The fact that the New Orleans Saints did not win a Super Bowl to top off three consecutive NFC South title-winning, double-digit victory seasons doesn't obscure the fact that the Saints appear to have the proper approach, even after Sunday's 26-20, overtime loss to Minnesota in their NFC Wild Card playoff game.
"The understanding that we're doing the right things relative to each step of the way, starting with the players in the offseason, how we train and how we practice – all of those things are easy to approach because I think the players themselves, and everyone in the building, understands we're doing the right things," Coach Sean Payton said Tuesday. "That doesn't promise you the final game. And yet, to get there, you've got to win and continue to win."
The continuation of that will occur for the Saints with some select roster upgrades. Payton said the "good" roster New Orleans (13-4) has can be better.
"There's some areas that maybe we see differently or see clearly relative to where we can improve that I think are going to be important," he said. "And yet, I think one of the benefits of the roster this year was really the depth, relative to some injuries that we had.
"We played a handful of defensive backs, we played a couple or three fullbacks. The same way at receiver and tight end and the same way in the offensive line.
"We met yesterday just briefly on our unrestricted free agents and our restricted free agents. There's some musts right now, at least in my mind, that are positions that we've got to solidify to be better. And I think we'll try to do that any way, shape or form."
One position of note is quarterback. Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater, the Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks, can become unrestricted free agents. Brees completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns, with four interceptions, in 11 regular-season games. Bridgewater, who helped the Saints win all five games that Brees missed due to a thumb injury and surgery, completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,384 yards and nine touchdowns, with two interceptions.
No. 3 quarterback Taysom Hill can become a restricted free agent, giving the Saints the opportunity to match any offer. Hill completed three of six passes for 55 yards, caught 19 passes for 234 yards and six touchdowns, and ran 27 times for 156 yards and a touchdown.
Payton said there hasn't been any discussions with Brees, as the season just ended.
"To date, we've not had to do any of that," he said. "It'd be too early to say. I mean, I just finished talking to him five minutes ago, and it was about something else. It was about LSU tickets. We just played two days ago. We're clearly not even at that stage relative to our own roster.
"I think it's always best that there's time that takes place between the last game – even when you begin to do what we do next, I think it's important that there's some time in between that. Because you want to really give the true evaluation of your roster. There'll be a gap of time here. I can't speak for Drew as to his wants. I think he wants to play more and I think we saw him play at a high level.
"We'll discuss every player on the roster, him included. But I don't anticipate this grandiose meeting or phone call any time soon. We'll go through the numbers, we'll go through the team and then try to do what's best for the team as well."
Payton said having all three quarterbacks return would be a "perfect world" scenario that he'd like to see, but, "We don't live in (a perfect world).
"We haven't even gotten that far down the road yet. (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) and I will spend a lot of time meeting. We'll meet on all these topics. We've got a handful – as we do every year – of unrestricted free agents, and then a few restricted free agents. All of those players will be guys that we spend a lot of time on and hopefully make the right decisions on."
The evaluation of the current roster will continue for the next week and a half, Payton said.
"And then you begin to look into upgrading or improving the roster as best you can, and that's either via the players in this league or the players that are going to be coming up through the draft," he said.
But the reality is that the Saints possibly will lose some valued players via free agency.
"Our job is to try to protect, as best we can, the guys we feel like moving forward are going to help us the most," Payton said. "That doesn't mean that a player or two that we'd like to have (won't) get a chance to play somewhere else. That's part of the business."
NOLAN DEPARTS: Payton acknowledged that linebackers coach Mike Nolan accepted the job to become defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys' new coach is former Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy, who was a Saints assistant under Jim Haslett from 2000-04.
"Congrats to him, we're excited that he has that opportunity," Payton said. "I've said this before: When people are calling and interested, that's a good thing. I think it's good for those guys to have those opportunities. It's a little bit more nerve-wracking when no one's calling. But I think we've got a handful of coaches on this staff that I think someday will be in a position or have that opportunity, hopefully. But Mike was the first one that we got a request sent in for."