METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton shared a heartfelt story about his mother, cracked a joke that made everyone in the room laugh and talked openly about the New Orleans Saints' shortcomings with some recent free-agent signings.
All in the same answer.
That’s what kind of news conference it was as Payton met with the media for an hour on Wednesday after expressing his commitment to New Orleans.
Payton’s answer came when he was asked whether the team needs to improve the medical evaluations of free agents after some recent signings have battled injury issues.
“That would be one area. It’s something you gotta pay attention to,” Payton said. “My mom’s no longer alive, but she loved Sunday garage sales. That was her hobby. So we had probably 10 couches throughout my childhood. And they’d arrive with great fanfare, and then maybe on Tuesday there’d be a wobble.
“So we just gotta be careful that we’re excited about it for the full term.”
Payton didn’t mention any specific players. The first that comes to mind is safety Jairus Byrd, since he required back surgery before he ever hit the practice field when he signed a blockbuster deal in 2014. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe continued to battle hip issues last season after the Saints traded for him -- though he was available at a discounted rate because of his injury issues.
Byrd, running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker Victor Butler all suffered knee injuries after signing with the Saints in recent years, though those injuries were less predictable.
Regardless, the Saints have not gotten nearly enough bang for the buck with their three biggest free-agent signings of the past two years (Byrd, Spiller and cornerback Brandon Browner).
Payton said he wouldn’t say that puts more pressure on the Saints in free agency going forward, but “you’re certainly more guarded.”
“You just want to make sure that it’s the right fit,” said Payton, who added that he and general manager Mickey Loomis look closely at the success rates of the top free agents signed during the first few days of free agency each year. “There’s a lot of risk, because you go back every year, and you [ask], ‘If those teams, us included, whoever was involved, had it to do over again, would they or wouldn’t they sign that potential player?’ And oftentimes that percentage is not near where you’d expect it to be.”
Payton stressed that he wasn’t talking about any specific player the Saints have signed. And he said there are always exceptions. But, he said, “I think after that first week and things calm down, oftentimes there is an opportunity to sign someone who has more value. ... Just in general, the percentages and the numbers suggest that.”
The Saints have continued to spend aggressively in free agency in recent years even though they’ve been slammed tight against the salary cap.
But they’ve suffered because so many of their big contracts haven’t panned out. The deal that hurt most was re-signing outside linebacker Junior Galette to a large extension, then cutting him a year later because of character concerns. The Saints are projected to lead the NFL in “dead money” against the salary cap for the second year in a row in 2016.
When asked if there have been any disagreements or regrets about the way the Saints have approached the cap in recent years, Payton said, “I think the regrets are in hindsight, and they would always be money that would be considered dead money.”
But Payton expressed confidence that the Saints will work their way out of their cap situation -- especially once that dead money works its way off the books.
“I think much like a family that’s climbing out of maybe some college debt or climbing out of some loans, I think that we’re one year now away,” Payton said. “And as that cap [space] rises, we’ll manage that.”