly I think this is a year where it would be really good to have a second round pick, but we haven’t been more active because of that. Those kinds of deals where you are trading back and picking up selections are going to happen on the clock for the most part. In the next day or two I’ll talk to most of the teams and find out who’s interested in moving. Obviously there is a point I think we would be willing to move back, but there’s a point where I don’t want to go too far and the same thing with moving forward. There is probably a group of 10 teams, 12 teams, on either side of this that I’ll touch base with.”
Just to follow up on that, you’re not going to be more inclined to make a trade just because you don’t have a second rounder or it will still be the same value as the players on the board versus the…
“Yes. It’s going to be predicated on who is available to us and who could we select if we move back, versus just trying to get another pick.”
At left tackle, do you anticipate that if you don’t draft one you would still sign a veteran in free agency? Or you could go into training camp with what you have now?
“We have Charles Brown and Jason Smith competing there and have some other young players in our building. We have competition there; clearly, we don’t have a name on that magnet at starting left tackle yet, so we would have to look at every option, but we can only select what’s available to us in the draft or what becomes available to us as a veteran player. We will pay attention to that position.”
With Chris Ivory visiting with the Jets, there is a lot of speculation around maybe moving him with his salary bumping up significantly. What are your thoughts on maybe that, where he stands and on the running back position?
“That is clearly a position of strength for us and we have had discussions with the publicized team being the New York Jets, but we have had discussions with several other teams as well. There is no deal imminent, but we have had some discussions about it, simply because that’s a position in strength for us.”
How much does not having a second round pick limit your choice, limit your options? At any point did you expect to get it back?
“I don’t know if we had any expectation, we did ask. We asked for it back and we were denied, so it is what it is, we don’t have a second round pick. It does limit us, it makes it more difficult to move forward at least, move forward significantly, but that’s the way it is.”
You all have a history of drafting the best player available no matter what position, do you feel like you have filled in some spots to where you can do that again?
“Yes, we always want to do that and our goal in free agency is to fill enough holes that, if we have holes, that we are able to do that. I do think that usually when you are selecting when you are on the clock, it’s not a matter of just one guy head and shoulders above anyone else, there’s usually two or three players with similar grades and players are all worthy of that pick, so that’s when a position in need may come into play or a position of greater value. I think we would all say that pass rushers, corners, left tackles, quarterbacks are generally the more valued positions. All that comes into play when you are selecting, but for the most part we are going to take the highest player graded on our board.”
What do you think of that pass rush group? I know a lot of different scouts are all over the place with those guys.
“I don’t want to get in a discussion about any specific player, but I think we believe there are a number of good pass rushers in this draft and whether the right one gets to us where we are picking at 15 or where we select someone that’s in a later round that we think has that ability. We won’t find out until this weekend, but I do think there are a number of good pass rushers in this draft.”
Is this the kind of draft where it is good to be number 15, deep enough where you are going to get a player?
“Well I’d much rather be at 32, along with 31 other teams, but I think being in the middle of the first round is a good spot. It gives you some flexibility, and yet you know you are going to have the opportunity to select a good player if we just sit tight, somebody that we have confidence in, that can come in and help us immediately as well as be a good player long term for us.”
Each player fits a team and a scheme differently. Is that incorporated in the discussions with your coaches about what would be the right fit offensively or defensively on your team?
“Absolutely, the way we have our board, we have different color coded cards up there. Some of them indicate a medical issue, some of them may indicate a character issue, and we have another card that indicates a fit issue, someone that we think is a good player, may have a good grade, but probably doesn’t fit into our system, what our coaches are looking for at a particular position. It does factor in. I know that factors in differently for each team.”
You guys have stayed away, for the most part, from players that have had character issues especially in the earlier rounds? Is that a philosophy?
