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Transcript of New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton's End-of-Season press conference - January 7, 2020

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
End of the Season Press Conference with Local Media
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

What's the prevailing thing that stood out to you reviewing the way the season ended?
"I think specifically in the game, obviously it started out well, getting the turnover early and we settled for a field goal on that drive. I think we knew it was going to be a hard fought game, back and forth. I thought early on both defenses played well. I thought we struggled offensively, particularly in the first half. Our third down numbers were just one of four. In the second half we started moving it a little bit better. I think the turnover differential ended up being one in their favor. I thought in the first half we struggled protecting Drew (Brees) more than we would've liked and then it came down to, there's a handful of things. It's always frustrating as a coach when you watch it, you know, you miss a field goal at the end to half. Our kicker's been fantastic all season, come back in the second half and we get a little bit of momentum there and we have the turnover after Taysom's (Hill) long run. I think on the overtime drive, Kirk (Cousins) makes a fantastic throw to (Adam) Thielen on that play. Obviously the play prior, Marshon (Lattimore) had gone out. But when you watch the catch and throw, those guys really did a nice job and I said it after the game. It was a hard fought game. It was obviously difficult to end your season like that and yet those guys made a few more plays than we did. We kind of move into the next phase for us, (which) is the evaluation of our own personnel before we do anything else and so we will be doing that the next week and a half and then you begin to look at upgrading or improving the roster as best you can. And that is either via the players in this league (current) or that are going to be coming up through the draft."

In a perfect world would you want all three quarterbacks back or do you feel like you have to choose between them all?
"We have not gotten that far yet. I like the perfect world scenario and yet we do not live in one. We have not even gotten that far down the road yet. Mickey (Loomis) and I will spend a lot of time meeting. We'll meet on all these topics. We have 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."

What was the parting message to the team?
"The challenge in the postseason with our league's (that) there are two plans in place. You are meeting Monday, you're getting ready to play Green Bay or you're meeting Monday and you're in your exit meetings with the players and physicals. And so it was more organizational, relative to the offseason, relative to the players that were dealing with injuries. Obviously, everyone's disappointed, you'd like to continue playing and there's that finality of it. But it's typically one of those meetings where you're really kind of covering all the things that they need to know, relative to what's coming up from an offseason standpoint, physicals, all the things that need to take place in the next week."

Do you wait for Drew Brees to make a decision or do you reach out to him regarding playing next year?
"Well, listen, to date we've not had to do any of that and it'd be too early to say. I just finished talking to him five minutes ago and it was about something else. It was about LSU tickets. It's (that) 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 and 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. I'm talking about all the other positions, but yeah, I'm sure Mickey and myself (Will discuss Drew Brees). But there's not that formal call (scheduled or expected). Look, there'll be a gap of time here and I can't speak for Drew as to his wants, I think he wants to play more and I think that we saw him play at a high level and we'll discuss every player on the roster, himself included. But I do not anticipate this grandiose meeting or phone call anytime soon. We will go through the numbers. We will go through the team and then try to do what's best for, for, for the team as well."

How do you balance the success of this season and where you need to focus on improving this offseason?
"Yeah, there are some clear things though, relative to a really good roster. There are some areas that maybe we see differently or see clearly relative to where we can improve that I think are going to be important. And yet I think one of the benefits of the roster this year was really the depth relative to some injuries that we had guys were able to play. We played a handful of defensive backs. We played a couple, three fullbacks, the same way at receiver and tight end. In the same way, particularly on the offensive line (we played multiple players). We met yesterday just briefly on our unrestricted free agents and our restricted free agents, but there's some must right now that are at least in my mind, (must) positions that we have to solidify to be better. And I think we'll try to do that any way, shape or form."

Anything, any specific or positons that you want to improve?
"Nothing specific right now."

What are your thoughts on keeping the timeout and accepting the 10-second runoff near the end of the fourth quarter?
"Well number one we valued the last timeout. The unique thing that came up is, we had that option of a ten-second runoff. Burn the 10 seconds, keep the timeout or give them the timeout and now being without a timeout. Drew (Brees) and I, if you watch during that quick break are sitting there and both he and I both valued the timeout. Because it just gives you so much more freedom relative to play-calling and so we knew, the field goal number one was paramount. And then the challenge always when you get down to what we had left in the clock is you're going to just see it much different type of defense in the end zone. And I would have liked to not have to make that decision and when we were clocking the football, we need to obviously be set. I thought how we handled that, I don't know how far (we were), we had a 1:55 when the drive started. There was nothing earth shattering about what we chose to do there. There's some plays that you would've liked to have had maybe differently, but getting into that situation without a timeout is just a little bit trickier."

