METAIRIE - Backup quarterback Chase Daniel and reserve tight end Tyler Lorenzen grinned while mentioning their “free lunch” as one of the highlights of their first day back at the New Orleans Saints headquarters.
After being locked out for the better part of five months, a period of uncertainty during which a number of younger, less-established players stuck to a tight budget, it was good to feel like a pro again.
“It was awesome,” Daniel said before leaving for the afternoon. “It was like Christmas Eve last night, just waiting to be back around people that you know, that you trust, that you love here.”
While general manager Mickey Loomis dealt with a long list of roster matters - including the club’s 28 free agents, negotiations with their six draft picks and signing undrafted free agents - about a dozen players trickled into team headquarters on the first day players could visit club facilities since the lockout officially ended a day earlier.
Loomis and coach Sean Payton did not make themselves available for comment, but players could be seen driving in and out of a fenced-off parking lot and a couple stopped to chat.
Daniel and Lorenzen said they met with coaches and trainers, lifted weights, threw the ball around and had lunch in the team cafeteria.
Other players stopping by included free safety Malcolm Jenkins, rookie cornerback Johnny Patrick, cornerback Tracy Porter, kicker Garrett Hartley, long snapper Justin Drescher, and running backs Chris Ivory and Lynell Hamilton.
Porter, Ivory and Hamilton are all in various stages of rehabilitation from surgery procedures in the past year, so the reopening of headquarters gave them a chance to reset their routines with trainers.
Hamilton missed all of last season with a right knee injury, while Ivory broke his left foot in the regular-season finale. Porter, a Port Allen native, had offseason surgery on his left knee.
The club will start giving physicals Wednesday, when many players who were traveling on Monday were expected to arrive. They are due to officially report by Thursday, with practice expected to start Friday.
“It was good to see all the coaches and to see everyone, all the support staff here, they all missed us like crazy,” Daniel said. “You know, we’re like their kids. ?. It’s good to be back.”
Loomis and Payton will have a lot of work to do this week. NFL teams had a limit of 90 players they could invite to training camp and the Saints had only 47 players under contract as of Tuesday morning.
Unrestricted free agents who played regular roles with the Saints last season include seven starters - left tackle Jermon Bushrod, strong safety Roman Harper, center Jonathan Goodwin, defensive tackle Remi Ayodele, wide receiver Lance Moore, weakside linebacker Scott Shanle, and fullback Heath Evans.
Tight end David Thomas, free safety Darren Sharper, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove and tackle Zach Strief are other prominent free agents.
Loomis and Payton have said they hope to retain a number of those players, but there will be tough decisions to make. The salary cap will be set at just over $120 million, meaning the Saints, after their rookies are signed, will have less than $9 million to play with unless they are able to renegotiate or even terminate some contracts.
One contract looming above all others has been that of Reggie Bush, who is slated to make about $11.8 million this season.
Payton has said he wants him back and Bush also has said he’d like to remain in New Orleans, even acknowledging that he would be willing to agree to some type of pay cut or restructuring to stay. Bush’s agent, Joel Segal, said in a text message Tuesday that it was still “premature” to discuss Bush’s status with the club.
While teams cannot officially cut players until Thursday afternoon, some clubs chose to tell players immediately that they were no longer in their plans and announce those moves. The Saints did not follow suit, remaining silent on that matter.
Free agent linebacker Scott Shanle, a five-year starter, has reportedly drawn early interest from St. Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia. Shanle, however, said he would like to remain with the Saints and said he believes they’re interested in re-signing him. ? According to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com, the Saints will have a rookie pool of $4,789,294 to spend on their six draft picks. That’s the amount the NFL has designated for the Saints under terms of the CBA’s new rookie wage scale. ? The Saints are expected to announce their training camp schedule Wednesday. The first two practices, which are likely to be held Friday and Saturday, will be non-padded drills.
Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.