Following another heartbreaking playoff exit for the New Orleans Saints, the Sean Payton press conference was one of intrigue. Not only did Payton have to answer questions on the 30-20 Divisional Round loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also the possibility that his quarterback Drew Brees had played his last down in pro football.
Sean Payton Press Conference Alludes to Critical off-Season
Payton would have been expecting a bombardment of questions regarding the future of Brees. Payton and Brees have been tied at the hip since 2006 in New Orleans. Brees, now 42-years old, struggled against the Buccaneers as he threw three interceptions in a postseason game for the first time in his career.
Payton was understandably dismissive of reports this was Brees’ was last game. He stated that the question was probably “for another press conference.” Asked postgame what Brees meant to the city of New Orleans, Payton reiterated that this was probably for another press conference but went on to say Brees has been “tremendous for this team, this city.”
New Orleans has put contingency plans in place for Brees’ decline in play and eventual retirement for years. However, there was a sense on Sunday that this really is it for Brees.
Sean Payton on Turnovers
Turnovers killed the Saints and Payton’s hopes of bringing another Lombardi trophy to the city of New Orleans. On Sunday the Buccaneers had 21 points off turnovers. Moreover, Brees contributed to the majority of those turnovers by throwing three interceptions.
However, the biggest play of the game came with New Orleans up seven points and driving in the third quarter. On third and two nearing midfield, Brees hit tight end Jared Cook for the first down on a short slant route, only for Tampa Bay rookie safety Antoine Winfield to punch the ball out as Cook was tucking it away. Linebacker Devin White scooped up the fumble and setup Tom Brady and the Bucs offense in Saints territory.
Tampa Bay tied the game on the next drive and scored on their next two drives to pull away from the Saints. Brady’s one-yard touchdown rush gave Tampa Bay a two-score lead that effectively sealed the game. With the win the Buccaneers advanced to the NFC Championship game next weekend, where they will take on the red-hot Green Bay Packers.
Payton defended Cook for the mistake in his press conference and explained that all of the Saints turnovers contributed to the loss. However, the Saints head coach did believe his defense was playing well, and “those types of things end up being the difference.”
Critical off-Season for New Orleans Saints
The Saints will want a definitive answer on Brees’ potential retirement as soon as possible. A team with an aging quarterback should have contingency plans in place and the Saints have done that. Teddy Bridgewater was brought in just in case Brees previously retired (he was with the Carolina Panthers this past season) and Jameis Winston joined the Saints this past off-season. Payton has also developed Taysom Hill into a competent option at quarterback. Garrett Gilbert was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft as a potential long term option for when the time came for Brees to hang up the cleats.
New Orleans has tried to prepare for this moment, but are they truly prepared? From the aforementioned quarterbacks, only Winston and Hill are on the roster today. Only Hill is under contract for next season and his contract is up after the 2021 season.
Sean Payton has huge sway on roster moves in New Orleans. He and general manager Mickey Loomis face a critical off-season as the team recovers from yet another playoff exit. Identifying who the quarterback will be is priority number one. However, just as urgent for Loomis is figuring out the team’s salary cap situation. The Saints have the worst salary cap in the league for 2021 as things stand. They are projected to be over the cap by $99 million. Brees retiring and foregoing his 2021 salary would help matters a little, but there is still a lot for Loomis to work out in the next few months.
Saints fans will fantasize when they sift through quarterback rumors this off-season. There could be potential trade for Mathew Stafford, or they could re-sign Winston, take a quarterback in the draft or continue with Hill who went 3-1 as the starter in 2020.
The first domino to fall is Brees’ decision. Then Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis will go to work re-molding the Saints roster.