Does having that timeout just in case something goes wrong still allow you to have a chance at a field goal?
"Yes, your goal initially when the drill starts is let's make sure we put ourselves in a position to kick a field goal. And if we get close enough then with time remaining, let's figure out a way to win it. But specifically when we clocked the ball, there is a penalty. I think it was 21 seconds or we were right there as to you want 11 or 21, one's going to have a timeout, the other's not. I think we both felt 11 with the timeout was a better option for us at that time, rather than 21 because you're still at anything that stays in play you're in a mayday alert, you're running onto the field and you can potentially with a timeout and 11 seconds have a little bit more luxury."

Is the deep wide receiver class in this draft an intriguing thing to you?
"I have not seen the class at all yet. Probably in the next two or three weeks I'll be made aware of (prospects). I've heard that it's a pretty good receiver class. But yes, all those options we'll look closely at, I think we are picking at 24 (in the first round). We will start with the free agency (possibilities). Where do we feel like some of these areas we feel are must where can we fill them. If it's deep in another area then that helps to know that. But that's just one position group. There's a handful of areas though where we're going to be looking closely to see if we can find the right player."

What did you think about Janoris Jenkins in his brief stint with the team at the end of this season?
"I thought he did well. Look, he's a real good foot athlete. He's smart, he came in and competed, obviously he was in great shape, but I was encouraged and impressed."

The Carolina Panthers hired that Rhule today. Do you have a chance to meet him when he worked down here with Baylor in Sugar Bowl prep? What did you think?
"I did, he was really impressive. Jeff Ireland went to Baylor and Jeff knew Matt and Jeff had just came to me and said, hey, they're going to be practicing here. Do you want to maybe visit with him and the team? It was during their week of preparations. The first time I met him and then today I heard just like you did that Carolina hired him and look, that's a great job for him and he seemed, I was real impressed with their three years, if I'm going to speak to some group that I don't really know that well. Kevin (Petry) kind of pulled up some numbers for me and their turnaround in three years relative to what they went through and in his first year, the second year, it was real impressive. They won a lot of games and I was impressed when I met him."

Do you think with the right moves that you could be back at this spot next year?
"We'll see. We'd like to think so. We're excited about the guys we currently have and our job now's to find the other players we feel like can help us put ourselves in a position to compete again. Look, it's fresh off the season and you don't know how the regular season's going to go. I thought, obviously, early on we handled some of the adversity pretty well and we found a way to win 13 games, which is hard to do. This league's funny, sometimes 13 (wins) can get you obviously a real high seed. And in our case, we were playing at home, but I think the challenge will be finding a way to improve and put ourselves in that position. Absolutely."

Is it more challenging addressing those positions you feel are needs when you know that you've got a lot of talented guys about the hit free agency?
"No, I mean, managing the cap relative to your current roster is one thing. But look, I think we'll spend a lot of time on those decisions and those are never easy. You have a fixed budget. There's no luxury tax or you can't overspend if you choose to. Those will be the things we deal with here in the next coming weeks."

You've had a pretty cohesive assistant coaching unit, do you think that might change starting with a loss yesterday?
"Well, we lost Mike (Nolan) yesterday. Congrats to him. We're excited that he has that opportunity. I've said this before, look, 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."

Do you think there's a chance that because of the numbers you will lose some talented young free agents? Isn't this part of the deal?
"Well, hopefully, look, there's always that chance. There's always that chance. Our job is to try to try to protect as best we can the guys that we feel like moving forward are going to help us the most. And that doesn't mean that a player or two that we'd like to have gets a chance to play somewhere else. That's part of the business. Yeah, there's that chance. It absolutely exists."

