PHOENIX — Mickey Loomis feels good about the wheeling and dealing that he has taken part in this offseason.
But he also is smart enough to know that making a handful of changes to the roster does not guarantee success. This business is based on results and, like any other general manager, he will grade himself based on wins and losses.
“The proof will be in the season and how it impacts our team,” Loomis said. “I think every team would say they’re pleased with the things that they’ve done in an offseason, and we’re no different.
“There’s some things that we’ve been able to do. And, look, we’ve still got a long ways to go here. There’s other players available, we’ve got an important draft for us coming up. We’ve got five picks in the first three rounds, and we have to take advantage of that.“
It’s been a busy few weeks for the Saints. The team has parted ways with linebacker Curtis Lofton and running back Pierre Thomas, while also trading away guard Ben Grubbs, tight end Jimmy Graham, and wide receiver Kenny Stills.
As part of those deals, the team acquired additional picks in the first, third and fourth rounds of the draft, while also losing a fourth-round pick. It also obtained center Max Unger from Seattle in the Graham trade and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe from Miami in the Stills trade.
The team will look much different next season, which either could be a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, a 7-9 team is not resting on its laurels and settling for the status quo. On the other, it’s another offseason of turnover — something the Saints said plagued them last season after losing so many veteran players last offseason.
However, Loomis said he is confident in the changes he’s made and believes in the strength of the locker room.
“Every year every team is different,” Loomis said. “We’ve got a pretty solid core group of guys in that locker room. I’m pretty confident we’ll have that straightened out.”
The Saints entered the offseason looking to fortify the middle of their offensive line.One part of that task was accomplished when the Saints acquired center Max Unger from the Seattle Seahawks in a trade for tight end Jimmy Graham. Unger is expected to replace Jonathan Goodwin at center, and it now appears the answer at left guard, which opened up when Ben Grubbs was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, might already be on the roster.
Heading into the offseason program, Loomis said the team will hold open competition to fill the opening at guard, but gave the inside edge to Tim Lelito.
“I would say coming into camp he’s probably the leader,” Loomis said. “We’ll see what happens in this offseason. He’s got some versatility, Tim does. That’s a good find for us. Great job by our scouts, and our coaches and our offensive line coach to develop Tim.”
Lelito filled in at center and guard last season, logging 294 snaps. He allowed two hurries and three quarterback hits last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Loomis also said that he’s excited about what Unger brings to the team.
“He’s made a couple Pro Bowls, he’s high character, smart player, good leadership,” Loomis said. “There’s a lot of adjectives we could use for him and we like all of them.”
It still remains unclear what the Saints will do with right guard Jahri Evans. He’s due to count $11 million against the cap next season and has been subject to heavy speculation as a possible candidate to be cut, traded, or have his contract restructured.
So far, his status remains unchanged. When asked if Evans will be back with the team next season, Loomis said, “Yeah, Jahri’s on our roster and on our team. Yes.”
BENSON IS ACTIVE
Tom Benson is actively participating at the NFL annual meetings this week in Arizona.
The Saints owner attended a meeting pertaining to finances Monday morning with his wife, Gayle Benson, and team president Dennis Lauscha, according to a source. General manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton sat in on a meeting about football operations.
Benson, 87, is engaged in a legal battle over who will take control of the Saints and New Orleans Pelicans when he passes. He recently announced that his wife, Gayle Benson, and not his grandchildren, who were previously expected to take control of the franchises, will serve as his successor.
Despite the commotion surrounding the announcement, Loomis said he has not noticed a difference in how Benson conducts himself daily or in his demeanor.
“He’s the same as he’s always been to me,” Loomis said. “He’s had a difficult time with his knee in the last year. He still asks me the same tough questions and I give him the same information I’ve been doing the last 12 or 14 years here. He just doesn’t seem a lot different to me.”
The Saints were as surprised as everyone else when they landed running back C.J. Spiller.
While they admired his talent, he wasn’t necessarily on their list of priorities or someone they even thought they had a shot at. But things eventually came together and New Orleans inked Spiller to a four-year, $16 million deal.
“I wouldn’t say that we went into free agency thinking we were going to go after another running bank or certainly a player of his caliber,” Saints general manager Loomis said. ” At some point during the course of free agency it started to make some sense for us in terms of the makeup of our team and the cost to acquire.
“I wouldn’t say it fell to us, that’d be a little extreme, but it’s not something we went into free agency thinking we’d be able to accomplish.”
The task has been accomplished and now New Orleans once again has a running back capable of making things happen in space and serve as a matchup problem in the passing game.
During the last two seasons, under coach Doug Marrone, the Buffalo Bills used Spiller in a way that was different than how he was used in Chan Gailey’s offense in 2012, when he accumulated 1,703 yards from scrimmage.
He collected 1,118 yards in 2013 and 425 over nine games last season.