Metairie, La. - The Saints held their exit meetings Monday as players and coaches went on their separate ways.
Sean Payton addressed the media and the following are his quotes, as transcribed by the New Orleans Saints:
Opening Statement: "We are just winding things down from the weekend. We had a player meeting just a few minutes ago. It is always challenging when the postseason is continuing and you are not involved in it. But at that point though, I thought there were a handful of things that we touched on that are going to be important moving forward. Typically when we do this, this last presser, the two areas that we as an organization have been pretty consistent with staying away from (is) any speculation with regards to free agency and/or coaching changes or decisions. It is just kind of something that we feel like is the best way to go and yet I understand and appreciate the questions that sometimes you guys have to ask. As far as we are concerned, the offseason cannot start quick enough and it is difficult to finish with a loss like that."
What was your message to the team?
"I think it is balanced. The disappointment comes from our expectation level of (not) getting to that Championship game and then getting to the Super Bowl. Those are goals that are a part of the pyramid if you will. I think it's obviously more difficult the closer you get when you aren't able to accomplish those. But then also discussing the challenges this team faced, the way they have responded, there are a lot of things that kind of motivate me, (and) excite me about coaching them going forward. I thought they handled a lot of things this year coming off everything a year ago, the injuries, none of these things were ever discussed as excuses, but just any time we had a tough setback, tough losses, the response the next week, they made it very not only enjoyable, but stimulating to coach because we were always on to the next challenge. You went through probably a six or seven week stretch of a lot of television (nationally televised primetime games), a lot of unique schedules, all of those things we were able to handle. It starts with the very beginning, finding a way to win your division, finding a way to give you the best seed possible, those are some things that weren't able to happen and yet we were all of a sudden able to win a playoff game and lose to a very good football team this past weekend. There are four outstanding teams left, all of them deserve congratulations and I am sure there is some good football ahead. It just kind of, for us, for me, when you get that close and then when you are coming off a postseason play you get excited for the next season pretty quickly."
Drew Brees and Malcolm Jenkins both kind of brought up the 'window' of opportunity for some of the veteran guys. Can you discuss that?
"It is funny that you bring that topic up. I said to our players, you are going to hear this new buzz word called window. Honestly the window, as long as I am the head coach here, we are trying to slam it open always. You can take each individual player and say when is the window of opportunity? I think I have (heart) that term the last three years. Now with regards to a specific player like Drew Brees, I get that and yet that window is still all the way open and I mean that. We are always in a constant change if you will of taking in the new players, evaluating this team and then going through the process of beginning to assembling the 2014 team. That window for us each year is slammed open."
Can you understand where Drew Brees is coming from when he says something like that?
"Yes. I read what he said and I think Drew views it as wide open."
I know you have a decision to make on Jimmy Graham. When you look at him ability-wise, with so little time playing football, what do you think the natural next progression needs to be for him?
"I thought this year's team had a mix of young talent and some veteran players. All of them, including the coaches were constantly looking to improve. With the amount of time he has played, he has continued to and will continue to improve to get better."
When you hear opposing team players talk about his game and the approach to him over the last part of the season was to get physical with him and it seemed like it threw him off a little bit, is that one of the progressions he has to learn and deal with that better?
"I read what one player or two players had said and look, that is pretty typical when you get into these heated games. I don't concern myself as much with what an opposing player might say. What's most important to us is our evaluation of a player's progression and how he impacts our team and how he helps us win."
Was the last play of Saturday's game supposed to be a lateral?
"Absolutely. Listen, (with) Marques (Colston), we were at that point and we are probably a play early from it, but with no timeouts we've kind of seen something on tape. Marques has a pretty good arm. (In) Hindsight where (we could have had) a play he could have caught it, stepped out of bounds and had one more play for a Hail Mary in the end zone. It was a play we put in a week and a half ago, prior to this game, which is a deep throw to Marques and then across the field to (Travaris) Cadet. So yeah, he wasn't free lancing."
I know you all look at divisional opponents in the offseason and try and measure up. Do you also do it by conference? Will you look at Seattle and San Francisco?
"I think we try to pay attention to what is winning, who is winning and absolutely (what those two teams are doing). In past, just the NFC South, you would look at the two teams in the NFC Championship game this weekend, we would. Not just schematically you would look at (their) personnel, you would look at how they are built, you would study (them) and it is our business and it's important for us constantly to be paying attention to what is winning. If not, then that would be silly. I think that in any business I think you look closely at what is being done successfully. Are there things that you can incorporate into your program? We started that when we first got here in 2006, not even in the AFC, but outside looking at the team that had been winning the most in New England."
How do you feel like you fit into this bigger picture?
"The bigger picture says this year we fit into eight. We didn't fit into four. That's what it says."
Can you elaborate the challenges each offseason brings in dealing with the salary cap?