In your experience in pro sports, to what extent is it possible that in terms of team building, you feel like you've done almost everything right and you didn't win a Super Bowl?"
"Well look, that's hard to do. But 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 and all of those things are easy to approach because I think the players themselves and everyone in the building understands, Hey, we're doing the right things and that doesn't promise you the final game. And yet to get there, you've got to win and continue to win. Listen, that's the trick then. But, yeah, all that being said, shoot these guys as disappointed as they were yesterday leaving. They understand the challenges of winning in the postseason, it's a single elimination tournament."

You addressed the lack of production from (Alvin) Kamara, but was he fighting an injury kind of near the back of the near the back end of the year?
"No. Listen, I felt like he was healthy and there was a handful of things in that game Sunday relative to our running game that you look at and you're like, ah, we might've done something a little bit (differently). There's a handful of things you see from teams defensively and Mike (Zimmer) has done a great job there. They're going to play certain front and coverage, and yet I think he was healthy and we saw him in the last couple games play well and we just didn't have those numbers. When you go one-of-four on third down, just do the number count and then look at the possession. I mean, it all just plays itself out. Yeah, I want to absolutely run the football, but you've got to convert more third downs to have those opportunities."

This might be a silly follow-up, but as teams have more tape on him and have they defended him differently than they have in previous years?
"No. Silly follow-up."

What are your thoughts right after this season though on sort of maximizing the production of both (Alvin) Kamara and (Latavius) Murray? Is that something you wanted to do more consistently throughout the year?
"Well, look, I think when you're moving the football, those aren't challenges. I think they're challenges when you have some penalties early on and downs and your third down numbers are down, then it becomes challenging when you have less plays. But, it was no different than the year before with Alvin and Mark (Ingram)."

Did Taysom (Hill) pick up a bigger role towards the end of the season this year and maybe surpass your expectations?
"I think that we began looking at, it wasn't that we looked at him differently, but man, the more and more you kept watching, the more and more we felt like he's one of our better players and needs to be on the field. So to answer your question, yeah, I would say that that even evolved more to the point where, obviously, there's a read option element to when he's playing quarterback, but the deep pass he throws to Deonte (Harris) was something that we felt might have a chance. He's got real good arm strength. Look, he was exceptional Sunday. I mean, he was outstanding. He's an exciting football player and he does a lot of things well. I'm glad he's on our team."

Was his development as a receiver kind of a necessity after Tre'Quan (Smith) and Keith (Kirkwood) went down?
"It started a year ago actually because you saw him block and the challenge always is are you going to get nickel defense or base defense? It's trying to gameplan because those are extremely different defensive looks or potential defensive looks. And we got a little bit more base with him in this last game than in some weeks. But now it has kind of evolved. He's someone that was good at a lot of different things and we played him in that F role, if you will, quite a bit this year. Then the snaps he played at quarterback. It is like anything else, do we have enough snaps and enough touches where he can get his hands on the ball. That one series, he has the long pass and the very next play he's blocking at the point of attack with Tre'Quan and those guys and we score. His performance demands those opportunities."

Is he one of the trickier, maybe free agent players to deal with it because you don't know how people value him or what they may value him as?
"It is a little bit of an enigma. He is (a) restricted (free agent), but yes, it is a little bit of an enigma. My understanding is you can't find a spot for him on your fantasy roster, so it's probably difficult for the reality of it (laughter)."

Was this year easier, the way it ended? Was it easier to digest than last year?
"Entirely different. Like I said after the game, you hate to lose a game like that. You tip your hat to Minnesota and Mike (Zimmer's) a close friend and obviously you want to play well and win and advance. There's certain things you look back on even during the year relative to your best positioning, but in that game, you play over opportunities. It is difficult losing in the postseason, but last year was different."

Doesn't Jenny's ice cream digest the same?
"Yeah, it's definitely from last year."

Do you remember hearing about how (Bill) Belichick said after they lost to you guys in 2009 that he just knew somehow that that team was not a Super Bowl team relative for what his expectations were? This team would be different, right? Where you may have thought all along until the very end it was a Super Bowl team?
"It's hard to put a number on that. I thought our front played well defensively. I thought our D-line played well, played well in that game Sunday. Look, you hate to have some starters out, but I thought those guys and some of the guys we were playing snaps with that had not played a lot stood out. Look, you're sitting at 20-20 at the end of regulation and you had two turnovers. Offensively, one of them on a short field for your defense. The other one on the other end of the field, but like anyone else, you miss starters that are out and yet it's hard to put an exact tag on it."

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