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John DeShazier: Saints players know that change is coming

Strief: 'When expectations aren’t met, changes happen'

Even if the New Orleans Saints had made a successful run to the Super Bowl and had managed to hoist the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy, changes would have been made.

But the fact that New Orleans finished 7-9 and didn't advance to the playoffs left players absolutely positive that changes would be made – perhaps, drastic ones.

"It'll be rocky," said right tackle Zach Strief, who has been with the team since Coach Sean Payton took over as coach in 2006. "It always is, really. When expectations aren't met, changes happen.

"Changes happen every year, regardless, but the worse that season goes before, the more change there is. The good thing is, I've been here long enough to have a lot of faith in our people upstairs, in Sean and (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis).

"They'll make the right decisions and we'll fix things around here. That's nice knowing that it'll get fixed, and I believe it will."

The fixing already has begun, in fact.

"That really starts kind of immediately," Payton said Sunday, after the Saints finished the regular season with a 23-20 victory over the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. "We begin that process (today). There are a lot of things we've got to look over. It'll be an ongoing process."

It's a process that's needed, players said.

"Certainly some things we need to fix, I'm confident we will," quarterback Drew Brees said. "I like the team that we have coming back. Going into this offseason I know we're going to make some additions. We just need to continue to lay the groundwork and maybe get back to some of the things that we built this program on, from the time that Sean first got here, those '06, '07, '08 teams.

"Just, how those teams were built, what you went through in order to get through to what we were able to accomplish in '09 and beyond. There's still some veteran guys left over from those years but in many cases, we've got a lot of young guys, a lot of young guys that were not part of those. And so, you just find ways to make sure that everybody knows what it means to be a New Orleans Saint, how we're going to prepare, how we're going to approach each game, and understanding what wins football games and what doesn't."

Being a "Saint," Payton said, entails being tough, smart, physical and not beating yourself. This year, the Saints committed an uncharacteristic number of penalties in critical situations, turned over the ball 30 times (while forcing 17), failed to consistently deliver on third down defensively and lost four games by a combined nine points.

"You look around the locker room, you know the team is not going to be the same," Brees said. "You've got to expect 20 to 30 percent turnover each and every year. You don't know how that's going to shake out – I don't know when it's going to be my last. You've just got to just relish and cherish each and every moment that you have.

"These are sad times when you have to look around and know that there's going to be some guys that will be gone. You appreciate the opportunities that you had to play with them, grateful for that, and you also get excited about what we're building for the future."

But before the Saints can move on to the future, the recent past must be processed, digested and used as fuel.

"It stinks not being involved (in the playoffs)," Payton said Monday. "I'm disappointed for our fans. I think we've got a great fan base and yet, there were a number of things we've got to clean up and be better at moving forward into next season.

"It stinks, losing. There's a pit in your stomach. I hate it, because so much time and energy is put into that upcoming season, and the process. And really, it's one thing to be removed from the process for a year without any control (Payton was suspended for the 2012 season).

"But to be in this position here, having this (last team) meeting on the eve of the week for the first round of the playoffs, it's been a while. It's not something that you want to experience again, and it's something that drives you, fuels your fire. There's nothing worse. It's the opposite of how it feels when you have success and you win in the postseason. There's a euphoria that goes with that. That disappointment is something that motivates you."

Official team photos from the locker room after the New Orleans Saints win vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Sunday, December 28, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

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