“It’s tough because of the finality of it. One minute you’re playing and then the next minute the season’s over and everybody’s kind of going their separate ways. It’s the last time that this team will be together, this group of guys and as every offseason comes around there’s free agency and guys you end up losing and guys you hope you are able to keep more than you lose. There’s the draft and you get this new influx of young guys. Guys get a year older. There’s always changes. There’s always turnover. Every year’s a new year. We sit back and kind of reflect back on the season. We have a lot to be proud of. I thought we overcame a lot. We had a great offseason. Just watching this team come together with Sean (Payton) coming back, some of the changes and improvements we made, I feel like will serve us well moving forward. It makes you excited about the future. But, it also saddens you know the season’s over and everybody’s kind of going their separate ways and we’re not going to be in this locker room for a while.”
Do you have any advice to Jimmy Graham in how he moves forward as his contract is scheduled to expire?
“It’s all part of the process. He’s in a great situation. It’s an exciting time for him. He’s had a great four years as a young player in this league, added a great deal to this team. Now, here he is with the opportunity to sign a nice contract and something that will hopefully carry him through the rest of his career. Those are fun exciting things, also nerve-wracking to an extent. There’s a process that goes along with it and I think he knows that. We’ve had conversations about that. I’m not worried about that at all.”
Sean Payton discussed how he believes the window is open as long as he is here and you guys are stepping on the field. Is it players and coaches responsibilities to keep that window open and keep it open as long as possible?
“Absolutely. You look around and look at the veteran leadership we have on this team, look at the young talent, look at the systems in which we play, this organization, the expectation level we’ve set for ourselves, the track record and you would say that the future is as bright as we want it to be as hard as we are willing to work. It’s all there for us now. Every year’s a new year and you have to re-establish that identity every year, but the term window of opportunity, in my opinion, it’s always there for us, for this team, for this organization, for this staff, for this group of players, it’s always open.”
Was the production of the young players on this team encouraging?
“That’s big, because you like to believe that the system that you have and therefore this team is only going to get better. You have to earn it. You’re not entitled to everything just because you have a big group of talent. You need to put together a great team. I know that everything that we go through to assemble that team throughout the offseason, training camp and into the season, I know we have the ability to do that and that gets me excited.”
Do you anticipate the team asking you to explore how much flexibility you have in terms of the club’s cap situation and discussing that with them?
“I have no idea. They haven’t come to me with anything in the past or as of yet. I’d say every team is under cap constraints. Every team has a cap. I think every team deals with these types of things every year. So, here we are still in mid-January. Free agency isn’t until March 11? There’s obviously a lot of time between now and then.”
As a businessman, what’s your philosophy on that?
On valuing contract structure, value versus winning and the other revenues that your current situation can bring you outside of football?
“As far as our team, I know that our team is going to spend whatever they…I don’t think our team as long as I’ve been here has not been in a situation where they’re not going to do what they feel like they need to do to field the best team. Within cap constraints, whatever they feel like they need to do, for me obviously I signed a six-year deal when I first got here. I’m two years in to a five-year deal and hopefully I can play that out and sign another deal and continue to play this game even longer. I get compensated very well. I don’t take that for granted for one second. But I play this game because I love this game. I love this locker room and I love the opportunity to win a championship.”
If they came to you and asked, would you restructure?
“Whatever I can do to help this team, if they want to come to me and extend me even further that would be great (laughter). There are so many possibilities of what could happen here. Let’s just let this offseason start. Today’s the second day of it unfortunately. We all wish it wasn’t. (I’m for) Whatever helps this team win and puts the best team on the field.”
It seemed like as the season went on teams weren’t focused on a deep threat and were more concentrated on defending underneath stuff, did you think the offense missed this deep threat at times?
“No, when I look at the last four out of six games where we were on the road, maybe five out of seven, I don’t think it was defensive scheme. I don’t think it was where we were playing or elements or anything like that. I felt like we made our fair share of plays I would say maybe a few went over that six or seven game span we were a little below our big play average, our scoring average or what have you. I don’t sit here and necessarily attribute it to one thing or another. We still dialed up our shots, we still called them, we still attempted them, but maybe for whatever reason we didn’t get as many as we normally have.”
Do you think this team is in the mix with San Francisco and Seattle?
“Yes, absolutely. We beat Carolina here this year. We beat San Francisco. We unfortunately lost three to that group of teams (Carolina and Seattle) on the road. I feel like we are as much a contender as anybody. I think we’ve proven that over the last eight years, six years, four years, any span of time you want to pick since we’ve been here, I think we’ve certainly proven we’re a contender every year. As you look at our group of players, whether veteran or young, our talent, we’re in position to continue that for a long time. Again, you’re not entitled to anything. You have to put it together every year. Based upon our track record I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t.”
How did you feel this year personally?
“I felt as good this year at times as I’ve ever felt. Throwing the football, just seeing things, processing things and that obviously got me excited, feeling like I can do this for a long time. (I’ve been) playing at a high level for a long time now. That part gets tougher. Obviously as you get older there are other things week to week, the challenge of keeping your body ready to play at the highest level, that type of thing. That’s mother nature catching up with all of us, but I don’t feel like I’ve physically, mentally, psychologically (lost anything). I still feel like I’m on this upward tick. I certainly won’t let myself believe otherwise.”
Are you excited about this young running game that developed over the last two postseason games with Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram leading the way?
“Very excited. I think those two backs just from a physical power running standpoint, especially down the stretch, they were tough. I felt the offensive line did a phenomenal job kind of paving the way for those guys. (Darren) Sproles was Sproles, as consistent as ever. Pierre (Thomas) I felt like had one of his best years since he’s been here. So, when you’re just talking about the running back corps and the guys blocking in front of them, I was extremely pleased.”
13 years into your career, seeing teams like Philadelphia do some new things, do you go to Sean Payton and make suggestions about certain wrinkles that you would like to incorporate or does he just do that and you implement it?
“He does it. I always have my ideas from watching film or as the offseason’s going on. I have a litany of notes from the season just as things come up. (I) just kind of log them away until the end of the season as maybe kind of an offseason project to kind of study and look at a little bit more. He does the same as does Pete Carmichael, (and) Joe Lombardi. We all spent some time up there right now talking about those things. You always kind of have those things logged away and save them for the offseason. We have our system. We are who we are and yet I feel we are very flexible in regards to the personnel we have and what we’re able to do as far as implementing some of those things. We’re not always the ones who are coming up with the great ideas. We’re out stealing ideas just like everybody else. When you look at some of the things other offenses are doing, that’s a heck of a concept and we have the players to do it, but let’s implement it and see how it works. Some stuff sticks and some stuff doesn’t, but I’d say every year you come up with new stuff whether you come up with it on your own or you saw somebody else do it, saying even if we’re not going to do it exactly like that, we can tweak this a little bit to fit our personnel or fit our profile. You’re always looking for ways to evolve, make yourself better and kind of stay one step ahead of the competition.”