The New Orleans Saints appear to be leaning toward remaining in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the next month as the team prepares to open its NFL season Sept. 12 against Green Bay.
Coach Sean Payton said Tuesday, Aug. 31 that logistically for the Saints, it makes the most sense to remain somewhere close as New Orleans and Louisiana attempt to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Ida. Much of New Orleans and the metropolitan area currently are without power, and projections are that it will not be fully restored for several weeks.
"It gets back to, well, there's a chance that if our stadium (the Caesars Superdome) is not ready to host the Packers in Week 1, where might that game be?" Payton said. "And there's a chance that game could very well be right here at AT&T Stadium (in Arlington, Texas).
"We've got enough fans in this area and Houston, and certainly from northern Louisiana, that we think that would be something that's very realistic.
"So a major city with two airports, that gives you a lot of flexibility. Two programs, locally here, be it TCU (in Fort Worth) and SMU (in Dallas), that have reached out that completely would love to be a part of helping us and hosting us.
"So it's almost like you're beginning to arrive at certain decisions that really make a lot of sense, as opposed to maybe in the very beginning. Because I know we started with some early thoughts of being out West. I think the away games (against Carolina and New England in Weeks 2 and 3) quickly changed our minds relative to that, where they were at. It's a process and we're getting closer here to where we think the best fit is."
Payton said the team likely would definitively have its plan in place Wednesday. Players will practice Wednesday, then be off Thursday through Saturday before returning to the designated location Sunday.
On Monday, he already had stated that the return destination likely would not be the team's practice facility in Metairie, and that the Saints probably would be out of town for several weeks. Tuesday, he reiterated that point while identifying the likely destination.
"I would say, we're starting with the idea that, let's just say it's a month," Payton said. "I think it's much easier to reel it back in. What would that mean? That would mean prepping for Green Bay in Week 1, prepping for Carolina in Week 2, prepping for New England in Week 3 and then prepping for the home game against the Giants.
"I think we're looking at the first quarter of the season, the first four weeks, knowing that we can always adjust if need be. Certainly, we know for at least the upcoming couple of weeks. We're not looking past that and really, that's not a challenge logistically for these places. It's really more of, what's the schedule look like for these schools.
"If we're looking at schools like SMU, that would be in Dallas, TCU, that would be in Fort Worth. What's the availability of AT&T Stadium during the week if we kind of came back Sunday in another location around here and worked on going back and forth."
Check out photos from New Orleans Saints' practice at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on August 31 as they prepare for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
Payton has familiarity with practicing out West in California. The Dallas Cowboys annually hold training camp practices in Oxnard, Calif., and Payton was a member of the coaching staff from 2003-05. But he said that option simply isn't feasible for the Saints.
"The reason that doesn't make sense is the two away games we play are at Carolina, at New England," he said. "So I don't think it's in our best interest to go to California, or Oxnard, for instance, and know that we're going to have return here to play somewhere in this area, a home game, whether that's in New Orleans or somewhere else, and then make two East Coast trips."
Payton said the franchise remains sensitive to the hardships that New Orleans and Louisianans are facing, which also factors into when the Saints can and will return.
"A lot of it'll be dependent on when is the city ready to receive people to come back," he said. "When is the power back up. When are all the things up and running again, at least, for people to return and we don't know the answer to that yet."