Dom. Feb 25th, 2024

METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said he isn’t blind to the challenges facing the team heading into Year 3 of coach Dennis Allen’s tenure.

He heard the boos directed at quarterback Derek Carr and the team at times during their 9-8 season. He saw opposing fanbases showing up in droves to put a dent in the Saints’ home-field advantage on game days.

He even understood some of it.

«In terms of booing, the crowd reaction, that’s on us, that’s not on the fans,» Loomis said. «Look, if I was in the stands, there’s a couple times I might have booed.»

Loomis said he watched the Detroit Lions win their first playoff game since 1991 in the opening round. He took note of the crowd and the environment as his team fell just short of the postseason.

The Saints went through a similar experience in 2006 after getting to the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.

«We experienced that here. We experienced it in ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09 — you raise the bar, right? We raised the bar and that’s a good thing,» Loomis said. «And so now that we’ve raised the bar, we’ve got to meet it. If we’re not meeting it, that’s on us.»

Carr got a lot of the blame, but Carr’s teammates and coach spoke highly of their quarterback after his first season with the team.

«He’s been dealing with a lot of stuff this year — some things he didn’t even tell people about,» Saints leading receiver Chris Olave said after the season. «He’s been a lot better these past few weeks, and you could tell with the offense moving the ball with a lot of rhythm, with a lot of confidence. I’m excited to be able to play with him next year again.»

Loomis also said he was fired up about the upcoming season, admitting the organization needed «a boost in energy and excitement in our building» after they ended the season winning four of five.

«You have to win,» Loomis said of bringing the excitement back. «You have to perform well. That’s on us.»

Here are five important things Loomis had to say as the Saints begin their 2024 offseason:

Do the Saints need a culture shift?

Loomis said he didn’t like to use the term «culture» because he believes they have good people in the building that can get the team back to the playoffs. He said he also believes that everyone got too lax in the past few years and that it was his responsibility to fix it.

Loomis, when asked how he planned to do that, said he remains accountable for everything that goes on in the organization.

«Some of it’s out of our control,» Loomis said. «COVID, league rules, there’s things that are out of our control, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a standard that we set. It starts with me … and certainly our head coach and our coaching staff and all the people in the building are responsible for it, but it begins with me.»

Loomis also stated his belief that Allen could lead them back to the playoffs.

«I think the things that the head coach is responsible for, game-day management, scheduling, all the things that you guys don’t see that I see or that we see internally, I feel good about,» Loomis said. «There’s certainly areas that he can improve in, but look, we’ve had a quarterback change, we’ve had some things changed in the last two or three years, and so we’ve got to look at ourselves and say, OK, what’s our expectations? Are they realistic? And if we’re not meeting those expectations, what can we do differently? And I don’t believe that that’s the head coach right now. I like Dennis Allen. I think he’s a good coach.»

And Allen believes a team that missed the playoffs (and didn’t win the division) only because of a tiebreaker is close to getting on track.

«We improved in the win-loss record,» Allen said. «That’s one area. We took the ball away much better this season. I feel like we were more competitive in a lot of games this year. I thought we threw the ball better. I think we’re better in the passing game this year. I don’t think we ran the ball as effectively as we needed to. I think this was a more competitive team than the one we were last year. I thought our guys worked hard last year, but we were much improved in terms of our competitiveness this season.

But Allen is also aware of the expectations for the Saints — regardless of this season being a career best for him as a head coach — that future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and former coach Sean Payton helped elevate them to.

«Obviously when you get through the season and the expectations that, not only did the people outside of our building have for this team, but the people inside this building,» Allen said. «… I don’t think we met those expectations. Anytime you don’t do that, then yeah, I think there are a lot of things you have to look at as to what are those reasons — ‘why’ and ‘how’ do we change those?»

What is the state of the team’s salary cap?

Loomis couldn’t help but crack a joke in response to a question about the Saints’ salary cap issues this year.

«You mean like every year?» he said.

The 2024 salary cap hasn’t been set, but the Saints top 51 contracts would put them about $79.6 million over the projected cap of $240 million.

Some of the biggest cap numbers belong to aging players or those with questions about their return, including wide receiver Michael Thomas, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis, quarterback Taysom Hill and offensive lineman Andrus Peat.

Loomis attributed part of that issue to the reduced salary cap that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, something for which the team couldn’t plan.

«That’s caused us to recalibrate a little bit,» Loomis said. «But … we have to make up some ground. There’s no question over a period of time here we’re going to have to make up some ground cap-wise.»

