Clock is ticking away for Payton/Brees era


It is the conclusion of the 2016 season, and here are two scenarios:
 
1. In Week 17, Saints head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees meet with the media.
 
“We are excited about the great, young nucleus put together here by Coach Payton and Mickey Loomis and Jeff Ireland,” says Brees. “These young guys, I think give us a chance to get back to the Super Bowl.”
 
Payton said his team is focused on beating Tampa Bay this Sunday and clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
 
The last time the Saints were the No. 1 seed, they beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl in February of 2010.
 
Or ...
 
2. It is the conclusion of the 2016 season and Saints quarterback Drew Brees laments his team’s 7-9 finish.
 
Brees, who turns 38 in January 2017, hopes to have another chance to get back to the playoffs soon and “have a chance to make some noise.”
 
One or two of these scenarios could occur at the end of the 2016 season.
 
Every offseason is important, but if the Saints don’t get it right in free agency and the draft, Scenario No. 2 is more likely than No. 1.
 
The hands on that clock, the one ticking on the Payton/Brees era, seem to be moving faster these days. Especially after the Saints lost their last five home games on the way to a 7-9 season.
 
What happened?
 
Payton, who did not have a scheduled media briefing at the NFL Combine, told profootballtalk.com that the Saints underestimated the loss of leadership in the locker room when veterans Roman Harper, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma all departed.
 
But the biggest culprit in the Saints’ unexpected slide from 11 regular-season wins to seven is better explained by a lack of good, young players.
 
Brees is 36. Wide receiver Marques Colston, guard Jahri Evans, and tackle Zach Strief are 31. All were part of the 2006 draft, one of the best in team history.
 
Running back Pierre Thomas is 30. Cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Curtis Lofton are 28.
 
Behind them, there is a void of young talent. Dallas, Green Bay and Seattle have better young players. The Saints must rush to acquire them in time for Brees to get one more chance at a Super Bowl ring.
 
In 2008, the Saints were an 8-8 team with a solid, young nucleus. In the offseason, the Saints signed defensive backs Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer and added defensive back Malcolm Jenkins in the draft. The Saints’ pass defense was fixed.
 
Now, the Saints need to make good decisions in free agency and the draft.
 
How critical is the situation? In January, at the Senior Bowl, Loomis fired his long-time confidant and director of college scouting, Rick Reiprish.
 
In comes former Miami general manager Jeff Ireland as the chief scout. In Miami, he had more misses than hits. In Dallas, as a scout, he had more hits than misses. Ireland better be on his game.
 
That press conference at the end of the 2016 season will be here, as Sean Payton says, “sooner rather than later.”
 
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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