METAIRIE, La. -- One of the most frustrating examples of the lack of maturity and professionalism that so many New Orleans Saints veterans harped on this season was an inordinate amount of players showing up late to meetings or flights.
Though nobody was singled out individually, several players acknowledged Monday that there was an increase in fines for such things. At some point, coach Sean Payton even showed the team a chart illustrating that clubs with less team fines will often have more success.
"Look, all of those things become more heightened with losses," Payton said. "That wasn't unnecessarily higher than the norm. But there's an element to what has brought us success here. Success for a long period of time. And all of a sudden, when you have a season like this, you gotta look closely at, hey, let's make sure the little things are being taken care of. It's one of the topics we talked about in the team meeting."
Players insisted such indiscretions didn't reach the level of some of the issues being reported with young players being punished in Cleveland this past week. And players insisted that there were never any major concerns with a "poisonous" atmosphere in the locker room. In fact, offensive tackle Zach Strief said, "Considering the difficulty of the season, I thought the locker room stayed together really well."
But Strief said issues like that became very frustrating to him as a veteran leader who needs to police such things.
"I think the biggest problem is it wasn't taught that those things are not OK. It was assumed that you would know that," Strief said. "The perception sometimes from a young guy could be, 'Well, maybe being five minutes late didn't lose that game' -- which is true. But a bunch of guys with the mentality that the rules don't apply to them can lose that game. So that's why you talk about the 'little things.'"
"It's been higher this year than my first two years here. We had so many people late this year, guys late for planes. It's been so many issues with just basic stuff like showing up on time," said cornerback Corey White, who said he had never been fined himself. "Little things like that, I would hate to say that's the reason why we haven't had success on the field. But things like that you can control, you don't want to give 'em a reason to point to something out like that."
Payton and players have been equally frustrated with letting the "little things" slide on the field. Payton mentioned jumping offside on fourth-and-2 or losing the turnover battle in too many hard-fought games.
A few weeks ago, Payton's message to players was that they've become "that team" that they used to plan against, knowing they'd eventually beat themselves.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro said that message also applied to the off-field issues.
"Coach Payton, we pride ourselves on being an organization that's not that organization," said Vaccaro, who also said it wasn't a personal issue for him. "You heard him say a couple weeks ago that we're 'that team' that's making those mistakes. Well, 'that team' he's talking about is doing things like [arriving] late to meetings, late to the planes, having rookies do this, rookies do that.
"You just don't hear about that with the Patriots, you don't hear about that junk with the Packers. And we're part of that group of a team that's built that culture. So we've just gotta get that out.
"Honestly, looking back on the season, those things, I don't think they determine the outcome of games. But at the same time, those little things are just stuff we didn't do last year. Last year, we didn't have any of that in this locker room. So you're gonna look to things like that when a season goes this poorly."
Though no specific instances were revealed, we do know of at least three player discipline issues that came up this season. Rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt was released by the team, reportedly because of missing or being late to meetings. Receiver Joe Morgan was suspended for two games for an unspecified team issue. And defensive tackle John Jenkins was left behind on a road trip for a game for an unspecified reason early in the year.
The good news, according to Strief, is that this should be "fixable stuff."
And as veteran linebacker Curtis Lofton said, a season like this will help drive home the point.
"One thing about football, what it does, it humbles you. So I think a lot of guys were humbled this year," Lofton said. "You've gotta do the things that put you in the position that got you here."
"Stay humble, stay hungry," White added. "That's the attitude we've gotta have next year."