The Saints have already adjusted some contracts, including that of starting cornerback Marshon Lattimore. They were able to cut his 2024 salary cap hit by $11 million by turning his base salary into an option bonus.

While that will give them more cap space during free agency and give them flexibility to make a trade, Loomis declined to name a specific reason for the move.

«It’s just cap management and I don’t want to get into the details of it,» Loomis said. «Yeah there was a purpose, but I’m not gonna tell you what the purpose is.»

Loomis also declined to say if the team would restructure Carr’s contract, which will count about $35.7 million against the cap this year.

«I don’t know. We’re going to have to restructure a lot of contracts. That’s all part of cap management,» Loomis said.

Can the Saints fix the offensive line?

The Saints have three significant issues with their offensive line. First, Peat, a former left guard who moved to left tackle this season, is set to become a free agent and will count about $13 million in dead money if he doesn’t return.

«He gets thrown back out there and did a good job,» Loomis said. «Really pleased with that, and I think that gives him some confidence as well.»

Ramczyk is dealing with knee issues that could make his future uncertain.

«Anytime you have a good player who’s going through a tough thing health-wise, you’re always concerned,» Loomis said. «And yet, I have a positive feeling about where he’s gonna end up, and I think he does as well. The Saints also haven’t figured out what to do with 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning, who was drafted to play left tackle but was benched five games into the season.

Loomis said Penning, who was hurt most of the 2022 season, probably shouldn’t have been rushed into a starting role. Penning was hurt at the beginning and end of the 2022 season, limiting his reps and what he could do at the start of the offseason.

«He gets hurt, and he has no offseason, and then we throw him in there as the starter Week 1,» Loomis said. «I think a lot of that falls on us in terms of where he was and what he was ready to do.»

Loomis said the organization remains high on Penning heading into Year 3.

«We’ve gotta do a better job in terms of development and preparing him to be ready,» Loomis said. «I think we will this offseason. I think we’ll have a good plan for him.»

Loomis also called current offensive line coach Doug Marrone a «fantastic» coach and said any plans of him retiring would be a surprise.

What do the Saints do at offensive coordinator?

The Saints parted ways with longtime offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael on Tuesday. Loomis declined to get into any specifics, but said it was a difficult and emotional decision.

«Pete’s such a great coach — not a good coach, he’s a great coach,» Loomis said. «… We had historically good offenses here for a long period of time. And Pete was a much bigger part of that than he gets credit for. Really brilliant. His first game as a playcaller I think we scored 60 points.»

Loomis said Carr will not have specific input in choosing the next offensive coordinator.

«We don’t ask our players to make decisions. We don’t. That’s not a burden that we put on them,» Loomis said. «Now we talk to a lot of our veteran players about the season, about the things that we expect from them, and they should certainly have expectations from us, but we’re not asking them to do any evaluations of any kind.»

Loomis said the team doesn’t plan to rush the process.

«Any decision of this magnitude, it just has to be a thoughtful, well-thought-out process, right? … There’s an obvious group of candidates, right?» Loomis said. «But there’s another group of candidates that might not be quite so obvious that we need to make sure that we take a look at, and we’ll do that.»

One candidate could be former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who previously worked with Carr and visited the Saints as a consultant this season.

Gruden filed an ongoing lawsuit against the NFL in 2021 alleging the league intentionally leaked emails that led to his resignation from the Raiders in 2021.

«I don’t really want to talk about any individual candidates for that role,» Loomis said. «It’s a fair question, but we’ll answer that when we hire.»

What about the roster?

The Saints had one of the oldest rosters in the league this season.

Loomis said he has seen similar statistics, but he doesn’t agree with taking it at face value.

«You got to look beyond just whatever the raw number is,» Loomis said. «Got to look at the core of your team. … A couple guys can skew that, so I don’t look at that like we’re an old team. I really don’t.»

Davis, who turned 35 on Jan. 11, was named an All-Pro this season, but at 34, Jordan’s two sacks were his lowest since having one in his rookie year (2011).

Loomis said there were several successful young players on the roster, naming defensive backs Alontae Taylor and Paulson Adebo, defensive end Carl Granderson and center Erik McCoy.

«Cam Jordan basically played on one leg for more than half the season and was productive. And so age is a number,» Loomis said. «I get to say that because of my age. It’s more about the performance, and I like some of these young guys that have come along.»


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