Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness Sports
METAIRIE, La. ― A year after losing precious few players to the market, the Saints are facing a situation in which more than 25 players will a free agent of some sort depending on the wording of what will become the collective bargaining agreement.
Just don't expect head coach Sean Payton or general manager Mickey Loomis to hand out any information regarding which direction they're going to go.
'One of the messages and one of the first things I'll tell our players tomorrow is don't believe a word you read in regards to this free agency,' Payton said during his season post-mortem with local media Monday. 'For good reason, we won't have any contact or any comment in any way, shape or form about the direction we're going with any of these players specifically.
'They'll know that anything written or talked about will be purely conjecture, speculation and so that way they'll know to come see me directly, come visit with Mickey (Loomis) and we'll discuss on a case-by-case basis if there are any questions. That line of communication is critical.'
Included in the list of free agents, at least according to the old CBA rules which will expire on March 1, are tight end David Thomas, running back Pierre Thomas, left tackle Jermon Bushrod, fullback Heath Evans, strong safety Roman Harper, receiver Lance Moore and center Jonathan Goodwin.
Payton will have his exit team meeting with the players Tuesday before conducting exit interviews.
Despite the CBA expiration and no new agreement seemingly coming anytime soon, Payton said business will go on as usual this offseason.
'Clearly that's where every team's operating right now,' Payton said. Maybe we're getting ahead of the horse. Yes, we'll be in the midst of our evaluations. We'll be in the midst of our cut ups and scheme review. And then we'll be in the midst of the Senior Bowl.'
Nevertheless, the Saints should have enough leadership coming back quarterback Drew Brees, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, to name a few players that Payton isn't worried about the window beginning to close on New Orleans' ability to stay at or near the top of the league.
And, in fact, the recent success of New Orleans, from going to the 2006 NFC championship game to winning Super Bowl XLIV, will help keep expectations there, Payton said.
'You expect to have success,' he said. 'It's always a little tougher to swallow. Ultimately, that's the sign that you have in fact changed the direction of what's expected. ... I think everyone of these guys will take advantage of the time away, re-energize and when the time comes, get refocused again to that commitment of winning football and trying to win another championship.'
Regardless, some familiar names likely won't be back for the 2011 campaign whenever it starts.
But Payton put perspective on the task ahead.
Daunting? Not at all, he said.
'I think it's pretty common if you begin to look at rosters and you might tie some of it the collective bargaining agreement,' Payton said. ' I don't think it's daunting. Daunting was '06. This is another challenge. We'll be ready for it.'
List of Free Agents heading into the offseason (based on language in old collective bargaining agreement; 4 years in NFL or longer means unrestricted, 3 years or fewer means restricted):
Four years or more: LB Scott Shanle, C Jonathan Goodwin, S Darren Sharper, FB Heath Evans, DT Anthony Hargrove, DL Jimmy Wilkerson, RB Julius Jones, RB Ladell Betts, LB Danny Clark, LB Kawika Mitchell, S Pierson Prioleau, S Matt Giordano, S Roman Harper, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, OT Zach Strief, KR Courtney Roby, CB Leigh Torrence, RB Pierre Thomas, OT Jermon Bushrod, DT Remi Ayodele, DE Jeff Charleston, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Usama Young, S Chris Reis, TE Tory Humphrey, RB DeShawn Wynn.
Three years or fewer: G Carl Nicks, K Garrett Hartley, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LB Anthony Waters, WR Adrian Arrington, LB Ramon Humber