Lewis: Ryan Griffin, Luke McCown find balance in mentoring, competition

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints running back Travaris Cadet (39) takes a handoff from New Orleans Saints quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) at minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility in Metairie, La. Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints running back Travaris Cadet (39) takes a handoff from New Orleans Saints quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) at minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility in Metairie, La. Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

Even on the Saints, the backup quarterback sometimes can be the most popular player on the team.

“Pardon me, buddy. Let me get out of your way,” Drew Brees said to Ryan Griffin Tuesday. A 16-person media scrum developed two lockers down around Griffin and spilled over into Brees’ space following Tuesday’s first day of minicamp at the team’s Metairie headquarters.

No, Griffin, entering his second season after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, isn’t suddenly challenging No. 9.

But the competition between Griffin and 11-year veteran Luke McCown, who occupies the locker between the two figures to be sharpened from last year when McCown won the job, but the Saints thought enough of Griffin to bring him off the practice squad in mid-October when it appeared that the St. Louis Rams wanted to sign him.

The two are taking equal reps behind Brees with rookie Logan Kilgore from Middle Tennessee getting the rest.

“There aren’t any early indications,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “When we get into training camp we’ll have competition between Luke and Ryan and get a chance to see both of those guys not only get reps with the second group but at some point with the second group.

“They’re closer than they were a year ago because Ryan’s been here for a year. I can’t put a number on it other than they’re both competing.”

Competing, yes. But there remains a mentor/student relationship between the two, one that figures to continue even if it means one goes into the season with a job and one doesn’t.

“I don’t think it’s changed at all,” Griffin said. “We’re here to compete; we know that.

“At the same time, we’re good buddies who have fun with each other on and off the field. Luke is just as helpful to me as he was last year.”

That, said McCown, is part of his job description. Or least he considers it so.

“First, I want to be the best I can be,” he said. “And then I want to be available to help my team as I can.

“Competition helps you get better, and I’m here to help to help Ryan to get better because he deserves that. The younger guys may not always feel that way, but they’ve got to know that there’s no better game that represents what a team should be than football.”

Wise words.

Still, that doesn’t make it any less interesting to speculate on the backup situation for this year – and what it might imply for down the road.

There’s a good chance that the Saints will keep both McCown and Griffin on their final 53.

Putting Griffin back on the practice squad, or even releasing him is a surefire way to lose him to another team. And last year, at least, the Saints showed that wanted him around.

Letting McCown go would deprive the Saints of a veteran backup who, while never appearing in more than five games in a season, would figure to be better able to substitute for Brees in the short run than someone who is yet to appear in his first regular-season NFL games.

He also was appreciative enough for the chance to play for the Saints to come back as an unrestricted free agent when he had offers from other teams to be their backups for more money.

Still, the Saints felt comfortable enough with Chase Daniel to make him the sole backup in 2010 after one year of being No. 3 behind Mark Brunell and Brees. So there’s that precedent to go by.

It’s not a financial issue. There’s less than $150,000 between the cap number for McCown ($635,000) and Griffin ($495,000).

And while roster spots are certainly valuable, there’s always a room to shuffle things around.

As for the future, it’s far too early to say that Griffin is Brees’ heir apparent, even if Brees will be 36 by the end of this season.

It doesn’t appear that way. The coaches admire Griffin’s ability to absorb the offense and his increased composure from a year ago.

But his pedigree and skill set may be lacking.

Peyton said on Draft Day that the team had quarterbacks relatively high on their board but felt there were better players to be taken.

The best possibility is that the next Saints quarterback hasn’t been drafted yet. The team has picked only one QB in the Payton era, seventh-rounder Sean Canfield in 2010, and he didn’t stick.

Or maybe the team will strike gold again and pull off another Breesesque free agency signing that will rank among the best in NFL history.

Sorry, we’re getting carried away.

That’s what talking about the backup quarterback will do.