NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton said he didn’t mean to insinuate on a television appearance that record-setting quarterback Drew Brees informed him of plans to retire after the upcoming season.
“I’m a big dummy,” Payton said Wednesday during a conference call with media in New Orleans. “I honestly don’t know if it’s his last year. I think the thing he’s done, and we’ve all done, is taking it year by year.”
Brees, 41, is entering his 20th season. Shortly before becoming a free agent in March, Brees signed a two-year, $50 million contract to remain with the club he joined in 2006.
On Tuesday, Payton was being interviewed on ESPN when he mentioned the Saints had a “unique” quarterback situation because Brees was coming back for a “final season.” He clarified on Wednesday he really meant to convey the idea that the Saints can’t really know for sure if Brees will keep playing in 2021 until the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing, completions and touchdowns passing makes that call himself.
“Probably, in my mind, it really started with the idea that this year was unique in that he spent some time thinking about, ‘Hey, am I ready to come back for another season?'” Payton said. “So before we deal with the year after this season, I know the focal point for us will be this season.”
Brees has said repeatedly during the past few years that at his age, he believes it is best to re-evaluate his desire to continue playing after each season.
Payton, meanwhile, has ended his quarantine after recovering from the coronavirus and now goes to work at the sprawling new Dixie Brewery in an industrial section of eastern New Orleans.
Having addressed the defensive and offensive lines, secondary and receiver position in free agency, Payton said the club’s focus is turning toward the draft.
“There’s still a handful of things we’re looking at relative to either the kicking game. Interior offensive linemen is something we’ll pay close attention to; we think this draft has got some really good options there,” Payton said. “Obviously there’s lot of receivers in this draft. From a secondary standpoint, we’ll pay close attention to the corner market and then I would say also at linebacker.”
The Saints also are keeping a close eye on quarterbacks. Because of reserve QB Taysom Hill’s unconventional role as a change-of-pace utility player who does everything from read-option runs to lining up as a tight end or playing special teams, Payton said the club will need a third QB. While that is most likely to be a veteran, the Saints aren’t ruling out rookies.
Payton said the club recently conducted a video conference with Utah State QB Jordan Love, whom Payton predicted would be taken in the first two rounds of the draft, which begins April 23.
“We’re not saying it has to be a veteran player. It will be best available player that we feel like fits our program,” Payton said. “But know with what want to do with Taysom, that we’re going to have not only a third quarterback, but that quarterback is going to be up on game day.”
The brewery, owned by Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, is closed to normal operations, Payton said. But the coach, general manager Mickey Loomis, college scouting director Jeff Ireland and a few other staffers have set up in an expansive room where they can keep their distance from one another and communicate with area scouts through video conferences.
“We’re using all the (Center for Disease Control) guidelines,” Payton said, noting, for example, that no one enters the room without taking their temperature. “There’s plenty of space. I’m kind of like the guy they all want to sit away from, and I’m like, ‘Look, I’m the safest guy in the room.'”
Payton said with video conferencing, some meetings involve around 20 people, even though no more than seven people are in the draft room.
After bringing back Brees, defensive tackle David Onyemata and left guard Andrus Peat — who were all due to become free agents — the Saints added Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins, San Francisco receiver Emmanuel Sanders and fullback Michael Burton. The Saints also made a first-round tender to Hill, a restricted free agent, meaning the Saints would get a first-round draft choice if they declined to match any offer Hill received from another team.
Among the players to leave the Saints in free agency were cornerback Eli Apple, reserve QB Teddy Bridgewater and linebacker A.J. Klein.