The status quo is no longer going to be accepted.
Change, in some shape or form, is coming for the New Orleans Saints. The coaching staff will spend the next several days trying to figure which players will remain with the team. And the coach, Sean Payton, will determine which of his lieutenants will take the sidelines next season.
What and how and when those changes occur is yet to be determined. Payton said he needs time to look over the body of work, do his checks and balances, and then determine the best course of action moving forward. But he did promise changes are going to come.
“I think what’s important is that we’re looking closely at ways to fix the things that kept us from winning games and making sure that we’re not fixing something that wasn’t part of the problem,” Payton said. “And I think that’s a challenge ever year.”
Something, in time, will give. After entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the Saints finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. They will have the No. 13 pick in May’s draft.
The disappointments existed at almost every turn. After finishing in the top five in total defense last season, New Orleans ranked at the opposite end of the spectrum this season. That led to questions about whether the Saints will bring back defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for a third year, but Payton repeatedly said it was not yet time to comment on which coaches and players had a future with the organization and which ones didn’t.
And despite finishing with the NFL’s most prolific offense in terms of yards, that effort was undermined by Drew Brees throwing 17 interceptions — several of which came at costly moments.
At its core, Payton said he still believes in the talent of this team and does not believe an overhaul is necessary, but he said he also feels the issues extend beyond a few quick fixes and tweaks.
“We’ve got to look closely at the teaching, the coaching,” Payton said. “We have to look closely at the players, the talent. And it’s probably somewhere in the middle (of doing an overhaul or making a few tweaks). That’s a fair answer.
“Because that term ‘overhaul’ represents a whole new rebuild. Yet the idea that we’re just going to make one or two changes and things are going to be better, it’s not that easy either.”
An infusion of talent is necessary at some key spots, but there have also been make-up questions that have lingered around this team throughout the season. At times, there were whispers about the maturity level and lack of focus on the important things.
On Monday, as players prepared to exit the team’s practice facility for the final time, some players admitted that some of those issues have manifested in players showing up late to meetings and team flights throughout the season.
“Those things — I don’t think they determine the outcome of the game. But at the same time, those little things are stuff we didn’t do last year,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “Last year, we didn’t have any of that in this locker room. You’re going to look to things like when the season goes this poorly, and that’s one of the things you can point out, just those minor details on and off the field.”
Payton did not downplay the disciplinary issues this team had this season. However, he does believe that those types of issues become magnified and grow into larger issues when a team is not enjoying success.
“That was unnecessarily higher than the norm,” Payton said. “But look, there’s an element to what has brought us success here. Success for a long period of time. All of a sudden, when you have a season like this, you have to look closely at, hey, let’s make sure the little things are being taken care of. It’s one of the topics we talked about in the team meeting.”
But even with some of those issues, the Saints insist the locker room never took on a toxic environment, and whatever issues they were dealing with did not balloon into irreconcilable differences. This team still remain a team.
The program was originally built on character. … First, through character, we’re gonna outwork people, we’re gonna do the little things right,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “I think there’s still a lot of character in this locker room. I don’t know that the focus on that being the most important thing — not that it’s not — but I don’t think it’s been verbalized. And it will. Then more than anything, you talk about the little things. That’s a cliché, that’s a football cliché, but it rung true time and time again. And if you want to say where did we go wrong this year, we did some little things wrong early that set us down a path to not be successful
However, one thing brought to Payton’s attention Monday afternoon seemed to bother him. When told by a reporter that several of his players could not list the team’s so-called “bedrock principles,” and that different groups of players had a different understanding of what those tenents are, he was taken aback.
“That used to be the same answer,” Payton said. “That needs to be the same answer.
“Tough, smart, disciplined guys that No. 1 don’t beat themselves. But there’s a path, and I guess you would say a traveled path that we understand. And that’s the thing we’re not going to deviate from.”
Perhaps that’s one of the problems that led to this season ending with so much unfulfilled promise. When people are late to meetings and flights, and when they can’t pickup a list of simple principles that can be printed on a poster, that’s a problem.
Payton knows some of those things fall on his shoulders. He admits he could improve in several areas, but it’s also up to his players to act as professionals.
Those who do not, or have not, will likely be purged out in the coming weeks and months.