The meeting that sets the New Orleans Saints’ offseason agenda has arrived.
On Monday, Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis will sit down with the coaching staff and the entire personnel department for a marathon meeting to evaluate the roster, player by player.
When the Saints finish those evaluations, they will begin to figure out everything they need to do this offseason. Salary-cap cuts, contract restructures, potential trades, free-agent signings, draft picks and potential extensions are all on the table.
“In terms of our offseason plans, we have a process that we follow,” Loomis said in his postseason news conference Wednesday. “It is no different this year. You know we’ve got some evaluations to go through. Coaches are doing that. We’ll meet next week, we’ll go through those evaluations, and then we will begin to formulate our offseason plan.”
A few of those evaluations will be harder than the rest.
Particularly the evaluations that involve injury.
“One thing you have to do is you have to be real careful separating the injured from the talent decision,” Loomis said.
Injuries play a key factor in everything.
For example, the six-year, $56 million contract Jairus Byrd signed with the Saints two years ago feels pricy now, given Byrd’s performance.
But the torn meniscus that cost him most of his first season and lingered all the way into the start of 2015 cannot be ignored. Once Byrd rejoined the lineup this season, the veteran safety played 93 percent of the Saints’ snaps. He had 53 tackles, a sack, an interception and broke up three passes in a season that encouraged Loomis.
“I don’t know how you judge that, when a guy tears up his knee and he hadn’t done that before,” Loomis said. “That was unfortunate, and yet he came back and played and got in about three quarters of the year and did some good things. Hopefully he can play at a high level (in the future).”
New Orleans also has to judge the value and potential future injury struggles of a player like Keenan Lewis, who battled a sports hernia all season before finally going on injured reserve. Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who battled his own sports hernia among other ailments and played just seven games, fits in the same category.
Loomis, Payton and the rest of the coaching staff have to lean heavily on the medical staff to figure out if they have to plan for continuing problems in the future.
“We’re going to have to go through and listen to our trainers and doctors, hear the prognosis and understand when they are going to be full-go, whether that is day one of the offseason program, the OTAs or training camp,” Loomis said. “It’ll be different for different guys depending on the extent of their injury. We’ll cross that when we go through these evaluations. The medical (issue) is part of that.”
Then the Saints must look at young players like cornerback P.J. Williams and outside linebacker Davis Tull, a pair of 2015 draft picks who saw their seasons cut short by injury. Both landed on injured reserve.
Williams, who had a torn hamstring, and Tull, who had surgeries on both shoulders, should recover, but evaluating what the two players can bring — and how much the Saints can count on them next season — is difficult without game tape to evaluate.
“That’s difficult. ... We saw a little bit from Davis after he came back from his college injury, and I think we were pretty excited about what we saw there, but it was (a short amount of time) before he got hurt again,” Loomis said. “We like the prospect in both of those cases. We didn’t really get to see a lot of P.J., but we saw some in training camp and I would say that physically, we saw what we expected based upon the college evaluation. There is not enough there to evaluate in terms of going forward, but we’re excited to have them as prospects.”
Then there’s the case of Damian Swann.
A promising rookie cornerback, Swann suffered three concussions — and any football player who suffers repeated concussions has to be evaluated closely going forward. A source told The Advocate that Swann will return, but New Orleans must still balance his flashes of potential with the advice of medical staff.
“That is in the hands of the medical people,” Loomis said. “Obviously, it happened in a short period of time. We’re going to see this offseason. I think he is feeling really good right now. I am concerned time a player gets injured — first for the player, and then secondly, how does that affect his availability to us?”
After the Saints evaluate these individual injury situations, Loomis, Payton and the rest must then figure out what it means for the entire position group.
A few positions — specifically running back, weakside linebacker and cornerback — were affected deeply by injury this season. In the case of running back and cornerback, injuries wiped out positions that seemed to be some of the deepest on the roster heading into training camp.
The Saints must take those injuries into account and whether positions that seem deep might need even more attention next season.
“It kind of depends on the type of injury that exists and what the prognosis is going forward,” Loomis said. “We’re relying a lot on medical people. ... You’d have to be specific to the person, in terms of how we might view that. We know what the history is of certain injuries and the success rate of coming back from it, and how long it takes. Even knowing all of that, sometimes it turns out differently.”
And that’s the challenge.