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METAIRIE, La. – Robert De Niro paid a visit to the New Orleans Saints’ offices on Wednesday on the eve of the NFL Draft. Sort of.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis did his best De Niro imitation during a press conference about the Draft, which has become an annual rite of spring down here along with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that “kicks off” on Friday at the Fairgrounds.
“Maybe, a little bit,” Loomis said in De Niro style when asked about the Saints’ trade early this month with Philadelphia to get an extra first round pick Thursday night (8 p.m. eastern, NFL Network, ESPN, ABC). “A little bit.”
The Saints dealt their future, so to speak, as they traded their 2023 first round pick and a second round pick in 2024 along with their original 18th pick of this first round and their third round pick in this draft (No. 101) to the Eagles for picks No. 16 and 19 in the first round and a sixth round pick (No. 194).
New Orleans routinely made such trades of the future for the now when it had coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and was more of a playoff contender with a Super Bowl-or-bust mentality.
Well, last year, the Saints went 9-8 and didn’t reach the playoffs after four straight seasons of 11 or more wins and four straight NFC South titles with three playoff advancements, including to the NFL title game in the 2018 season.
Yes, there were a lot of injuries last season, but the Saints are still approaching the Draft as if they’re a player or two away, even though they have Dennis Allen and Jameis Winston at head coach and quarterback, respectively? Neither are exactly proven pillars of the playoffs.
Allen was a good defensive coordinator with the Saints, but he was 8-28 as a head coach with Oakland from 2012-14. And Winston tended to throw interceptions when he was with Tampa Bay like Allen lost games. Winston improved drastically last season in New Orleans before an injury ended his season on Halloween, but that was under Payton – a quarterback whisperer. How will he do without him?
Nevertheless, Loomis is apparently still operating as if the Saints are right there and Payton and Brees are still here?
The question was asked this way:
“What does that trade say about where the team is now? Are you expecting a playoff run, wanting an extra pick a year early?”
Yeah, a little bit was the answer.
“But not,” Loomis said, then interrupted himself. “Look, I think in any circumstance, we would be evaluating at that kind of opportunity and deciding whether or not it made sense for us.”
But giving up a first rounder in 2023 is very expensive, particularly if the Saints are slightly better this season with that new coach and inconsistent quarterback. But should Payton accept another NFL head coaching position before his contract expires in 2024, the Saints would likely get a first round pick as compensation. Still, a first round pick in 2023 is expensive.
But Loomis could have been looking at the future with his trade as well. Because he believes that the first 20 spots of this draft are gold, and 21-50 is a clear lower level. So, he traded up. In some drafts, the players slated to fall between 15-50 are close enough to trade down for more picks, rather than the other way around. Not this year. Loomis wants the extra pick in the top 20.
“Yes. There is a group of players that we like, and we think they’re going to be available (in the top 20),” Loomis said. “We wouldn’t make a deal, if we didn’t think we were going to end up with a good player in that spot. We were deep, deep into the evaluation process already. It was an opportunity to get a talented player in our program a year earlier than we would ordinarily, as simple as that.”
In other words, next year is next year. We’ll worry about that then. That seems to be the Saints’ philosophy all the time now.
Now, where will the Saints go with their picks at No. 16 and No. 19 and No. 49 overall in the second round and No. 98 overall in the third round on Friday (7 p.m. eastern, NFL Network, ESPN, ABC) and No. 120 overall in the fourth round on Saturday (noon eastern, NFL Network, ESPN, ABC)?
Loomis was very less forthcoming there.
Quarterback? Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett will likely be available in the first round, as will Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, who could fall to the second round.
“Yeah, that’s not an area I want to get into,” Loomis said.
So, did he just show his hand? If so, look for OutKick’s Armando Salguero’s mock draft to be correct with the Saints taking Pickett at 19 in the first round. He has the Saints taking Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave with No. 16 in the first round.
The Saints clearly need a wide receiver, even if Michael Thomas does return as the best of the NFL, or close to it.
Another pointed question to Loomis went like this:
“How do the strengths of the draft line up with the areas you all are most interested in?”
“Well, how can I answer that without giving you any information? That’s my specialty,” Loomis cracked. “Yeah, I think I don’t think I’m going to answer that. That’s what I think. I think at the end of the day, we’re going to get players at positions that we like. Is that good enough?”
Wow, I thought Payton had left the building.
Loomis was more direct when asked about entering a draft without Payton, which is something he has not done since Jim Haslett was the coach in 2005, which was a terrible Draft.
“Quieter,” he said.
Which means the pressure is on Loomis like never before.
That would have been a good question for him. It wasn’t asked, but he probably wouldn’t have answered that one either.