"Those are challenges we've had every year. Fortunately, I think we have one of the best at handling it in Mickey Loomis. I think he is outstanding. I think number one, the line of communication is extremely important. We've been faced with challenges like this in the years prior and we are going to be faced with more as we move forward means we are developing and drafting good players. We will handle it just fine. I think that it is something that he does a great job with."
How excited are you to move forward with the young players on this team?
"There are a number of players and I will point to just in this year's class, but beyond that, there are some second year guys, third year guys which made this team a little different than others that we have had. We are very exciting. Having a chance to see these guys not only in game experience, but having them evaluated in postseason is vital and important. There is some real good tape for us to look at with those younger players. I am just as excited about a number of veteran players that really stepped up and did a great job. It's what made this team that much enjoyable to coach. I thought despite a handful of things that might have set a lot of teams back, these guys fought hard. I am very excited."
What about the way Terron Armstead responded? Do you feel good about him at left tackle moving forward?
"Absolutely. From the day he was inserted, certainly there are some growing pains, but he showed a lot just beginning with that Carolina game. I haven't looked completely at this film, but those are important pieces."
Is it kind of rare to get that much production out of so many rookies?
"It is important and each year kind of fluctuates. It is encouraging and it came in a year where a draft pick was taken away and you had six (undrafted) free agents make the roster, (along with) the draft picks, it was a great year for our scouts and all the people involved in putting the players in order, the correct way and us getting the right selections. It is a credit to a lot of people and now it is important that we continue to build on that class. The procurement of these players, the talent that comes in is obviously the life blood of our program."
For you personally, how rewarding was it to be back this year? Did you learn anything new about the way you approached this season?
"You are back in something that is extremely relevant and so it is exciting, (yet after Saturday night) it is disappointing. You experience those highs, those lows, the long nights, getting into the postseason, the excitement of winning in the postseason, certainly the disappointment of losing in the postseason, all of that is something that quietly for a year is gone is something that you miss. But more than that still is the interaction with people that are closest to you. It was fantastic to be back and be around these players and to do what I enjoy doing."
Can you talk about the turnaround on defense from last year? You had two main additions on that side of the ball.
"Well I think there was more than just that. I think, listen, it was important that John Jenkins came in and played at nose for us. It was important that Glenn Foster came in. It was important that Keenan Lewis played. It was important that Kenny Vaccaro played. It was important that Rafael Bush – all these players came together with a coach (Rob Ryan) on defense, with a coaching staff on defense. There was turnover and we talked about it last spring as this team moved forward of really writing their own story. That's as a team that is just one side of the ball. It is not just the kicking game or offense or defense. I think that was an important reason why we were successful."
Do you feel there is a less need on defense than there has been in the past?
"I think you study the San Francisco's and the Seattle's and you recognize that there is still this formula that has won in our league for a long time and that is your ability to stop the opponent and then your ability to have production, (and) have balance in both the running and passing game. I think we are younger on that side of the ball than we have been in a while and yet there is that balance of are you drafting need or are you drafting value. I think we try to create that separation. If there is some strong value sitting there I think you have to pay attention to it and yet as we go through this depth chart this offseason, we try to look at where our positions we need to improve or we feel like we could certainly improve. I think we are younger over there than we have been in probably the seven years I have been here."
Did you and Drew Brees have more delay of game penalties this year?
"It certainly appeared to. I am going to say that most of them are probably my fault. We've had more penalties than we have had in the prior seven or six years for me. Noise was an issue the other night on specifically the one play. But that is something that we will get corrected. I have to be quicker obviously in getting the plays in."
Can you study the environment in Seattle?
"The noise is the noise and I think it is the same way here. You prepare to handle the communication challenges. You reduce certain things so you don't become as vulnerable. I liked the way we approached this past week's preparation and what were our plans going in. But at that point where you just can't hear and it is like it is hot here in July and August, meaning it is relative. How do you handle it? How do you prepare to go in and play? I think for the most part our players didn't feel that was a big deciding factor in the game we just played."
Are there certain elements that maybe you guys can study and bring to your program?
"Absolutely. It is important that we study everything that we think gives us a chance to be successful."
You talk about how the offseason can't come quick enough, but what is the timetable of putting this one to bed?
"There is a process. The immediate focus this week for our (coaching) staff will shift on the 2013 Saints roster. This week will be spent on getting all the grades in, evaluations in, the plays, the graded plays. There were a couple of games we weren't able to grade because it was a short week. The game before we played Atlanta we moved on right away. We will get all of that done and then there is the Senior Bowl the following week. when does the loss go away? I think it takes a while. It is part of what drives you I think towards the next season is we don't have another game to play. During the regular season you have a loss like that or a tough loss, then you can get past this press conference on Monday or Tuesday and quickly we can get onto the next game. When you have a postseason loss like that, it kind of stays for a while. We will have to swallow it and it will go down and we have to move on."
Is the kicker spot wide open going into the offseason?
