Payton: New Orleans return this week not likely

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

The New Orleans Saints got back to work Monday at their temporary home in Dallas after Hurricane Ida devastated Southern Louisiana on Sunday.

Saints coach Sean Payton said he was unaware of any significant damage to the team’s practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. But he expects the team to practice away from home next week because of widespread power outages and other damage throughout the region.

Payton said he did not yet know about the status of the Caesars Superdome or the Saints’ Week 1 home opener against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 12.

“Obviously we’ll have a Plan B,” Payton said. “There are a lot of other things probably from a priority standpoint that are more important for our city. But that all being said, we fully anticipate starting the regular season with Green Bay, and then the question would be where that game is at. (But) I don’t see it being in Green Bay.”

The Saints evacuated to Dallas on Saturday, with owner Gayle Benson chartering two flights for players, staff members and their families. They will practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday inside the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

It’s unclear if they will remain in Dallas beyond that. Players were already scheduled to have four days off from Thursday-Sunday at the end of this week.

“I kind of see these guys Wednesday taking some time away. A lot of these guys might head back to where they’re from originally,” Payton said. “And then me on Wednesday telling ’em, ‘Hey, I’ll see you guys Sunday night and here’s where we’re gonna be.’ We just gotta fill in that last blank. But I don’t see that realistically being in New Orleans.”

Payton and veteran players Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis all stressed that their first thoughts are for everyone’s families and the safety of everyone back in the New Orleans area.

As for their own situation in Dallas, they were glad to have the ability to set up a smooth operation so quickly. They thanked Benson for keeping families together and thanked Cowboys owners Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones for the assistance.

Unfortunately, these sorts of adjustments are nothing new for the Saints, who had to evacuate New Orleans for an entire season after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and have moved practices out of town multiple times over the years.

Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis quickly ran through their options last Thursday night before settling on Dallas. Another option was Indianapolis, where the Saints have evacuated in the past. But Payton mentioned that an upcoming Guns N’ Roses concert ruled it out.

Although Payton said he doesn’t like the circumstances, he has always said that he likes the bonding and focus the team has displayed in similar situations.

“Listen, we’ve done it,” Payton said. “And there’s something about the challenge that I think, I don’t know, I kind of like. Look, I don’t like being misplaced, and I don’t like when players are away from their homes or any of those things. But you focus on the things you can control. And just in the short period of time here, there’s a weight room in the hotel, it’s modest at best, but then we have the opportunity at SMU if we want the Olympic lifts.

We’ve got a fantastic stadium that we’ll practice in the next three days. We’ve got the whole ballroom set up at the hotel we’re at with more than enough space and meeting rooms. A few of these ballrooms we could play a game in if we needed to.

“Look, once you’ve done this a few times there are some — everyone kind of knows what we expect in the training room area, this is what we expect for the meals, this is what we’re used to. And everyone kind of goes about doing their jobs. And then you do get, I think, you get a little bit more focused when something like this happens as opposed to less.”

One thing Payton said he does not like about the timing, however, is that roster cuts are scheduled to take place on Tuesday while many players and their affected families will be together at the team’s hotel in Dallas.

“I brought it up in the team meeting this morning: ‘Man, I’m proud of how we’ve handled this, it’s great that you’re here with your families. There’s a number of positives that we can take from this, that we were able to get safely out of harm’s way,'” Payton said. “But I don’t like the environment relative to in the next 24 hours reducing the roster with all their families here. I think that’s challenging. I just said, ‘Hey, we just gotta understand that there’s a lot of good about us being here, but there are challenges when it comes to jobs that are on the line. And we’re gonna do our best to take care of everyone.'”

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