“Character is important to us and that encompasses a lot of things. You can’t just look at one incident, you have to kind of dig deep and understand what the incidents were, how it was involved, how long ago it was and what has happened subsequently. But we do pay attention to that. We spend a lot of time talking about the character of each player that we might select. Sometimes it may be a matter of it just knocks him down a couple of rounds and the risk is less, but it is important.”
How much is a 3-4 defense going to change the approach to this draft?
“Well it has definitely changed. It’s changed, there is no question, because we are looking for different things and we are still trying to understand completely what Rob (Ryan) is looking for in a defensive player. It’s really the front seven that we are talking about here, but I think we have a really good handle on the type of player that he is looking for. We brought in a couple of guys from his team in Dallas in free agency and we have spent a lot of time talking to him about each of these college players that are draft eligible and how they would fit into our system and we get back to where there are guys that don’t fit.”
Is there anybody off your board because of a medical issue?
Do you feel the position of wide receiver is of strength or a position where you can address in the later rounds?
“I think any position is in play for us, it just really depends on our grade on the player, how we view them, is he the best player on the board at the time, so I wouldn’t rule out any position. At least we haven’t.”
How many quarterbacks do you think will be gone before you pick?
“I don’t know the answer to that. We do these studies, I don’t know how many will be taken before we pick at 15, but we do these studies and on average there are four taken in the first two rounds, so that has held pretty true over the past 15 years.”
Does this year make it harder to project than most years?
“Yeah I think it does, but it is a position that we really haven’t focused on to be truthful.”
What has changed with the running backs considering you are talking about moving Chris Ivory?
“I think what’s changed is our salary cap circumstances. Yet, they’re (Mark Ingram, Ivory, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas) four really good players and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all of them end up on our roster come September, and yet we have to pay attention to salary cap and our issues there. That’s really the only thing that has changed.”
Is there a reluctance to trade, because Ivory has been productive in the few touches he has had, a veteran who has shown you that he can produce?
“I am not trading Drew Brees. I know that’s a surprise. Look, there is always a reluctance to trade players that have been productive for us, including Chris Ivory who is the topic right now. Sometimes you have to manage your roster and manage a roster within the salary cap that we have. That can dictate the type of moves that we make. If we have an abundance at one position and a lack of depth at another, that is going to come into play as well.”
How do you split your time between the Saints and the Pelicans? Do you have to invest more hours? How do you go between the two?
“Listen, my role with the Pelicans is different than that with the Saints. I am the general manager here for the Saints, but we have a general manager with the Pelicans in Dell Demps. He’s a top-flight general manager. I would say I have more of a space-shuttle view there than I do with the Saints, I am into the details here and not as much into the details with the NBA team. It doesn’t require as much time as you might think.”
Do you do any self-scouting of your draft?
“Yeah, absolutely. We do it constantly. We constantly look at, number one, the results, who we’ve selected. And it’s not just who we’ve selected, it’s who we had graded that maybe ended up with another team because we didn’t draft them. Did we have them graded correctly and the guys that we didn’t have correctly graded, why? We always look at our system of grading and evaluations, how we present our board, the technology that’s available. That’s an ongoing process, it never stops. We may evaluate the 2011 draft now and then a year from now evaluate and look at it a little differently because of the performance of one player or another. The answer is yes, we are constantly evaluating that.”
Is there any reason that you have had more success in finding late round talent on offense rather than on the defensive side of the ball? Are defensive players harder to evaluate?
“That’s a good question, and I think that’s just coincidence and circumstance as opposed to anything that is systematically good for offense and not good for defense. We’ve had some luck drafting offensive linemen in the middle rounds and the later rounds. At least so far, we haven’t been able to discover anything that says we’re doing something on offense that we’re not doing on defense.”
How close or not close are you to giving Rob Ryan the players he wants for the new defense?
