METAIRIE — With no playoff games to look forward to and the season finale coming Sunday, some New Orleans Saints began the process of taking a long look around the locker room on Wednesday.
It happens every year in the NFL, but the Saints, for the past three seasons anyway, have been thinking about the postseason — not who will or won’t be around when they reconvene for offseason workouts in April.
“This is a business. … Everyone knows that no team is going to be the same year in and year out,” middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said.
Lofton should know. Last year at this time, he was completing his fourth season with the Atlanta Falcons. Less than three months later, he was with the Saints after signing a four-year contract as an unrestricted free agent.
“It changes, but at the same time you cherish the moments that you have with these guys and relationships that will continue for years and years,” Lofton noted. “You just go out this last game, have fun and enjoy each other’s company.”
That’s what some Saints will be thinking about when they take the field Sunday for the season finale against the Carolina Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
While they aren’t scheduled to have nearly as many high-profile free agents as a year ago when quarterback Drew Brees, guard Carl Nicks, wide receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, and cornerback Tracy Porter were set to go on the market, they have a few.
As of Wednesday, 18 Saints had contracts that will expire at the end of the league year in early March. The list included 10 unrestricted free agents who will be free to sign with any team.
The biggest names on the UFA list are tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, wide receiver Devery Henderson and linebacker Scott Shanle, although Shanle, a 61/2-year starter, was phased out of the defense at midseason.
When asked how much turnover he expected this offseason, Brees said he hadn’t thought a lot about it because they were focused on finishing the season strong and winding up 8-8 after being 5-8 three weeks ago.
“You always expect it a little bit, so you kind of just wait and see,” said Brees, who signed a five-year, $100 million contract in July after being designated the team’s franchise player. “I don’t think it’s going to be any different than any other year.”
When Bushrod’s name came up, Brees voiced his approval to get him back. Brees lost Nicks, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro, to the Tampa Bay Bucs last spring.
“Jermon Bushrod has certainly cemented himself as one of the best left tackles in this league,” Brees noted. “Obviously, I want him back. … I’d love to have him back.
“I understand how this business works and everything else, but we’ll wait and see how all that transpires. But man, I really hope he’s back with us.”
Bushrod, who was selected to the Pro Bowl last season, spoke whimsically Wednesday about his six years with the Saints while expressing hope that he’ll return.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2007, he got into the starting lineup two years later and has been a big part of the Saints’ offense for four seasons after signing a two-year contract extension in 2011.
“I really don’t like talking about it,” Bushrod said when asked about what may happen. “It’s a good position to be in, but at the same time it’s a bad position to be in.
“I’ve established a great relationship with the guys, and I have a family here. But you’ve got to let the business side take care of itself, and we’ll work it out.”
Bushrod wouldn’t say whether he sought a longer contract when he negotiated a new deal after the players’ lockout ended in August 2011, saying some things need to remain private.
But he said he was happy at the time because he wanted to earn it before getting another opportunity — hopefully with the Saints again.
“Whenever I start to think about it … I have no control over what’s going to happen,” Bushrod said. “The more I think about it, the more stressed I get. Whatever happens happens, and everybody is going to be all right.”
Henderson, a nine-year veteran who joined the Saints as their second-round draft pick in 2004 out of LSU, said he hasn’t talked to club officials about how or if he fits into their plans next season after seven successful years with one of the NFL’s most productive offenses.
He has twice been an unrestricted free agent and rejected offers from the Bucs both times to remain with his home-state team to continue his career than now includes 123 games with 77 starts.
Like Bushrod, he doesn’t like to talk about what may happen.
“Sometimes guys may be frustrated or discouraged, so it’s easy to say he might think about going other places,” Henderson said. “I just keep my head up and think positive. It’s all Saints, and that’s just my approach until it changes.”
Shanle, who has started 93 of 97 games since coming to the Saints in a trade in 2006, has already seen the writing on the wall after being a healthy inactive for eight of the past nine games.
Shanle said he might think more about it being his final game on Sunday if he were out there playing 70 snaps. But he said he’s had plenty of time lately to reflect on his career with the Saints.
“I’ve had time to kind of look back at all the things that have been great about being part of this organization,” he said. “Whatever happens, I’m ready for, regardless if it’s going someplace else, coming back or doing something entirely different in my life — I’ll be ready for it.”
Saints potential free agents
Unrestricted: Tackle Jermon Bushrod, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, wide receiver Devery Henderson, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, wide receiver Courtney Roby, linebacker Scott Shanle.
Restricted: Center Brian de la Puente, long-snapper Justin Drescher, running back Chris Ivory.
Exclusive rights: Safety Rafael Bush, tight end Michael Higgins, guard/center Eric Olsen.