Let’s start this off by making it very clear Jon Gruden and Sean Payton are very close friends. It’s been that way since they were young assistants together in Philadelphia and it’s stayed that way with Gruden visiting the New Orleans coach and the Saints at training camp in recent years.
That’s why the following excerpts from Gruden during a conference call with the "Monday Night Football" crew should come as no surprise.
“In spite of Sean being my friend, I don't want to sound like I'm his agent, I think the New Orleans Saints are the team to beat in the NFC this year,’’ Gruden said. “I like what they've done in the offseason. I think (Drew) Brees takes care of the ball, they take care of the turnover margin, and they're on their way to an NFC Championship.’’
You’ll have to wait until Thursday to see my predictions for the season, but Gruden and I are at least in the same ballpark when it comes to the Saints.
Gruden’s praise of Payton didn’t stop with his prediction of an NFC Championship.
“I really think he's as good a play caller as there is,’’ Gruden said. “There's a handful of guys that are outstanding. I think Sean has done a tremendous job working with (general manager) Mickey Loomis. That's the real strength behind the scene is his working relationship with Mickey Loomis, their ability to develop players, undrafted guys, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, late-round draft choices like (Marques) Colston, getting free agents, Drew Brees, Jeremy Shockey and (Darren), Sharper, to come in and play great. Making trades, Jonathan Vilma.
“You name it, they've made a lot of tremendous moves, and they've made them work. This system that he runs on offense is unique. If you watch the Saints the first 25 plays of the game, you'll see 24 different formations and maybe 10 different personnel groupings. He and Drew Brees, it's a double edged sword. If Brees doesn't kill you, Payton will, or vice versa. It's just a well-lubricated machine. It's a factory right now.’’