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John DeShazier: Terry Fontenot, Jeff Ireland working to bring the right type of players to Saints

Ireland: 'We’re trying to separate the men from the boys right now'

Indianapolis – New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis is confident that the team's upcoming draft class will yield talented players who can help, and that the veteran players signed by the franchise in free agency equally will be impactful, if not more.

Two reasons for his confidence are Terry Fontenot and Jeff Ireland.

One, Fontenot, who's entering his third season as the Saints' director of pro scouting and a member of the organization for 13 years, is considered by Loomis to be a future NFL general manager. The other, Ireland, is a newcomer to the Saints but is an NFL veteran, a former GM of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-13.

They represent more evidence of Loomis' and Coach Sean Payton's collaborative credo that, after the Saints' 7-9 season, the team would explore every avenue in order to improve, whether it be amplifying a voice in-house (Fontenot) or adding a voice from outside the building (Ireland).

With Ryan Pace, the Saints' former director of player personnel, having departed to take over as general manager of the Bears, Fontenot's role has increased and Ireland was hired to, among other things, direct the college scouting department. Ireland most recently worked in Seattle, where he was draft consultant last season.

"Mickey and Sean (Payton) have been great letting me do my thing," Ireland said Saturday from the NFL Combine. "It's been quite a bit of a process because I wasn't 'in' football until January. I watched a lot of football during my time off, but I wasn't writing reports like the scouts were.

"So this process has been a grind because I've been familiarizing myself with the players and getting them right on the board. We're trying to separate the men from the boys right now and trim the board from the guys that fit the traits that we're looking for. The scouts have been outstanding."

But his vision and opinions won't be limited to college players any more than Fontenot's will be restricted to specifically NFL players.

"Mickey and Coach Payton really like for us to be cohesive and for us to blend, so we're definitely going to do that," Fontenot said. "I'll get to do some college stuff, just like Jeff will do a lot of pro stuff.

"Having a former GM and a guy that's done all the things that he has done, you've got to take advantage of that in every aspect of the organization that you can."

Ireland's addition to the Saints was eased, in part, by Fontenot's ability to assume more responsibility after Pace left.

On several occasions, Loomis has referenced how effectively Fontenot helped fill the void.

"I think I've definitely had more of a voice," Fontenot said. "When you have a person like Ryan leave, multiple people have to step up. So, yes, we've had more of a voice.

"Look, we were 7-9 last year. We're at the Combine right now, and 31 teams are disappointed. There's only one team that's happy. So moving forward – character, toughness, intelligence (are the characteristics the Saints look for in a player). We've got to bring in the right types of players, starting this offseason, to get back to that point where we're winning championships."

Ireland's presence gives the Saints a new voice to the process, one that can offer a different perspective. And, like everyone involved in helping the Saints improve this offseason, he's being encouraged to share his opinions.

"Debate is healthy," Ireland said. "In any kind of a draft room, debate is always going to be healthy. I know what I'm looking for in players, and Sean and Mickey know what they're looking for.

"We're trying to marry that together and, obviously, those voices count a lot more than mine, but I'm going to debate the process because I've seen certain things in my career that may have worked. It's just trying to find out what we're looking for and really not worrying about what everybody else is looking for. It's what the Saints need.

"Sean and I had a history together (during Payton's tenure in Dallas, from 2003-05, Ireland served as national scout and vice president of college and pro scouting). He's seen me in the draft room. (Debate) is always very respectful.

"We're just trying to create a vision for the player. That's my objective and Sean knows that, and Mickey knows that. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't agree but at the end of the day, we're just trying to get the vision correct of how we're going to utilize the player, is he the right type of guy that we're looking for."

Ireland, a former GM hired by the Saints' GM, is what the team was looking for as a way to improve.

"I think experience is very important, especially in the draft process," he said. "Having someone that has been through it before – I've learned from some great people through my career, I've been in that seat before, I know the challenges that you can face with running a draft and draft day, and the process that it takes to get the board right. So I think experience is healthy. I'm blessed. I get to be with great people, doing what I love."

Likewise, Fontenot's presence and increased role also was seen by Loomis as a way for the Saints to improve this offseason.

"I think it says a lot about this organization," Fontenot said. "It's kind of humbling for him to say something like (Fontenot will be a general manager in the future). When you work for an organization that has won a lot of football games, you've watched Mickey Loomis and Coach Payton – I think each is the best in the league – and the way they do things, you learn a lot. And I think that's why people get opportunities from here.

"But at the end of the day, you've got to win football games if anyone is going to get opportunities. So right now, that's what we're looking for, bringing in the right players so that we can win not just games, but win championships."

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