The New Orleans Saints are ready to avenge the chagrins of last season, and at least by virtue of outward signals, it starts this week.
Head coach Sean Payton took his son Connor to the New Orleans Pelicans vs. Dallas Mavericks matchup Monday night in the Big D and ended up dishing on details about the Black and Gold’s rebuilding strategy with FOX Sports New Orleans.
The Saints aren’t waiting around for free agency to officially begin on March 10 to start formulating a roster for the upcoming season. Tryouts, in effect, begin this week for certain players.
"The trick is looking at the free agents available and sometimes there are players who are available now, who have been released, that aren’t guys that we’re waiting for Saturday," Payton said. "We’ll have a few players coming in as early as this week."
The upcoming NFL Draft is on Payton’s mind as well naturally. Payton and the Saints front office are looking to bolster a defense that didn’t live up to expectations last season.
"I think more important (than free agency) is how the draft stacks up at certain positions," Payton said. "I think specifically there will be a few defensive players we want to look at, whether they come the first week of free agency or later on."
Defense may be on Payton’s wish list, but he sees a draft awash in wide receiver wealth this year.
"It’s deep at receiver," Payton said. "Coming away from the Combine, there were a number of players that teams are going to find at a good value at that position later in the Draft. There is a decent amount of defensive linemen, a few safeties, if you’re looking for that position."
When it comes to the running back position though, Payton wants to stick with the Saints’ first round draft pick in 2011, Mark Ingram. The Saints previously declined to pick up Ingram’s 5th year option, a price tag of $5 million.
"I spoke with Mark today," Payton said. "The good thing about Mark is that we’re very close with his agent. Mickey (Loomis, the Saints general manager) will talk with him quite a bit. Obviously Mark is someone that we want to keep. Hopefully we can do that."
Meanwhile, health is a key for New Orleans, after injuries besieged the Saints last season, especially defensively.
Last season’s key free agent acquisition, safety Jairus Byrd, is a few weeks away from being at full strength after a season-ending meniscus tear in his knee, according to Payton.
"He’s doing well," Payton said. "His rehab is on schedule. He’ll be cleared for minicamp. We’re looking at about 2 or 3 weeks from him being 100 percent."
Good news for the Saints, a team that’s strapped in terms of salary cap space, barring some big cuts and/or contract restructuring acrobatics.
"You set a few goals," Payton said in reference to how the Saints will approach free agency. "You have to handle your own team, which is always challenging. You’re seeing it around the league with different players that all of us know are getting released. Mickey (Loomis) and I will work closely on that with regards to our own players. We’ll also be pretty selective and try to identify if there’s a fit for us in free agency."