Phoenix – New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Paytonaddressed the media for 50 minutes Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. Here are eight of the major takeaways from his news conference (the complete video, as well as a transcript of the question-and-answer session, can be found on NewOrleansSaints.com):
- Don't think that the Saints' interest has waned in cornerback Malcolm Butler, a restricted free agent who was a second-team All-Pro for New England last season, when Butler had four interceptions and 17 pass breakups. But that interest doesn't figure to translate into costing the Saints their first-round pick, No. 11 overall, which would be the compensation attached to signing Butler to an offer sheet. "Currently, my understanding, he hasn't signed his tender (with New England)," Payton said. "We can sign him to an offer sheet. I don't think we're going to do that, (and) give up the 11th pick. In fact, I know we're not going to do that. So it just kind of is what it is right now." Payton said the situation will take more time to reach resolution, but that the team had a good get-to-know-you visit with Butler when he was in New Orleans about two weeks ago. Payton also was adamant that the Saints will bolster the cornerback position this offseason, even if last year's projected starters, Delvin Breauxand P.J. Williams, return healthy. "We're going to develop those guys and yet, at the same time, we're going to acquire more corners," he said. "That's going to happen, whether it's through the draft or free agency. We're going to have competition at that position."
- Don't over-invest in any Johnny Manziel-to-New Orleans stock. Payton said his meeting with Manziel during Super Bowl week this year simply was a means to him getting to know more about Manziel, the troubled former first-round pick who was cut but Cleveland prior to last season and sat out the year. The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is attempting to make an NFL comeback. "In 2012, that whole draft class is a blur to me because I was suspended for a year," Payton said. "So (the breakfast with Manziel) gave me an opportunity to meet him. It was the first time having a chance to talk to him and really, leave it at that because that really is just what it was. I'm sure he's got a handful of things he's got to do to put himself back in position to sign with a club and play football again. (But) it made sense for me for me just to get to know him a little bit. We didn't visit very long but we did get a chance to visit." Payton said Manziel has a skill-set that's unique. "He's got good feet, he can create. I think he's got decent arm strength. I think he's got a lot of work to do with some of the mechanics, protection-wise, in our league. He's got arm talent. But I don't think any of those are the question right now." He also said that he believes it's in the Saints' best interest to explore every opportunity to improve the team. "Kicking the tires and getting to know people – I think that's our job," Payton said.
- The Patriots weren't the only team that reached out to the Saints regarding a trade for receiver Brandin Cooks. Specifically, Payton mentioned Philadelphia and Tennessee as having shown interest. But New England presented the best offer; Cooks and the Saints' fourth-round pick (No. 118) were exchanged for New England's first- and third-round picks (Nos. 32 and 103). "For sure, he wasn't a player that we went out and said, 'Hey, we're shopping this player,' " Payton said. "But when someone calls on a player you obviously take the call and listen to what they have to say. We weren't in a position where we felt like we've got to make this trade, or else. But when we were able to make a deal with New England that involved a first-round pick, third-round pick, we felt that was significant and we did feel like it was a way to help our team, particularly our defense. Now, those picks specifically, you don't know how the draft falls." However, now, the Saints have five of the first 103 picks in the upcoming draft. "I think overall, having five picks in the first 103 picks provides that flexibility, where you can move up or move back," he said. "But we felt like there was some depth at certain positions in this draft and trying to get a little bit of firepower, or ammo, in those first 100, 103 picks is important."
- Speaking of the draft, Payton appeared to more clearly define New Orleans' targets, and the Saints very well could add to their offensive arsenal. "I'd like to come out of this draft with a young offensive lineman. We've talked about the corner position. I think it's an outstanding running back class; I think in the early rounds, in the middle rounds, there's going to be some runners playing in our league next year that were drafted in the third, fourth rounds."
- The questions have been presented the last couple of years, but appear to intensify as Drew Breesages. Specifically, how much longer can the 38-year-old play at his elite level? And, what are the Saints doing to prepare for life without Brees? "I think Drew plans on – I know he plans on playing two, three, four more years," Payton said. "I kind of look at it as, he's coming off a very productive season. We're certainly in that business, like we would be any year, of paying attention to this year's (quarterback) class. I think it's a pretty good class. And then also understanding that we've got to pay just as much attention to who the (backup) is going to be this year, how is the development of (Garrett) Graysoncoming along. (Grayson) is at a point where I think it's going to be an important crossroads year for him. But these guys, the training methods, how they sleep, all the different things that they're doing, has allowed them to play much longer and in a healthier way than 20 years ago. I wouldn't put a number on it, I would just say I know that (Brees is) in excellent shape, I know mentally and arm strength-wise he's been sharp. The trick is to get better as a team in general." Payton said the Saints wouldn't be averse to picking a quarterback in the first round if the grade warranted the pick. "That would be the case last year and the case the year prior."
- If you thought that the Saints would have been front and center in applauding the abolition of the "leaper" play on field goals and point-after attempts, you'd be wrong. "I thought it was a fantastic play, it was exciting," Payton said. "We were the victim of that twice. The timing was great; he stepped out of bounds," Payton said, smiling, referring to the returned PAT by Denver defensive back Will Parksthat prevented the Saints from taking a one-point lead, and provided the margin of victory in the Broncos' 25-23 win. "But my beef was not the leaper rule, my beef was the fact that it's 2017, you go to any tennis tournament in the world and we can tell if the ball is in our out. We ought to be able to tell if a foot is on the sideline or not in 2017, but we didn't put cameras on the sidelines and there we were in a game where we needed one. But I understand why it was eliminated for safety reasons." Still, Payton said, he hopes that the league can improve the technology in order to determine whether a player is in bounds. "Surely we can know when a player is in or out of bounds," he said, before smiling. "We're never going to know if he made a catch or not, but I'm talking about whether he was in or out of bounds."
- Payton said he has a "crystal clear" vision of how free agent receiver Ted Ginn Jr.will be used by the Saints. Ginn was signed before Cooks was traded, but his addition likely made the trade more palatable for the Saints. "I see him playing at flanker, I see him being a guy that can take the top off the coverage. I like what this guy does. I think he has played better in that middle to back half of his career than the front. I do think he's got punt return value. There's a level of toughness that comes with him that I like. He's still, when he's playing in each game, the fastest player on the field."
- Last word, from Payton, regarding right guard Larry Warford, a free agent signee: "We think he's got ass and mass. We use that term – ass and mass kick ass. That's important."