BATON ROUGE, La. -- Jeff Ireland knows a good fit when he sees one. So when the New Orleans Saints’ former player personnel director, Ryan Pace, was hired away as the Chicago Bears general manager, Ireland sent a text message to Saints GM Mickey Loomis:
“Hey, keep me in mind.”
That led to informal interviews with Loomis and Saints coach Sean Payton to “see if we were on the same page.” And it ultimately led to Ireland becoming the Saints’ assistant GM, heading up the team’s college scouting department.
“It was a great conversation [with Loomis], had the same conversation with Sean,” said Ireland, the former Miami Dolphins general manager, who said he considered Loomis a friend and “mentor” from getting to know him over the years as a young personnel guy moving up the ranks.
Ireland also knew Payton well from their days working together with the Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells.
“Both sides were comfortable. … And it’s great to be part of this organization,” said Ireland, who met with the local New Orleans media for the first time since his January hire during LSU’s pro timing day on Friday.
Ireland said it’s been a “rat race,” joining the Saints this late into the scouting process. He’s been visiting about three schools per week while also getting to know the Saints’ scouts and coaches and helping to put their draft board together.
But he said it’s been a great experience after he spent last season out of football for the first time in nearly two decades.
“I was watching a lot of football, but it’s different when you’re watching football on the couch versus watching football in the meeting room and writing reports,” Ireland said. “When you’re out of football and you love football, you grow to appreciate the game more. I missed it so much. I missed the relationships that you have.
“It’s good to be back in the mix.”
Among other topics Ireland discussed:
Ireland said he “didn’t start the conversation” about trading for former Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, whom Ireland had signed to a five-year, $35 million contract two years ago. But he said he was certainly part of the conversation, since he had intimate knowledge of Ellerbe. "He's a productive football player. He's a great person. He’s a good leader. He's athletic,” Ireland said. “I only got the one year with him. He's transitioning defenses. We've got to get him healthy [after he missed 15 games last year with a hip injury]. And if he gets back to full health, he's going to be a productive football player for this franchise."
Ireland joked that it was a “prerequisite” for him taking the job that the Saints load up with nine draft picks, including two first-rounders. But on a serious note, he said that opens up a world of possibilities. “It gives you a lot of flexibility. You can do pretty much anything you want to in the early rounds of the draft. You can slide back, you can move up, you can use a combination of picks to do anything you want. Again, that's going to be up to Mickey and Sean. I'm gonna be part of the process. My job is to put the board together and make sure we've got players in the right positions, and let them make the decisions based on what they need."
Ireland said “you don’t want to make a habit of trading young players away.” But he said of the bold moves the Saints made this offseason, including trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills: “In this particular instance, those were some things that Mickey and Sean wanted to do, and we were all for it as an organization. And we’re looking forward to [having so many draft picks now], because we’ve got some holes to fill.”