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John DeShazier: Saints GM Mickey Loomis ready for another busy offseason

Loomis met with the media at Senior Bowl on Tuesday

Mobile, Ala. – The pending free agency of All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, among others.
The probability of a reshaped roster.

The poring over of prospects.

In other words, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, his staff, the Saints coaching staff and scouts pretty much were in business-as-usual mode Tuesday, the second day of practice for future NFL draft picks and prospects who will play in the Reese's Senior Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

In what promises to be another busy offseason for the Saints, the franchise will negotiate with Graham and other free agents, deal with the likelihood that the roster will experience additions and subtractions, and evaluate which prospects best might fit New Orleans' offensive and defensive systems.

But most of the focus will be on the team's negotiation with Graham, who led the Saints in receptions (86) and receiving yards (1,215), and led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches.

Loomis addressed that and several other topics in his first news conference since the season concluded.

"I'm concerned about (Graham's contract) like I'm concerned about any contract for an unrestricted free agent that we'd like to have back," Loomis said. "But this isn't our first big deal. It's a process that you have to go through and we'll do that."

There's a possibility that the Saints could place the "franchise player" designation on Graham if negotiations lag, similar to what happened during contract negotiations with quarterback Drew Brees in 2012.

An "exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position, as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player's team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.

A "non-exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position for the previous year, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater.![]( "new orleans saints")

A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

"It's way too early for us to start talking about that business," Loomis cautioned. "We've got some time.

"We're going to franchise him if that's necessary. But, look, we're a long ways from that. I don't know that it's worth discussing right now."

Other unrestricted free agents for the Saints include right tackle Zach Strief and safety Malcolm Jenkins.

"I can only answer our side of that equation," Loomis said. "There are two sides to that. We have to come together and create a deal that we're comfortable with and that they're comfortable with, and it's just a process. And we're really just in the early stages of that."

Regarding the pursuit of other free agents and the team's salary cap situation, Loomis said, "We've got some work to do, there's no question about it. We had work to do last year at this time and I would say it's similar this year, compared to where we were.

"When you've had a good team for a period of time like we've had, obviously you have good players. And you have to pay the going rate to keep them and we've been able to do that for a pretty good stretch of time and yet, it doesn't leave us much room as we get to this position. And yet, we know how to navigate and manage that and we'll do that in the coming months, before the next league year begins."

However, injury returnees could affect the team's offseason pursuits. Several players who missed last season, or a significant portion of it, due to injury will return for the 2014 season. And those returnees could lessen the need for outside assistance.

"It's definitely something you have to pay attention to," Loomis said. "We had a lot of injuries this season; we had 15 or 16 guys on injured reserve by the end of the year, (and) a number of them were full-season or majority-of-the-season type of injuries. Really, it's a credit to our coaching staff, particularly on defense because that's where the bulk these injuries were, for them to do as well as we did on defense with a number of different guys playing.

"It's also opportunity for younger players to step up and we saw a number of them do that and perform well. But it is a balancing act in the sense that, 'Who have you got coming back? Who's going to be back to full strength? When are they going to come back?' We spend a lot of time talking about those guys and looking forward to their contributions in the coming season."

As for a possible staff loss, Loomis acknowledged that quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi interviewed with the Detroit Lions.

"I don't know that he has accepted or been offered the position yet," Loomis said. "That will be up to them to release if that comes to pass but he definitely interviewed with them and I'm sure he did a great job because Joe is a very good coach.

"I think (assistant coaches being lured away for more prominent positions) speaks to the program that (Saints Coach) Sean (Payton) has created and the type of coaches that he brings – smart, really good football coaches.

"And when you have those, and you have success, then they end up with opportunities elsewhere and we've had a number of guys move on to really good jobs and do a great job at other places. So it's difficult to replace those, you hate to lose them and yet, it's a good thing. It's a real good thing, because it means that we've got good coaches in the building that are doing a good job."

Those coaches helped develop the team – and the rookie class, especially – that won the first road playoff game in franchise history and advanced to the divisional playoff round.

"We're right there," Loomis said. "We're in the playoffs and had opportunities to win the game in Seattle and we didn't. They were the better team in that game. (But) we're confident in our building that we can play and beat any team on a given day. We've felt that way for quite some time."

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