Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis explained the thinking behind some of the New Orleans Saints' latest moves in free agency on Wednesday while attending LSU's pro day.
Among the highlights: They still believe in cornerback Champ Bailey's skillset and his attitude; they didn't hesitate to re-sign safety Rafael Bush (and not just because the Atlanta Falcons wanted him); and they like Tim Lelito but will make him compete for the starting center job.
Both Loomis and Payton said they envision Bailey playing cornerback -- not being moved to safety. And they both remain high on his abilities, despite the fact that the 35-year-old struggled last year while battling a foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games.
"Well, No. 1, he played on an injured foot last year," Payton said. "The year before, we felt his tape was great. He's going to come in and compete to play, and to play at corner. I think we're looking at a player who's got great instincts. Obviously a Hall of Fame career. …
"I think he brings a great deal of leadership, his instincts and we believe his skillset and the way he takes care of himself."
Payton said that he, Loomis and Saints director of player personnel Ryan Pace all "could sense that it's real important for him, and he's very competitive."
"I think that's the reason why a player like him plays as long as he has," said Payton, who believes it was important for Bailey to join a contender. "If you looked at a checklist of his career, the only check that's not filled in is winning a Super Bowl. You can sense that desire with him."
When asked why the Saints brought in an older veteran from another team after releasing so many of their own longtime leaders this offseason, Loomis said, "We think he can still play, and the fit was right."
"You always have a need for good players, and that's a valuable position, cornerback," Loomis said. "And he's played at a high level for a long time. So you get two things. You get a good player, and you get a guy that knows how to win, knows how to play the game, and hopefully can impart that on to some of our younger guys."
As for Bush, Loomis said the Saints obviously know what they have in him after he served as a part-time starter and special teams standout the last two years.
Although the Saints only offered Bush the minimum qualifying deal of $1.4 million when he became a restricted free agent, Loomis said they didn't hesitate to match the Atlanta Falcons' offer (two years, between $3.8 and $4.55 million).
"I'd say our intention as soon as we got the offer was to match," Loomis said. "We waited a few days, but it wasn't really a tough decision."
Payton added that it had no bearing on the Saints' decision that Bush was being courted by a division rival.
"It could have been any one of the other 30 teams," said Payton, who said the way things played out was just part of the process.
"That's the business. That's the way the rules are set up," Payton said. "We're excited to have him back, and I know he's excited to be back."
Meanwhile, neither Payton nor Loomis specified why the Saints didn't make more of an effort to re-sign free agent center Brian De La Puente, who wound up signing a one-year, $795,000 contract with the Chicago Bears.
But they both expressed confidence that the Saints will be OK going forward.
"We have candidates for that position, we'll have competition, and we'll end up with a good player at that position," Loomis said.
Right now, second-year pro Tim Lelito is the only logical candidate on the roster. But he is still raw after being undrafted last year out of Grand Valley State, and his only regular-season experience last year came in two spot starts at the guard position.
The Saints could still sign another veteran or draft another contender for the job.
"We'll continue to obviously pay attention to not only this draft, but we're gonna pay attention closely to any way we can improve our roster," Payton said. "Brian was a big contributor for us for a number of years. And we see Tim as someone who has that potential. But there will be competition at that position."