Jeff Ireland was 'voice of reason' in Saints' draft room

METAIRIE, La. -- One of the biggest impacts Jeff Ireland made in his first draft as the New Orleans Saints’ assistant general manager: He was a “voice of reason” compared to the more aggressive natures of general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.

The Saints waited until the fifth round before they traded up for the first time in this year’s draft – a mild surprise considering their draft-trade history and the fact that they had nine overall picks to work with.

The Saints wound up making all nine picks (they gave up a 2016 sixth-rounder to move up from Round 6 to Round 5 for cornerback Damian Swann). It was the most picks New Orleans has made since 2002.

“I think my nature and I think Sean’s nature is to be pretty aggressive. I think [Ireland] was at times maybe a little stronger voice of reason for us,” Loomis said. “There were a lot of calls. I felt like there were more calls this year that we made and that we received about trades that didn’t happen than in past drafts. I’m not sure why that was the case, but I feel like we were on the phone an awful lot.”

In general, Loomis said Ireland’s influence was “real positive.” The Saints hired the former Miami Dolphins general manager in January to head up their college scouting department after player personnel director Ryan Pace left to become the Chicago Bears' general manager. The Saints also fired longtime former college scouting director Rick Reiprish.

“Jeff has got a lot of experience, and he’s been a part of a lot of successful drafts. His opinion counts; everyone’s opinion up there counts,” Loomis said of Ireland, who also made his mark in the 2000s as the chief college scout for the Dallas Cowboys, where he worked with Payton under coach Bill Parcells.

Payton said Parcells’ influence could also be felt in the Saints’ draft room since he had “pounded” some of the same values into both himself and Ireland for years (including the importance of size).

“Here we are in this draft, and the discussion is maybe a short corner or an undersized [player], and the whole time I’m looking at [Ireland] and saying, ‘You’re taking the call from Parcells, not me.’” Payton cracked. “There are traits that he learned, and we were both fortunate to have those three years together. But he’s real savvy, smart, and he loves football. He really did a good job, and our scouting department worked extremely hard as well.

“Anytime you have a transition like that, in Year 1 it’s not necessarily easy. Any one of us in a job that has a new leader, it’s not an easy transition. He did a great job of taking the information from the scouts, communicating the message, and I thought the process worked well.”

Payton said it was tough for the Saints to lose “a real talent” in Pace and said he’s sure Pace was “sweating bullets” throughout his own first draft as the Bears’ general manager.

“Trying to get him to trade was difficult,” Payton said of Pace. “But I’m sure he did a great job.”

As I mentioned in my draft recap video, the Saints’ 2015 draft was unprecedented in many ways during the 10-year history under Loomis and Payton. Here are some of them:

  • The nine picks overall were the most since 2002. The six defensive players they chose were the most for New Orleans since 1990 (when the draft was 12 rounds).

  • This was the first time the Saints took an offensive lineman in the first round in the Payton era (tackle Andrus Peat at pick No. 13). But Loomis pointed out that he’s never had any aversion to doing so. The Saints took OT Jammal Brown in Round 1 under Loomis’ watch in 2005. And the Seattle Seahawks drafted Hall of Famer Walter Jones in Round 1 during Loomis’ final year as part of the Seahawks’ front office in 1997.

  • This was the first time the Saints drafted a linebacker in either Rounds 1 or 2 during the Payton-Loomis era. And they did it twice – inside linebacker Stephone Anthony in Round 1 and outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha in Round 2.

  • This was the first time the Saints drafted a quarterback before Round 7 in the Payton-Drew Brees era (Garrett Grayson in Round 3). Technically it was the highest the Saints had drafted a quarterback since they took Archie Manning with the No. 2 overall pick in 1971. However, Loomis pointed out that the Saints did take QB Dave Wilson with the first pick in the 1981 supplemental draft.