PHOENIX — It’s been suggested that the Saints are in the process of undergoing a philosophical transformation.
The team signed C.J. Spiller and re-signed Mark Ingram to a pair of four-year, $16 million contracts and traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for a package that included center Max Unger.
More running backs. A stronger interior offensive line. It all added up to New Orleans becoming more committed to the ground game — or so it appeared. But speaking in a ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore resort on Wednesday morning, Saints coach Sean Payton called that opinion a mirage.
“This was more about two hits at must positions than losing one player,” Payton said. “You get the first-round pick, you get a starting center, we’re trying to address defensive needs. It was more about that than it was a change in how we’re going to (operate on offense).”
But that doesn’t mean the offense won’t change to a certain degree. It has to and it would be foolish for Payton to try to run the 2014 offensive in 2015 without the same personnel.
The strengths of the roster have changed and he will adjust to that, as he always does.
This is something he’s done every year he’s been in the building, dating to 2006. Each year the roster evolves and Payton will adapt to his offense to it. Will this mean more emphasis on the ground game? If it does, it will only be because the personnel dictates those changes.
“The style of how we play has varied and it can week to week with guys that are inactive,” Payton said. “To answer your question, I know this for certain, this wasn’t about philosophically we’re going in a different direction. This was, I think we’ll move the football in 2015 but let’s find a way we don’t have to score 35 points to win the game.”
One of the signature players from early in Payton’s tenure in New Orleans almost returned to town.
Entering free agency, the Saints did not expect to be able to sign Spiller. They assumed he’d want to go somewhere where he could get more touches and more money. So while he was coveted, New Orleans decided to set their sights on Reggie Bush after he was released by the Detroit Lions.
“It was good, shoot we had dinner in L.A.,” Payton said of Bush. “I was out there and we were able to sit down and that was really prior to really the start of it all. It was really just, ‘Hey this would be a good fit.’
“And again with a player like that, it’s more about do we have a vision of exactly how we’d use him and I think we did. But again a few days later, Spiller is taking a visit so it just sorted out in a way that was a little unique. I think we expected Spiller to be somewhere else with a higher number. But it all worked out.”
A few days later the Saints were sitting down with Spiller and explaining their vision to him. Spiller liked the idea and decided to join New Orleans on a four-year, $16 million deal, despite likely having more lucrative offers elsewhere.
Bush, meanwhile, signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
Many expected Jahri Evans to either be released or traded this offseason. That isn’t happening.
While the Saints entertained trade offers for both Ben Grubbs and Evans, the team ultimately decided to let Grubbs go to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.
That means Evans isn’t going anywhere. Payton said Evans could still have his cap hit lowered, which comes in at $11 million, but he plans to have him in the starting lineup next season.
Jordan for the future?
The trade speculation surrounding Cam Jordan appears to be false.
Speaking at the owners meeting in Arizona on Wednesday morning, Payton said general manager Mickey Loomis has been discussing a long-term deal with the pass rusher’s representatives, though it is not clear how close the sides are to reaching a deal.
Payton said he views Jordan as an important piece of the team’s future and would like to find a way to keep him around for years to come.
Jordan, 25, is heading into the final year of his contract and is due to count $6.696 against the salary cap in 2015 after returning to the team on a fifth-year extension.
He finished 7.5 sacks last season after recording 12.5 in 2013.