By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Embattled Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had plenty to discuss before Thursday night's NFL draft, even if his club had no first-round pick.
Topics on the table included wiretapping, Drew Brees' contract talks and New Orleans' bounty system. Loomis candidly addressed them all, and more.
.He was "angry" about the recent wiretapping allegations. He was empathetic to fans' concerns over prolonged contract negotiations with Brees. He was prepared to deal with the consequences of the NFL's bounty investigation. And no, he wasn't discouraged by all the recent bad publicity or the fact that head coach Sean Payton has begun serving a suspension that won't end until after the Super Bowl.
Rather, he was confident that the Saints will remain a good team in 2012.
"Obviously, we've had a lot of things happen," Loomis said. "Yes, Sean is missing and we miss him, but we are not unstable. ... We have had 41 wins in the last three years. We are not down. If we are down, I'm happy to be down. We have a good team here and we have great leadership on our team. We have great players."
The Saints have been dealing with the fallout from the NFL's bounty probe since March 2, when the league announced it had found that New Orleans had an improper cash bonus system in place to reward defensive players for hits that hobbled targeted opponents.
As a result, suspensions were handed down to Payton, Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt. The Saints also were docked second-round draft choices this season and next. Because they had already traded this year's first-round pick, they were not slated to draft a player until late in Friday night's third round, 89th overall.
This week, yet another, unrelated allegation of wrongdoing surfaced when an anonymously sourced ESPN report said Loomis' Superdome booth was wired to allow him to eavesdrop on opposing coaches' radio conversations from 2002 to 2004.
"I have never asked for the capability to listen to an opposing team's communications," Loomis said. "I have never inquired as to the possibility of listening in on an opposing team's communications. And I've never been aware of any capability to listen in on an opposing team's communications at the Superdome or at any NFL stadium.
"I don't know who made the allegation. I'm angry about it, frankly," Loomis continued. "It's not true. I have clear conscience. That's all I can say. And look, the people that know me and know me the best have all come to my defense. They've stated to me that's not true. And maybe that has to be good enough."
The Louisiana state police and the FBI have begun a joint investigation of the matter to determine if any state or federal wiretapping laws might have been broken. Loomis, who said he is not sure how else he can clear his name beyond a public denial, said he welcomed authorities' involvement.
While Loomis denied wiretapping allegations, he evaded questions about whether he truly agreed with the NFL's findings in its bounty investigation, saying that the team is moving forward and looking forward to cooperating with Commissioner Roger Goodell's goals to promote player safety.
"The NFL, they made their findings. They made their ruling and there's nothing I can do to change that," Loomis said. "It doesn't really matter if I agree or disagree. We have these penalties that we have to deal with and we are dealing with them."
For failing to put a stop to the bounty program after he was first warned the NFL was looking into it in 2010 Loomis will serve an eight-game suspension that will in fact span nine weeks because the Saints' bye falls in Week 6. Loomis said most of his work in a typical season is usually done by opening day and that his staff should be able to absorb his responsibilities during his suspension because "they know exactly how I think."
Loomis added he has offered to spend his half-season absence from the Saints working with the NFL on developing policies to further promote player safety.
"I think I would have some valuable contributions in that regard," he said.
Vitt, who also oversees linebackers, must serve a six-game suspension in connection with the bounty probe. Despite his suspension, Vitt has been tapped to take over Payton's head coaching duties, meaning someone will then have to step in for him in Week 1.
Who that will be has yet to be decided.
"We are going to let probably most of our training camp unfold and I think the right person will kind of reveal itself," Loomis said. "We'll make a good decision for those first (six) games."
The Saints are now two weeks into voluntary offseason workouts, and Brees, their star quarterback and unquestioned leader, has stayed away while contract negotiations continue.
Loomis smiled and said the ideal time to get a deal done would be "tomorrow or maybe an hour from now." Then he tried to explain the holdup.
"No one understands better than I how important Drew and (his wife) Brittany have been to the city of New Orleans, our fans and the New Orleans Saints," Loomis said. "His contributions to our success have been invaluable. Unfortunately, I have the task of putting a value on it. But my goal and Drew's goals are the same. It's to get him a contract that he feels good about and gives our team the best opportunity to compete for a championship. It will get done."
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