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Transcript: Saints Coach Sean Payton conference call 8/31/21

New Orleans head coach discusses roster cuts, relocation, and Jameis Winston

New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton

Press conference with local media | Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021

Are you guys still in the process of making roster cuts or has that been completed?
"No. We're finishing up that process. None of that will be officially released until this afternoon. It began last evening and continued into this morning. The deadline is this afternoon and we'll be at our number when that time comes."

What is the process like for players who have been cut getting to stay in the hotel (in Dallas) due to Hurricane Ida?
"Great question. Let me just give you an idea. We know tomorrow will be the last day at this hotel (in Dallas). That doesn't mean there won't be players and/or families that will decide to stay longer at this hotel. They'll be a great number of players who go to another number of their home cities. They'll have that time from tomorrow until Sunday to organize themselves. On Sunday, our whole team and the practice squad will report back to the area we're going to set up our practice facility at. We'll have a better handle on that in the next 24 hours. You will have some players that will be flying home today. I do not think there's anyone traveling back to New Orleans. Obviously, there's cars back there and personal items for these players. In the short term, there will be an itinerary that will take them to their home cities and takes them to where they're planning on being in the next four or five days. I do think there are a handful of players that will just stay here. We'll get all those logistics taken care of. Certainly, we'll travel Sunday back to where our home base will be. We'll let you guys and our team know more on that in the next 12-24 hours."

What are some of the things you're looking at when deciding on where to set up a temporary home base in a time like this?
"I think a couple things. Logistically speaking, there was some discussion to go out west. The reason that doesn't make sense is that our first two away games are at Carolina and New England. I don't think it's in our best interest to go to California or Oxnard to return to play a home game in this area, whether that's in New Orleans or somewhere else, and make two east coast trips from out west. So, ultimately, accommodations and more than likely an indoor practice facility. If you're not somewhere where you know you're not going to have rain, and I bring up Southern California for instance. The weather there is pretty consistent. There's a lot of other areas you have to prepare for like rain or other inclement weather where you're still able to get practice in. Other things like hotel accommodations, indoor facilities, things like that. We've had an example of this a couple years ago in Seattle after Drew (Brees') injury. We stayed in a little community, Bellevue, across the lake (from Seattle). We stayed in a hotel and practiced at the University of Washington. A lot of those times, colleges have consistent practice schedules and adequate facilities. College teams have specific practice schedules either in the morning because of afternoon classes or in the late afternoon because of morning classes. So, I know when we were at Washington they were done practicing long before we got there to workout. I think one day we showed up right at the tail end of their practice. We've explored a number of colleges relative to their facilities and their practice schedule. It keeps coming back pretty consistently. There's teams practicing at either seven or eight in the morning or at four in the afternoon. Logistically, it's about finding a hotel and an indoor facility that maxes schedules. Those are some of the basic things we look for."

How far out are you planning on being away from New Orleans, worst case scenario?
"I would say we're starting to plan around the idea that it'll be a month (away from New Orleans). That would mean prep for Green Bay week 1, prep for Carolina week 2, prep for New England week 3, and then prep for the Giants week 4. I think we're looking at the first quarter of the season being away knowing we can adjust if need be. We're certainly looking at the first couple of weeks. We're not looking past that and, really, that's not a challenge, logistically, for these places. It's more of finding what the schedule looks like for schools like SMU in Dallas, TCU in Fort Worth, or the availability of AT&T stadium during the week if we came back Sunday in another location around Dallas and worked on going back and forth (to AT&T Stadium). Now, if there's an event or concert in that venue, that typically means there's an extended set up and breakdown which makes it more challenging. I brought up two Dallas Fort-Worth locations and there's a few others that we're visiting with. To answer your question, we're looking at the first three or four weeks of the season (away from New Orleans).

Can you speak to the expense Gayle Benson is incurring having the team stay in Dallas?
"I can't speak to that side of it. Typically, if you're at home there's an expense. Obviously, it's different when you have a facility and you're not using it. It is one of those rare instances where you're displaced from your home base. It's happened before in our league outside of hurricanes for fires. Teams have had to alter their game schedule and practice set up. We've seen that before on the West Coast with fires and our team with hurricanes along with Houston, Miami and Tampa Bay who have experienced hurricanes as well. It's one of those things that has come up. I don't have the insight relative to the amount (Mrs. Benson is paying) but she's been fantastic and very supportive. There are a lot of moving parts here and obviously there's an expense with that."

What is Mrs. Benson covering as far as hotels and meals for players? Are families being covered as well?
"Yes, all of that's being covered right now. I went down to breakfast today and there was a ruckus going on. There were about 15 kids playing touch football in the meal room. This type of event really does bring a group of people together. We're trying to get them information and make the most of a situation like this. We are receiving a chance to meet family members and children that you normally wouldn't meet from a player to player or coach to player standpoint. You see a lot of these people at games but collectively you do not normally see them unless it's in this unique environment. Moving forward, a lot of it will be dependent on when the city is ready for people to come back and when will the power come back on. We don't know the answer to that yet."

