MOBILE, Ala. — In his 12 seasons with the Saints, Ryan Pace has never seen the collaboration between the team’s scouts and coaching staff be as strong as it is now. Why would he want to leave now — even for a general manager position that Miami was recently interested in interviewing him about — he asked rhetorically at the end of a Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Wednesday.
“This is the best group of scouts we’ve had together since I’ve been with the Saints,” said Pace, who’s in his first year as New Orleans’ director of player personnel. “It’s also probably the best it’s ever been as far as our scouting department’s relationship with our coaches.”
Pace found himself in NFL headlines when the Dolphins asked to interview him for a vacant GM spot as the Saints geared up for their divisional playoff in Seattle on Jan. 11. The Saints, though, blocked the request — GM Mickey Loomis on Tuesday said it was because the team was focused on preparing for the Seahawks.
A day later, Pace spoke with a couple of reporters about the situation for the first time. He said he wasn’t tempted to leave the Saints for a more prominent position elsewhere.
“It was ... kind of what we had going right now, and the group of guys we had going together,” Pace said. “It’s ... my role with the Saints and how good I feel about where we’re at right now.”
Loomis will be glad to hear that, but he’s admitted it’s inevitable Pace will seize the right opportunity elsewhere if and when it comes along.
“He’s a great young personnel director,” Loomis said. “He’s got a great eye for talent and (players) that fit what we want to do. He’s very talented.”
That was more than evident during the Saints’ 2013 season, in which they won 12 games, among them the franchise’s first road playoff win. As injuries mounted, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Saints were able to reinforce themselves with players who promptly contributed.
Pace said two acquisitions in particular were especially satisfying for him: Parys Haralson and Keyunta Dawson, who joined a defense that finished as the worst in NFL history in 2012 and then improved to No. 4 in 2013.
The Saints traded a late-round draft pick for Haralson, an outside linebacker, shortly after linebacker Will Smith tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason exhibition in Houston. Haralson subsequently played in 17 games and started 15, amassing 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks before tearing a pectoral muscle in a wild-card win at Philadelphia.
Dawson, an outside linebacker/defensive end, was picked up in the sixth week of the season, three days after being cut by Tennessee.
He proved to be instrumental in a close win at Atlanta on Nov. 21, forcing a key fumble that the Saints recovered and getting half-credit for a quarterback sack.
“Those are the moves that we have the most pride in,” Pace said. “Those are the moves that you really feel like you’ve done a lot of work on those guys, and then they come in and play well.”
Pace added that those kinds of moves result from reports and evaluations produced by members of the scouting department who split up and attend every NFL preseason game. They also review those games’ films and compile a list that ranks every player at every position in the league, which they consult the moment it becomes apparent a Saints player will miss time.
“We really value our preseason scouting,” said Pace, whose name coach Sean Payton mentions at news conferences more often than he does many of the players’ — even ones who won Super Bowl XLIV with New Orleans and are still around.
“We’ll be on the bus after the game with an injury, and we’re immediately looking at that list,” from which those who are considered the best available free agents are selected for workouts usually held on Tuesdays.
Pace said he’s just not quite ready to leave that operation.
“I know everybody’s biased, but I really feel we have the best scouts in the league,” Pace said. Pointing at some of his colleagues seated nearby, he remarked, “These guys are outstanding.”