Admittedly, and understandably, Jon Stinchcomb has an affinity for the New Orleans Saints.
His eight-year playing career was with the Saints, he was a member of the Super Bowl-winning team of 2009, and he currently is the television color analyst for the team's preseason broadcasts.
But that doesn't mean his predisposition is off base that the Saints, with veteran talent dominating the roster, are well-positioned to handle an offseason that never attained engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was no in-person offseason program: No OTAs, no rookie or veteran minicamps, no on-campus workouts. For the Saints, though, there is a roster packed with players who already are familiar with the playbook, their teammates and the expectations.
"It's tough," said Stinchcomb, a second-round pick in 2003 who started every game he played at right tackle from 2006-10. "It usually takes all offseason to get to know guys and understand personalities and try to meld them together. But if I'm thinking back to our Super Bowl year, we had some pieces that came in, that you weren't exactly sure how they were going to fit.
"Comes to mind, a guy like (safety) Darren Sharper. Darren had obviously had some great years in his career, but was really expected to be more toward the back end (of his career). I think there's another safety (Malcolm Jenkins) that was added to the Saints' roster this season that might fit that bill.
"There's times where you have to get to know and assimilate with one another in a short amount of time, and kind of learn on the fly. You know what helps to do that? It's when you've got exceptional talent and great core leadership, and that's what the Saints have that other teams don't. If you're a first-year coach, if you've got a lot of turnover in key positions, they're up against it. I'm sure they're recognizing the challenge that was pre-existent under normal circumstances, but I think there's a real advantage to looking at a roster like the Saints and saying there's so much carryover and great leadership, that you're built to kind of withstand some of the outside distractions that other teams aren't."
Stinchcomb said it helps that when the Saints have made additions, they've identified and signed players who fit their needs. Jenkins and receiver Emmanuel Butler are among the offseason free agent signings this year that New Orleans anticipates will significantly contribute, as well as draft picks like first-rounder Cesar Ruiz, an offensive lineman who can play center or guard.
"I continue to think that there are wizards working in the second floor over in Metairie (at the Saints' training facility)," Stinchcomb said. "Because it always seems like the storyline at the beginning of free agency or whatever it is, is how cash-strapped the Saints are and they're one of the teams that has the least mobility because of the salary cap and where they've allocated funds. But yet they seem to find pieces that compliment that roster and what they have returning, and do it in such an extraordinary way.
"I think part of it is the culture that's been created in New Orleans is one where it's desirable to play for the Saints. Guys want to play for Coach (Sean) Payton, guys want to be on the same team as (defensive end) Cam Jordan and (quarterback) Drew (Brees) and (receiver) Michael Thomas. And just that culture that's well-known across the league for being something special in New Orleans, that they're able to draw guys.
"You look at this roster and what they have returning from last year to this year, there's not a lot of holes. I think they did really well in the draft, I think they were able to address some needs and, really, some wants. Gotta be excited about that first-round pick (Ruiz) and more stability up front.
"The way this organization is set up, it's not like they're chasing after some of these big contract guys in hopes of renovating and jump-starting something that isn't already pre-existent. The Saints right now are in the discussion in the beginning of the year, in the middle of the year, at the end of the year, as a Super Bowl contender and I think that speaks volumes to how they're built from the ground up."
CHATTING IT UP: Stinchcomb was asked about the growing number of former teammates who have found second careers in the media. Including himself, there's linebacker Jon Vilma, running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, right tackle Zach Strief, and running back Deuce McAllister.
"I think first, what's important to note is that there were so many guys on that Super Bowl team that liked to talk, and liked to hear themselves talk, that it's impressive they found ways to get paid for that very endeavor," he said, smiling. "I often tease Zach Strief that if people knew how much he enjoyed talking and that he would offer his opinion for free, that there's no need for them to pay him. But obviously he's not alone.
"I think it speaks to the exceptional group of men that (General Manager) Mickey Loomis and Coach Payton and that entire organization was able to put together. It was a special group. I enjoy watching Vilma and hearing Roman, and Deuce has done such a good job for such a long time. So not only as a teammate but a fan of those individuals, it's fun to see and hear them still to this day. It extends to (receiver) Lance (Moore) is doing some stuff, and obviously Reggie – there's just a number of guys.
"For me, when I transitioned away from the game, you're trying to look at ways to stay connected with something that you're passionate about, a field that you've committed so much of your life to and have enjoyed. We all enjoy the game and it's been good to us. So being able to announce is just one way, for me, I felt like I could stay connected and specifically with the Saints."