Lewis: Sean Payton’s return is good news for the Saints, but it doesn’t come without questions _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Saints coach Sean Payton answers a question during his hour-long news conference Wednesday in Metairie. Next season will be Payton's 11th with the team.

Jeez, apparently all a guy has to do around here is declare his love for all things Who Dat-ian, and folks are ready to pay him $8 million a year for life. Or at least until the next time the Saints lose to the Dirty Birds.

Never mind that his teams have posted two straight losing records, have won just two playoff games in the past six seasons and got to the Super Bowl by deliberately knocking Brett Favre loopy. (At least that’s what Roger Goodell concluded.)

Talking about hitting the Powerball without having to invest your $2.

Hey, we kid. You’ve earned your money, coach, and you look best in black and gold.

However, Sean Payton’s 65-minute, 7,795-word paean to essentially announce he’ll stick around 5800 Airline Drive, for “as long as they’ll have me,” left several unanswered questions.

Let’s try to go through a few:

1-3. Was he ever leaning toward leaving? Where there any serious suitors? What would the Saints have taken to make it possible?

We’re rolling the first three questions into one because they’re obviously related.

Few NFL coaches remain with the same team for 10 years or more. And Payton certainly was aware that his mentor, Bill Parcells, is a believer in a change of scenery, lest you see what happened with Tom Coughlin.

Around the time of the losses to Tennessee and Washington, it would have been only natural for Payton to think his time in New Orleans was ending — maybe whether he wanted it or not.

But the firing of Rob Ryan relieved a pressure valve, and the team’s play in December reaffirmed the change in vision Payton had pledged after last season, even if the turnaround was a little late.

The number of teams actually interested in Payton was probably overestimated to begin with, and the Colts and Chargers taking themselves out of the equation by retaining their coaches reduced the options. But the Saints’ asking price may have nudged those two — and anybody else — into other directions.

We do know that it would have taken more than the reported second-rounder for the Saints to have made a deal.

4. How much difference did Drew Brees’ willingness to take a contract extension and ostensibly play out his career with the Saints make in Payton’s decision?

Are you kidding? A lot.

5. Payton says he does not envision himself ever coaching another team. Is that likely?

At 52 and in prime physical shape, Payton has at least a dozen good years in him. Coughlin is 69 and says he doesn’t think he’s done.

For Payton to stay with the Saints through, say, 2030 would put him at the Don Shula level for longevity with one team. That would men steady winning and stable ownership, both of which are major challenges.

6. Where’s Mickey?

The Saints general manager has previously held an end-of-the-season briefing but apparently is not doing so this time.

Loomis, along with team president Dennis Lauscha and owners Tom and Gayle Benson, were present during Payton’s presser, but he said nothing and was impassive throughout.

Also, Payton and Loomis have done their year-enders on the Tuesday after the last game (excluding the Super Bowl year). But this time it was delayed until Wednesday, and even then the scheduled start time was pushed back by an hour.

Make of that what you will. But Payton hinted he will have even more control over things with the exception of managing the salary cap, which is Loomis’ domain.

7. Will Dennis Allen remain as defensive coordinator?

Surely Payton is tired of going through coordinators like Kardashians go through boyfriends. So it looks like Allen will be back, although staff changes have already started with the departures of Wesley McGriff and Mike Neu.

8. Payton spoke highly of the free agent types such as Jamarca Sanford and Brian Dixon who unexpectedly played key roles in the late-season games because of injuries to front-liners. How many can make next year’s team?

There are always roster berths for those without sterling pedigrees — witness Devlin Breaux — who earn their spots through sheer grit and underestimated talent, but with the emphasis on another successful draft and the return of players like Keenan Lewis, Rafael Bush and 2015 draft picks P.J. Williams and Davis Tull, who spent the year on IR, obviously there won’t be room for everybody. So the competition should be intense.

9. What about big-ticket free agents?

As Payton put it, after busts like Jairus Byrd, Brandon Browner and C.J. Spiller, “You are certainly more guarded.” So don’t count a major splash since there isn’t a lot of cap space anyway. Once burned, twice shy.

10. What’s the most intriguing game of next season?

While his return to Denver is still no more than 50/50, if Peyton Manning is the Broncos quarterback when they play in New Orleans, incredibly it will be his first game against the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since Sept. 28, 2003, when Manning had six touchdown passes in a 55-28 victory with the Colts.

Look for NBC to call first dibs on this one.

11. What about “Hard Knocks”?

Payton has let his feelings about the Saints being the subjects of the HBO all-access series be known.

But even if he didn’t object, the Buffalo Bills and Rex Ryan will prove too irresistible to resist anyway.

12. Is the team truly on the right track, or will we have this same discussion a year from now?

That’s the biggest unanswered question of them all. Wish we had one for you.