Sean Payton: Saints could be away from New Orleans for a month after Hurricane Ida

Jori Epstein
USA TODAY
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Sean Payton is factoring in the Sept. 8 Guns N Roses concert in Indianapolis and how long a flight would be from Oxnard, California, to a Sept. 19 visit to the Panthers and a Sept. 26 trip to New England. He’s considering meeting rooms and available indoor practice fields, weighing which NFL and college football-ready facilities could host a migrant NFL team.

Because the Saints, Payton said Tuesday morning, don’t expect to return home for roughly a month after leaving New Orleans for Dallas this past weekend before Hurricane Ida made landfall.

“We’re looking at really the first three, four weeks of the season,” Payton said Tuesday ahead of his team’s second consecutive day practicing at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. “We’re starting with the idea that let’s just say it’s a month. I think it’s much easier to reel it back in.

“So I think we’re looking at the first quarter of the season, the first four weeks, knowing we can always adjust if need be. Certainly, we know for at least the upcoming couple weeks. We’re not looking past that and really that’s not a challenge logistically for these places.”

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New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton looks on during the second half against Jacksonville Jaguars at Caesars Superdome.

More than 1 million homes and businesses lost power in Louisiana, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office describing damage to the power grid as “catastrophic.”

Payton said late Tuesday morning that he expects more clarity on his team’s home base coordinates within the next 12 to 24 hours. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has become an attractive landing point for several reasons. The Saints have already begun three straight days of practices in the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, with a chance of opening their season against the Packers on the same field Sept. 12.

The Cowboys open their season at Tampa Bay on Thursday, Sept. 9 and do not play a home game until Sept. 27. Owner Jerry Jones said during his Tuesday morning radio interview the Week 1 Saints-Packers game relocating to AT&T Stadium is “certainly possible." Payton agreed.

“We think that’d be something that’s very realistic,” he said of playing the game in Arlington should New Orleans not be able to host a game. “So back to a major city with two airports, that gives you a lot of flexibility. Two programs locally here, in TCU and SMU, that have reached out and completely would love to be a part of helping us and hosting us. So it’s almost like a 48-hour you’re beginning to arrive at certain decisions that would make a lot of sense.”

Logistics were among the many obstacles facing the Saints on Tuesday ahead of the 4 p.m. ET league deadline to trim rosters from 80 to 53 men. The Saints began releasing players Monday evening, continuing the process from their Dallas hotel into Tuesday. Roster moves are fluid, subject to moving parts including injured reserve assignments and the assembly of practice squads in the coming days. But the Saints scheduled afternoon practices Tuesday and Wednesday nonetheless, with plans to give their players mandated off days beginning Thursday. Payton said players would have the option to return to home cities, stay in the Dallas area or travel elsewhere after the team breaks from its Dallas hotel on Wednesday. He did not expect any player to return to the New Orleans area before the team reconvenes Sunday night.

“Moving forward, again, a lot of it will be dependent on when the city is ready to receive people to come back, when is the power back up, when are all the things up and running at least for people to return,” Payton said. “We don’t know the answer to that yet.”

The dynamic was unusual, as Saints players, coaches, staff and roughly 120 family members packed into a Dallas hotel beginning Saturday evening. Payton spoke bluntly to his team about the discomfort with releasing players while under the same roof. But the organization was intent on prioritizing safe evacuation before Hurricane Ida hit land; that was a positive development even as league rules required jobs lost.

Payton still relished the moments of unity, including an early game he happened upon Tuesday morning at breakfast. Roughly 15 children of Saints’ players had convened for a spirited touch football game, he said.

“A freaking ruckus going on,” Payton added. “It does bring a group of people together. You’re trying to give them information and make the best of a situation like this.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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