Saints set up draft headquarters in brewery

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

METAIRIE, La. – With NFL facilities closed during the coronavirus pandemic, the New Orleans Saints had to find a new space to set up their makeshift draft headquarters.

So they turned to their draught headquarters.

The Saints have set up shop in the brand new Dixie Brewing Company facility in New Orleans East, which is also owned by team owner Gayle Benson – and is closed to the public for the time being. Saints coach Sean Payton said the team is prepared to stay at the brewery through the draft on April 23-25 if needed.

Payton said staff members are following all CDC guidelines, with only about 6-7 people on site and spread out from each other in a big board room, including Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant general manager Jeff Ireland. Each day, everyone takes their temperature upon arrival.

Everyone else joins the discussions via video conference, including scouts and position coaches as needed.

“This facility is fantastic,” Payton said. “There’s no one out here. We have our board set up, we’ve got seven monitors. … We’re certainly distanced away from each other. There’s plenty of space. And then the monitors have all the scouts and everyone else, so the total people (involved) in the meeting might be 20.”

Payton, who was diagnosed with coronavirus two weeks ago before being cleared last week, joked that, “I’m kind of like the guy they all want to sit away from.” But he said now that he has already had the virus, “I’m like, ‘Look, I’m the safest guy in the room here.'”

The Saints also considered using space at the Benson Tower office building downtown but liked both the space available and the remote location at Dixie Brewing.

The Saints have also been holding “virtual meetings” with many draft prospects over video chats in lieu of pro days.

“Anyone we didn’t get completely at the combine or had follow-up work to do,” Payton said.

But Payton did admit that it will be tougher for teams to evaluate players who had injury or character question marks.

“There’s probably more unchecked boxes this year for teams than normal because that month of March after the combine was eliminated. But, look, that’s part of the deal,” Payton said. “In the normal schedule you might fly that player in and investigate the data a little bit more, the injury a little bit more. If it was a character concern, you might bring that player in or go to the school and spend more time. … You may not be able to clarify or clean up some of the question marks that you normally would in each year.

“So how do we philosophically then approach the draft this year? I think it’s a great question. You might be more conservative relative to aversion to taking a risk if you don’t have the information you’re looking for.”

As for getting treatment for injured players and getting new players acclimated to the playbook, Payton said most of that has been normal so far, with players still having access to the training staff or choosing to be treated elsewhere if desired. If the quarantine continues into the summer, Payton said it would be reminiscent of the 2011 lockout – and that he is confident players will be diligent in those areas even when they’re away from the team facility.

“A lot of it will be done either via the mail, via the phone, and we’ll get those players up to speed as quickly as possible once we’re together,” Payton said. “These are all paid professionals. These guys are all going to understand the importance of taking care of their body. Certainly it’s easier when they’re at your facility, but clearly, with where we’re at today, most all of them are at home with their families where they should be. …

“I think one of the things we do well is adjust. Whether a schedule changes and all of a sudden you’re playing at a different time, you’re having to play over in London, maybe there’s a hurricane that forces you out of the city for a week. No different than any one of those things, albeit on a larger scale — this is certainly at a large scale. We’ll adjust accordingly and get the information to our players, and then plan accordingly.”

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