METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints came away with a pretty good draft haul this week with six players in the first three rounds, led by cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who might be the highest-rated defensive player they've landed in the entire Sean Payton-Mickey Loomis era.
So it's not really fair to dwell on a player they almost drafted. But it's hard to ignore the shockwaves the Saints would have sent through New Orleans and maybe even the rest of the NFL if they had drafted quarterback Patrick Mahomes II with the No. 11 pick instead.
Payton confirmed Saturday that the Saints would have drafted Lattimore ahead of Mahomes -- but that Mahomes was the next player on their board and they would have taken him at No. 11 if Lattimore had gone 10th instead.
That obviously doesn't mean the Saints are intent on replacing 38-year-old starter Drew Brees at all costs -- since they didn’t wind up drafting a quarterback at all this year.
But it would have created a fascinating dynamic, especially since Brees is heading into the final year of his contract.
Payton acknowledged this is the first time the Saints have come close to drafting a QB that high in his 12 years as Saints coach.
"Listen, we've had discussions about drafting a quarterback maybe 10 picks out, eight picks out -- I can't recall in the first round. So probably in the time I've been here, this would have been the first discussion at 11 or a pick like that that we’ve discussed a quarterback," said Payton, who said that was because of their high grade on Mahomes -- not because of Brees' age.
"Put [Mahomes] in our room and go through the process like we did, we're gonna have a high grade on him three years ago [or any year]. Now, whether you’re willing to invest a first-round pick that early in the process [in past years is unknown]. But we just had a real strong opinion of him, then went and had a private workout with him and went through the process. ...
"But listen, it all worked out. It worked out real good."
Chances are, the Saints would not have forced Brees out the door next year if they drafted Mahomes at No. 11 -- especially if Brees continues to play at the same level he did in 2016.
But would Brees have definitely wanted to re-sign? Would they have allowed Brees to keep playing until he's 45 -- as Brees believes he is capable of doing? Would it have turned into a Tom Brady-Jimmy Garoppolo situation, where the backup waits indefinitely? Or would it have ended up like a Joe Montana/Steve Young or Brett Favre/Aaron Rodgers situation, where the Hall of Famer eventually got pushed out?
I did a detailed research project on how every NFL team with a Hall of Fame quarterback has replaced him over the past 40 years -- and there are a lot of misses to go along with those classic hits.
Clearly, though, the quarterback position is important enough that those questions could be filed under the category of "Good problem to have.'
And the only reason the Saints would have invited those questions is because they feel like Mahomes would have been worth it.
"The one thing that stood out, this player could climb, escape, throw from all the positions. And we play in an imperfect game where there’s protection issues. And we just saw him make throws going left, going right, through the pocket, up in the pocket," Payton said. "I mean really unique throws. And look, man, in a conference and on a team where they had to go into a game feeling like scoring 45 was gonna give 'em a chance ... And when you meet him, then, and you get a chance to visit with him on the football DNA, I think Kansas City and Andy [Reid] and those guys got a heck of a player.
"Fortunately for us, their selection of Patrick pushed Lattimore down a spot."
Payton's opinion on quarterback prospects is highly valued because his background is as a quarterbacks coach. When asked if he has been a tough grader on QB prospects in the past, Payton said there is usually one or two or three that he likes in a given draft class.
Another one this year was Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs -- though the Saints didn't feel strongly enough about him to use one of their three third-round picks on him.
"Here's the thing I see and hear often: 'Well, they didn’t get their quarterback in the first round and they went ahead and drafted one in the third round and they got great value,'" Payton said. "Well, what if only two of 'em in this draft are worth it?
"So there's some years we might like one, there's some years we might like two or three. We kinda liked the Tennessee kid later in the draft, Dobbs, we had a real good visit with him. And we always use that expression, 'It's not rocket science' when we're coaching. He's the first player we could actually say, 'Well, it is for him.' It’s his major."