“I think we’ll find out in training camp. We could line up and play today if we had to play, with a few practices. We’re just trying to add to that and improve. This draft is part of that process and, obviously, free agency was part of that process too, bringing in Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman and Keenan Lewis. We’ve got some elements. We have some expectations of some guys that we drafted last year, Akiem Hicks in particular, and then we are looking for good seasons from some of our veteran guys.”
How much does the opposition in the NFC South play into when you are looking at the draft board?
“I would say this, we have the depth charts of our division opponents up in our draft room. We’re cognizant of it and we pay attention to it. Those are the teams that first and foremost we have to beat to win the division. I wouldn’t say that there is a direct correlation between that and who we’re drafting. We pay attention to what the teams in our division do.”
What is Rob Ryan’s philosophy at nose tackle? I know a lot of people think about a big run-stuffer in the middle of a 3-4 defense. Is Brodrick Bunkley a good fit at that position?
“That’s a better question for Rob than me but let’s see if I can repeat what we’ve talked about. Look, he’s not necessarily looking for the big-plugger and he does cite Jay (Ratliff) as a guy that he’s had in the past that fit the scheme that he wanted to play up there. Yes, the answer is, Brodrick does fit what we’re going to play.”
Two years ago you used a future first round draft pick to move up. Without a second round pick this year, could you see yourself using a future selection to move up?
“I think that’s unlikely. Although that circumstance for us was here is a player (Mark Ingram) that was, as I recall, in the top 11 or 12 players on our board at the time and we’re trading a future pick that we thought would be in the latter part of the next year’s draft so we thought we were getting really good value to do that. Those circumstances don’t come up very often. I would say it’s unlikely but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Is there a position you would like to see a run with in the first 14 picks?
“Kickers (laughter). I think probably quarterbacks, that would help, and push more players down to us. We’re just going to see what’s available, we don’t have a lot of control over that.”
In all likelihood, what would it cost for a team to move from 20 or 21 to 14 or 13?
“If I was buying, I would tell you. But since potentially I am selling I’d rather not say.”
How much did the salary cap make you stay away from some veteran free agents? How challenging was that?
“We went in to free agency thinking that we weren’t going to get any players, except for the lower priced guys, guys that were looking for an opportunity more than a longer-term deal. Even Keenan (Lewis) was a bit of a surprise, that we were able to get into that market and maneuver our salary cap to be able to sign him. I would say we were handcuffed, but we went into that with our eyes wide open. We knew a year, year and a half ago, that we were going to be tight against the cap for this and even for next season to some degree.”
Do you have a philosophy against moving back in the draft?
“I think we’re willing to go either direction. We’ve always been willing to go either direction. Particularly in the last four or five years there has always been a player that we coveted either when we were picking or right in front of us that we thought we needed to move up and get. First of all, opportunity comes into play here, if you’re not getting calls to move back. There have been a couple of occasions where there have been a number of players that we thought we could move back and still get one of our guys but we didn’t have the opportunity. We either didn’t a call or the calls we made didn’t get responded to favorably. We’re more than willing to more back if the opportunity presents itself.”
Bill Polian said today that there were about 12 guys that he graded as first round picks with a large number of players receiving second round grades. Is that what you meant when you said you’d like to have a second-rounder this year?
“I think most teams would say, and certainly we would say, that we have probably have less than 32 guys graded as first picks and yet we probably have 45 or 50 graded as second round talent. When you just talk about value and where you’re selecting, I think that is probably what he means.”
Defensive tackle and cornerbacks are the deepest defensive positions in the draft. Is that unusual?
“I would agree with that. Look, I don’t know why that is. There are 70-plus juniors in this draft and so that certainly contributes to that. Look, we have juniors every year. I don’t know the reason for that. What is a little bit unusual, just looking at the corners, there are a lot of bigger corners this year. It seems like more in the past.”
Everyone is trying to copy Seattle (Seahawks) with what they have in Browner and Sherman. Maybe those big corners will get elevated in this draft?
“Well, we are going to find out two or three years from now whether we were right or not, that’s for sure.”
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