Orlando – The first NFL Annual Meeting for New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton without late owner Tom Benson understandably was "different."
"He was always a steady voice, a guy that even in the discussions we'd have today with regards to the rules or any element of the game, he was always in tune to what the proposals were," Payton, who is entering his 13th season with the Saints, said Tuesday morning. "It's different without him, the first one. Mrs. (Gayle) Benson's doing outstanding, but I think any time that first year, you go through your first owners meeting, then your first training camp, there's going to be a number of these moments where it's the first go-around without him."
That said, Payton, who is in his first year as a member of the Competition Committee, echoed team owner Gayle Benson in that her late husband would have insisted that the Saints' contingent attend the meetings.
"I think that that's how his mind focused," Payton said. "He would certainly want that. And there are a number of things at this time of the year, as we get ready for the draft and head into our offseason program, that we'll be ready to do.
"And I thought this past week, our city and our fans, and Tom Benson fans, were fantastic in the whole process. He really would have been proud, and he just would have enjoyed to see the amount of support he received."
After Benson's death, Payton wrote a first-person tribute for Monday Morning Quarterback.
"They were just thoughts that I had, my experience with him," he said. "I think everyone wants more and more to know about somebody, and hopefully it was a small piece that kind of brought you into some of the interactions that I had with him.
"For the 12 years that I've been here, and the going on 13 years for our program, he's been an amazing owner for us, a very supportive owner for us. And also during some challenging times – the recovery, '06 was an important year. So his leadership, but also his wisdom on a day-to-day basis was available. Those are the things that you'll miss."
But, one of Benson's strength was organizational skills. That trait, Payton said, helped him structure the Saints so that the franchise would be on solid footing after his death.
"One of the things Mr. B did, he was very organized and I think with the leadership of not only Mrs. B and (Saints president) Dennis Lauscha, (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) – depending on the job, there's a large group of people that have worked together a long time," Payton said.
"And so, I think depending on the club, something like this, this transition for instance may be entirely different from club to club. But I do think, in his savvy way, he really put together a real good plan moving forward. And it won't be just any one person.
"Mrs. B clearly will be fantastic in her position as the owner, and then you worked with Dennis Lauscha as our president, down to Mickey Loomis. We've all been together the whole time, so I think that this could be more challenging maybe if not for the forward thinking of Tom and also, I think Mrs. B is excited and recognizes the responsibility, but I think is excited to help in the transition. And not only be our owner, but help us all have success."
Payton said that Gayle Benson already has been involved in the process, which assists with the continuity.
"I think we've had it on our football team," he said. "The quarterback (Drew Brees), head coach, GM (have all been in place in their roles since 2006). It allows for production in the offseason, you don't end up spending time maybe trying to hire or find replacements. It's intact and you're efficient at what you do. And I think also there's a communication level that takes place.
"But she's been very involved. Mrs. B is someone who's been very much involved in what we do long before beginning this week. She's been fantastic as a supporter and also as someone that has seen the business side of our game. She's going to be great."