For the better part of two months, Mickey Loomis has watched an irritating, never-ending storm of rumors and reports swirl around his team, specifically the head coach and quarterback who have formed the pillars of the Saints for a decade.
Loomis batted away all of that speculation in his postseason news conference with local media on Thursday.
The twin pillars of the Saints’ run of success, Sean Payton and Drew Brees, remain firmly in place.
For starters, Loomis echoed Payton by saying he never discussed ending their partnership by discussing the possibility with Payton or another NFL team about the kind of compensation it would take to get Payton out of the final two years of his contract.
“I never had a discussion with another team,” Loomis said. “No one called me, and I didn’t call anyone else.”
Loomis and Payton held their end-of-season meeting at the beginning of last week.
And any talk about Payton leaving for another team was squashed before the meeting ever got started.
“His first statement when he walked in the room was hey, I want to be here,” Loomis said. “It never really went beyond that.”
Loomis, like Payton, also reiterated that their relationship remains strong.
Any report or speculation that there was something the head coach and general manager needed to iron out, Loomis said, created a perception that failed to mirror what’s been going on at Saints headquarters, where Payton said last week the two men routinely pop into each other’s offices, shut the door and talk for an hour about certain subjects.
What made this postseason wrapup different, Loomis said, was driven by external rumors rather than internal strife.
“The only thing that was different is that there were rumors hanging out there,” Loomis said. “We have differences of opinion. We don’t always agree, and yet, we’ve had a great capacity to have disagreements and resolve them in a good way, so that we always have the same goal in mind and have a lot of respect for each other’s opinions. It’s overblown to say we had this big (disagreement).”
Now that Payton has squelched talk that he might be New Orleans, national speculation has turned to the future of Brees, who is coming off of a brilliant season but carries a $30 million cap hit as he heads into his 16th season.
New Orleans, which already has $155,861,293 committed to 44 players for next season, is expected to be over or at a salary cap that Loomis said Thursday is being estimated higher than the Saints were expecting. Because of those figures, national speculation has run rampant that the Saints might move on from their franchise quarterback.
Loomis is planning to keep Brees right where he is.
“I know this, Drew’s going to be our quarterback,” Loomis said. “And we’ll figure out how we’re going to handle the contract, whether it stays the same and just remains right in place, or whether we do something different. That’s all part of what we’ve got to figure out in the next coming weeks.”
Loomis, for better or worse, has plenty of experience navigating a cap situation that looks tricky to the rest of the NFL. He’s been doing it for years.
Finding a way to keep Brees is not one of the things Loomis is worried about doing this offseason.
“I keep reading how we’re in dire straits with the cap and this, that and the other,” Loomis said. “And, look, it’s not a great cap situations, but it’s not as dire as sometimes I think it’s painted out to be. We know where we’re at, we know what we have to do. And something that gets taken care of, or our plan gets a little bit more dynamic depending on our evaluations and what our offseason plan is.”
New Orleans is in the early stages of formulating that offseason plan now.
The Saints’ coaching staff and pro personnel department put together evaluations of the entire roster last week. Beginning Monday, Payton, Loomis and the entire Saints staff will go through those evaluations and set their plan for building the 2016 roster.
Then Payton and Loomis begin pursuing that plan together, the same way they have for a decade. No changes are planned for the organizational structure. New Orleans has been pleased with many of the front-office changes the Saints made last season — bringing in Jeff Ireland, promoting Terry Fontenot and overhauling the scouting department — and plan to continue taking all that information and building a consensus between head coach and general manager.
“From the very beginning, we’ve come to a mutual conclusion,” Loomis said. “That’s the best way to describe it. We’ve never had to say, it’s my final say or it’s his final say, it never gets to that.”
Loomis, Payton and the rest of the Saints enter the 2016 offseason optimistic.
New Orleans has plenty of work to do after back-to-back 7-9 seasons.
But the Saints believe they’re pointed in the right direction.
“I’m kind of fired up about where we’re going,” Loomis said. “We’re not happy with the end result of 7-9, but I still see some pretty good things coming.”