"I think it is tough to evaluate a certain player such as a kicker especially in those kinds of conditions. I thought he (Shayne Graham) came in and really did a great job for us when we signed him. But with regards to that position, it will be like anything else. We will have a chance to discuss, evaluate, not only Shayne but the future and other prospects that might be out there. But I thought he did a very good job."
Did you feel this offense missed a deep threat receiver?
"You are in the absence of an injured Joe Morgan. You are in the absence of a player like Devery Henderson who has played successfully here a long time. I don't know if it would be fair to compare this receiver core to any of the ones prior. I think our explosive play numbers still were up there very high and yet that is dealing with injuries again. I think Joe Morgan was a guy that got on top (of the defense) a lot and has. We got behind defenses, whether we did it enough we will have a chance to see. I understand the criticism, but I think that it is hard to find film of the receivers like we remember back strictly getting behind the corner and the long bomb being the thrown. Now there are different routes that you get above coverages with and can defenses start sitting on routes? Absolutely. I think regardless of the speed, you see a player with exceptional speed. You saw it yesterday. A guy that has breakaway speed and a corner still tries to read routes, sit down and maybe the receiver gets behind him. We obviously put a value on explosive plays and that is something that we will look closely at with our offense."
Did we see Mark Ingram take the next step?
"Yes, I thought last week that same question was answered. I thought we saw him with a little bit of a work load do some good things. That was encouraging. I thought we saw Khiry (Robinson) the same way. We saw some players whether it was because of injury or just the way we rotated guys into the lineup. We saw some players do some things that I think will better help us as we go forward and evaluating this next offseason. I think that is important."
I think I heard it was reported that Bill Parcells had some real nice words about Khiry Robinson on the FOX broadcast.
"Yes he and I had some discussions, but I don't know that it was reported. It probably came in my (production) meeting."
You haven't really had a big running back since Deuce McAllister. Is that just how things have happened?
"With Deuce, our first year was he and Reggie (Bush)…(Aaron) Stecker was handling some of the third downs. Pierre (Thomas) came the next season. Probably so. A lot of it is what they're giving you. It's hard to find. It's not that they don't exist, but I don't know that that (type of) player is as prevalent in today's college game. And yet, every once in a while – I don't know how big the running back at Towson is that I can't really comment on – but my point is, you see some guys that catch your attention and so it's the one position that truly comes in all shapes and sizes. You can't discriminate your measurables or have a prototype specifically and say it's got to be (a certain type) because our history has shown us that there have been outstanding players at that position that have been built a certain way, entirely different than maybe Deuce was built. And yet, there's going to be great big backs that play in our league; I just don't know that we read as many as we would have ten years ago or fifteen years ago, but we still read them."
What can you tell the fans with concerns about salary cap restraints, especially as it refers to Jimmy (Graham)?
"We have smart fans. They're smart enough to understand that, just like we have in years past, we're going to make the decisions as best we can for our club moving forward and they're going to be able to read closely between the lines and understand that we're going to be in good shape. They're not going to be in a panic. They're going to be confident just the same way that we are. That obviously when there's change from season to season, there's attrition. There's the younger players that are coming in and the players eventually that have been here that are no longer on the team. I think that's pretty normal, and we'll be ready for the challenge."
Can you address the offensive line and how you will move forward?
"Yes, I was encouraged, especially as I gave them more and more opportunities both within the running game (and the passing game), the other night I thought we played very well. I thought we protected well the other night and ran the ball well. (How they played at) Philadelphia (was) the same way before that. I think it's a group we feel good about. Obviously we get some snaps to evaluate with Terron (Armstead). Charles Brown played well for us early on and we had just made that change. We've got veterans at a number of the other positions. I think we did a lot of things well. I think that group played well."
Can you talk about the health of your team?
"Overall I would say two parts: pretty good right now, and yet those players that have been injured and are already on injured reserve are the ones that we'll have to focus on getting them back, getting them healthy. But nothing really significantly new, and yet quite a bit that had to be done with a lot of these guys that are on injured reserve."
The guys that have been out all year on Injured Reserve, are they in pretty good shape as far as your timetable?
"As best we know. There haven't been any setbacks. The progress has gone on like normal. Obviously you have a variety of different injuries. That number is a little higher than we're used to – we're talking about the existing list. It will be important to get those guys back as quickly as possible."
Can you kind of define what Kenny Vaccaro, as a rookie, meant to this team?
"He meant a lot. He's an extremely physical player, good tackler (and) there's no leaky yardage. When you talk about finish, if the tackle is happening two yards downfield, the yards gained are two yards. He's got good instincts. He loves playing. He's big. He's strong. I think he has been a great addition for our team. It's a tough injury for him to have that late in the season, right before the postseason, but we're real encouraged with the way he played."
Do you give a message to Cameron Jordan as he goes to the Pro Bowl if he's on the opposing team of Drew Brees?