Saints back-to-work FYI

Readiness factor: The Saints got a lot of media attention during the players-only workouts. This team did as good a job of handling the lockout as any team in the league. The workouts were well attended, and quarterback Drew Brees and linebacker Jonathan Vilma were running the offense and defense, respectively. The coaches weren’t around, but Brees and Vilma have basically been coaches on the field for the past few years, so the Saints probably weren’t getting away with too many mistakes while working on their own. It also helps that the Saints are largely a veteran team. They also have a coaching staff that’s remained mostly in place. The lockout wasn’t ideal for any team, but the Saints are probably in better shape than most as they come out of it.

Biggest challenge: That’s going to come more off the field than on it. General manager Mickey Loomis and the personnel department are going to have some busy days ahead of them. The Saints have a bunch of free agents, and they want to keep some of them. You can bet Loomis, coach Sean Payton and the rest of the staff already have a good idea of whom they want to retain and whom they might want to target in free agency. The Saints aren’t afraid to bring in guys from the outside, and even after filling some holes in the draft, the Saints still may be looking for help at outside linebacker. If they lose some free agents they want to keep, they might have some other holes to quickly address.

The Reggie Bush factor: It’s clear something has to give when it comes to the running back’s future. He’s scheduled to make nearly $12 million in base salary and count $16 million against this year’s salary cap. The Saints can’t afford to let those numbers stay the same. They either have to release Bush or try to sign him to a contract extension that would make this year’s cap figure more manageable. The presence of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Lynell Hamilton gives the Saints plenty of alternatives at running back.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Safety Darren Sharper, linebacker Scott Shanle, fullback Heath Evans, safety Roman Harper and tight end David Thomas.