Better leadership remains a big focus for the New Orleans Saints after a disappointing 7-9 season.
It was one of the first topics Saints coach Sean Payton brought up this week when asked what led to the Saints’ struggles in an interview with Pro Football Talk. Payton said the Saints could look to players both within and outside the organization to help improve it.
“I think we struggled with some leadership positions. I think, overall, there was a big change when all of a sudden guys like Will Smith, Jon Vilma, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins, Roman Harper … Darren Sproles in one offseason leave. I think the price of that experience and leadership hurt us some," Payton said of former Saints veterans who were either released, traded or unsigned in free agency last year.
“I think there’s gonna have to be a few guys we look at in free agency," Payton added. "I also think we have a good, young nucleus of players, a good locker room, by and large. And yet you can never take that for granted.”
Concerns about things such as leadership, maturity and professionalism were addressed often by veteran players late last season.
No specific players were singled out as offenders. But some of the complaints were that guys didn’t always have the right energy on game days and that too many players were letting the little things slide, such as being late to meetings or flights.
Payton said this week that the blame lies with him and other leaders of the organization as well.
“I think it’s creating the environment for leadership to flourish,” Payton said. “Sometimes that can be stifled, if you will. I’ve gotta do a better job of creating that environment, certainly better than we did a year ago.”
Payton said leadership was one of the topics discussed by him and general manager Mickey Loomis just one night earlier while they were in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine.
“That one theme for us has always been finding the tough, smart football players, guys that love playing,” Payton said. “And I think we’ve got that by and large, and yet that leadership element is something, starting with myself and Mickey and all the way down through the club, that we’ve gotta do a better job with. …
“We just keep paying attention to what’s winning. And again, you look at New England, the success they’ve had, the consistency that they’ve done it with. There’s been a formula for them and it’s something we tried to emulate when we first got here in ’06.”
As for the other issues that stymied the Saints in 2014, Payton mentioned too many turnovers on offense, not enough turnovers on defense, being “awful” on third downs on defense and an inability to finish games down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, we lost a number of close games.’ But there’s a reason why,” Payton said. “And that kept repeating itself.”