Will the Saints continue to provide hotels and meals for the released players and their families?
"Yeah. Every team today is doing one of two things. Every team is reducing the roster to 53 players and they're also putting together a practice squad, which takes 24 hours. This time tomorrow, teams are waiting to see if their players were claimed. That usually takes about a day, day and a half. There are a group of players who were released who are now heading home. Those players won't be practice squad candidates. This is no different than if it were happening in New Orleans. We get those players set up with their airfare and their tickets to their home destinations. The unique thing for those departing players right now is that there's some items they have to come back and get, or we have to ship to them items from New Orleans from the training camp hotel. There's not a big change from the standpoint of the cut players going home. That's just happening from a different city now. We now have to look at flight schedules from DFW or Love Field. That process is well underway. I think the challenge is, and I talked to the team about this yesterday, is that it is unusual that we're all together in one place with our families and being in the same building to find out you're going home. Logistically, that becomes more difficult. I think you have to be open and up front about it. In a short period of time, we were able to travel a large group of people to a safe spot. These circumstances are unique."

I know you guys have been to places like San Antonio, Indianapolis, the Greenbrier Resort (WV), and even Oxnard (CA). While those places might certainly make sense to stay from your time at the Cowboys like Oxnard, is it your preference to be closer to New Orleans such as the Dallas/Fort-Worth area?
"Yeah, starting with Oxnard, as you mentioned, I have experience there from my time on the Cowboys staff. There are a lot of positives to being there. They have been there for so long and there is a comfort in having someone who understands all your needs meeting room wise, meals, and all those things. The challenge with Oxnard is that we'd relocate there and then play two away games on the east coast. I was moving that direction, but for a four-week plan, I don't know that it's best to take two long trips on the opposite side of the country. We have moved on from that (Oxnard). Indianapolis has a Guns-N-Roses concert that presents an issue with some other events in their stadium. The Greenbrier has a prior commitment. I think the 49ers open up on the east coast and will stay there and play Detroit in week 2. There's a process of looking at these sites and eliminating some. It gets back to, well, if the Superdome isn't ready to host the Packers in week 1, where might that game be? There's a chance that game could very well be played in AT&T Stadium. We've certainly got enough fans in this area, Houston, along with fans in Northern Louisiana where we think there is something that could be very realistic. Being in a major city with two airports that gives you a lot of flexibility, having two programs that are flexible in SMU and TCU that have reached out and would love to help us out and host us. We are beginning to arrive at decisions that make a lot of sense as opposed to some thoughts we had in the very beginning of this process. I know we started with thoughts of being out west, but the away games quickly changed our minds about that. It's a process, but we're getting closer to where we think the best fit is. Even for the eight to ten players that on Wednesday will decide to stay here and meet us back on Sunday in a different hotel in the area, that becomes easy as well."

How heavily would you weigh the benefits of practicing in the same city or area as your home site for the week 1 game?
"I think it's just productive for travel purposes. If we're practicing here and you told me we'd play our game here (Dallas). If our game was here and our practices were here, that works. If you were nearby in other towns like Nashville or Houston, that just means you're taking a trip Saturday on a short flight. I think it's certainly more convenient (to stay in Dallas)."

Did you inform your team and quarterbacks of your decision on a starting quarterback?
"I didn't have this official sit down, tap the microphone and stand up to announce the starter in a team meeting. You just don't operate like that. Our plan right now, and much has been already said, is that Jameis (Winston) is our starting quarterback. He's done a great job and he's earned that spot. Both he and Taysom (Hill) competed their tails off for that spot. It's always difficult when you do not have the full offseason or preseason you're looking for, but we feel really good about that (quarterback) room. We have four players that are going to be a part of that room. There's three right now but we think there will be four in that room. We'll work through the numbers there. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate how those guys have handled it (competition). It is challenging. It is hard in our league when you have a competition like that because it's not the norm, but it seems like there are four or five teams that are having it with a rookie player or veteran like we did in our case. You really want to go through that process and give them the reps they need. It is not always perfect, but we were able to do that."

What really stood out about the things you wanted to see Jameis Winston improve on this offseason after you had a season to work with him in this system?
"The number one thing is leading the offense and moving the ball and scoring points. We feel like he has a unique skillset with his arm talent and the way he can get the ball down the field. He's done a really good job of working through some of the progressions. Then, a lot of that falls on us (coaches) now. One of the challenges, and much has been written about it, is that they're two completely different players (Winston and Hill). Going into games with two different mindsets with finding how to help each one play well. We'll look closely into finding ways to help Jameis play well and we'll also look closely at finding ways to utilize Taysom and finding where to play him. Make no mistake, I know this way asked a lot relative to, if Taysom was our quarterback, you'll lose all the other things he can do. That's true, but we couldn't make a decision based on that. If Taysom were to be that quarterback and continue to improve, and I do think he'll be in that (quarterback) room working at that position. We wanted to look at it from an open-eye standpoint and trust our gut with the decision. Those guys handled it well and our team has handled it well. For something so significant as the quarterback job, and we've seen it with other teams, it's taken a back seat to some of the other stuff that has gone on. They're both real good football players and we're going to need both of them this year."

How did Taysom Hill react to the decision of Jameis Winston being named the starting quarterback?
"We talked for a while. It's always challenging and disappointing when that happens to a player. We have had a real good dialogue with him. He's been here long enough with us now. I think the first player wants to know is what the vision is for them, and they want honesty in that evaluation and vision. I have a very clear vision for how he's going to help us this year and I have a very clear vision with Jameis. Those two are both going to be extremely important for us to play well and win games this year."

What was the plan for the final preseason game for the quarterback rotation?
"The plan for the final preseason game was to get Trevor (Siemian) a quarter, good quarter and a half and then let Ian (Book) play the rest. The plan was to not play Jameis or Taysom in the third preseason game. Obviously, we didn't get to that."

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