On eve of practice, Saints say they’re comfortable with high expectations

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said he’s not surprised to see fourth-year running back Mark Ingram having a successful season.
Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said he’s not surprised to see fourth-year running back Mark Ingram having a successful season.

WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. — The New Orleans Saints are learning that sustained success births a certain set of issues that did not exist when losses were met with shrugs and mutters of “Oh, shucks.”

There are expectations now. Wins and trophies are expected. Core players will demand to be paid.

No, these issues are not new issues. But with the training camp here and The Greenbier resort serving as the backdrop, many of these issues were at the forefront of conversation when general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton addressed the media Thursday evening.

“It’s what we wanted, right?” Payton said. “It’s trying to change the culture, to create an environment where you feel like you have chance to be successful, a chance to win each season.”

On paper, these Saints should have no issue finding success. Defensive end Cameron Jordan created headlines earlier this month when he proclaimed on NFL Network that this was his year to get a Super Bowl ring. And former Saints great Archie Manning laid the kindling for Jordan by earlier stating this is the most talented roster he has seen in New Orleans.

Comments such as those mean that a repeat of last season’s 11-5 record and a loss in the NFC divisional playoffs will be a disappointment to fans.

It might not be Super Bowl or bust, but it’s at least something close to that.

Managing those expectations and making sure that his players do not buy into the hype — as well as refrain from creating it — is something Payton expects to be an ongoing process throughout camp and well into the season.

“One of the challenges as a head coach every year is managing the outside — and I don’t want to use the word ‘noise’ — but managing the outside when things are going well and managing that and being guarded,” Payton said. “And when things aren’t going well, managing that and staying focused to not let that derail you. This team will be measured not by what people are saying today on talk shows or newspapers. It will be measured really at the end of the season.”

As for Loomis, he’s having no part of any conversation about expectations or what he believes the Saints are capable of. Few people were dissusing the Saints as contenders in the lead-up to the 2009 season, and some national media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, predicted they would miss the playoffs.

So Loomis said any talk about what this team might accomplish is foolish. Until New Orleans wins another Super Bowl, in his eyes, there will be no better Saints team.

“That was the best result the Saints have ever had, so that was our best team ever,” Loomis said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to that. You still have to come together as a team. You have to have great chemistry, have the right things happen for your club. There’s so many variables that your roster on paper is kind of meaningless to us at this point.”

Building a team that’s capable of winning a championship is difficult. Keeping that team together and achieving sustained success can be even harder.

Talented players cost money. And despite how much some teams generate, money is not limitless in the NFL.

The Saints ran into some of those issues this offseason as they butted up against the $133 million salary cap, and will likely continue to live on that hard edge the next few years. New Orleans already has more than $152 million committed on the books next season and will once again have to get creative to create wiggle room if the cap does not make a significant leap.

Loomis, however, is not concerned about being near the cap and is comfortable with his team’s financial future.

“I guess I would probably say we’re comfortable being close to the cap,” Loomis said. “We understand it. Look, we have long-range planning involved in that. Would I like to have a lot of cap space? Absolutely, but we haven’t had a lot of space for a few years, and it probably won’t be that in the next couple years. But we’ll be able to function and improve our team.”

But those are issues for another day. Right now, the Saints’ chief concern is seeing how far this team can go in 2014. If Jordan and Manning are correct, they could zoom past last year’s benchmark.

And if Payton is successful in managing “the outside,” no one inside the Saints’ facility will hear a noise as they make their way there.