METAIRIE — Still feeling the sting from the franchise’s first losing season since 2007, New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis vowed Wednesday that nothing will be “swept under the rug” as team officials continue to look for answers in the wake of a 7-9 campaign.
With coach Sean Payton scheduled to return from a season-long suspension next month, Loomis said he and the football operations staff were busy evaluating everything that happened in a tumultuous season.
Speaking at length with a small group of reporters for the first time since his own suspension for misleading investigators looking into an alleged bounty scandal ended Nov. 5, Loomis said everyone — including himself — had a hand in the team’s fall from a 13-win season in 2011 to a losing record.
“We’ve got a higher standard than we’ve ever had here before,” Loomis said. “We had expectations coming into the season, and really, despite the adversity we had in the offseason — despite Sean not being here — our expectations were a lot higher.”
While he declined to delve into specific personnel decisions, most notably those that dealt with the performance of the Saints defense this season, Loomis spoke candidly on a number of topics.
Among them: His overall thoughts on the season, the return of Payton, a sticky salary cap situation they’ll face when free agency begins March 12, whether there will be some changes to the coaching staff, and mostly, his resolve to do what’s necessary to get the Saints back on track quickly.
While Loomis wouldn’t talk specifically about what needs to be done to get back to the playoffs next season because evaluations were ongoing, he said everything will be looked at.
“When you don’t do well — whether it’s special teams, defense, offense — everyone has a hand in that,” Loomis said. “I have a hand in that, our players have a hand in that, our coaches have a hand in that.
“We’ve got to jointly come up with solutions. So there’s no one person responsible for anything that happens here … we’re all responsible for it.”
Loomis said the bounty implications that hung over the organization since March won’t be used as an excuse in evaluating the season even though he said the team was affected to some degree.
To what degree, he said, no one will ever know.
“Here’s the question, more than anything else, is how many games would we have won if Sean were here?” he said. “Who can answer that? I can’t.
“There’s no question it had some effect on us, but did it ultimately change our record? No one knows.”
Loomis emphasized the Saints don’t need a major overhaul or a culture change to be successful again like they were when they won 41 games from 2009-11 — including Super Bowl XLIV.
“We do need to look at ourselves with a critical eye and say, ‘What do we need to do better, where we need to get better, what do we need to do to fix what happened during the season?,’ ” he said.
“We can’t say, ‘Oh, it was all about Sean not being here, (it was) all about the bounty, or other things that happened during the course of the season.’ We can’t say that, we’ve got to look at ourselves with a critical eye.”
While they search for answers, Loomis, who said it was “beyond disappointing” to be 7-9 and not playing for something, and the Saints will do so knowing Payton will soon be helping with the process.
The team announced later Wednesday that Payton had signed the five-year contract extension he agreed to last month, which means he’ll be ready to go when Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates him.
As for the defense, which set an NFL single-season record in allowing 7,042 yards, Loomis would only say it wasn’t very good after noting that first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a proven NFL coach.
Loomis said all assistants whose contracts expired have been offered extensions, but that Payton has the final say over who stays or goes.
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., who was given permission to interview for the Chicago Bears’ head coaching job, and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer are reportedly among the coaches whose contracts have expired.
Down the road, Loomis will have to deal with the 2013 salary cap.
He said the team is over the expected $121 million cap by a significant amount right now, but said it’s something they can “navigate” and is optimistic they’ll get through it like the past year.
“We’ve got guys that are disappointed, frustrated, angry about the season we just had,” Loomis said. “So that’s a good sign — guys that care, guys that are determined to do better next year — and I’m talking about players, coaches, staff.
“We’re not sweeping this under the rug. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, it’s just because of the controversy from last season.’ ”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad. The first alternate at the position, Brees replaces Washington Redskins’ rookie Robert Griffin III, who had knee surgery Tuesday.
Brees will play in the Pro Bowl for the sixth time as a member of the Saints, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Rickey Jackson behind club record-holder William Roaf’s seven selections.
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