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Damage control for Saints means trying to keep focus on football

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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METAIRIE, La. -- No Super Bowl pass for you anymore, Sean Payton.

No more fist-pumping of the Lombardi Trophy. Those cutesy pictures of Payton sleeping with the trophy on the airplane ride home from Miami aren't as sweet and cuddly.

According to the lawsuit, LB coach Joe Vitt was caught on camera stealing Vicodin. (US Presswire)  
According to the lawsuit, LB coach Joe Vitt was caught on camera stealing Vicodin. (US Presswire)  
Not with the accusations lying over the New Orleans Saints' collective head.

The media wasted no time Saturday afternoon after the Saints' third rookie minicamp practice, peppering the coach with questions concerning the civil lawsuit filed by former director of security Geoff Santini involving theft and abuse of Vicodin and an alleged coverup spearheaded by general manager Mickey Loomis.

Payton's demeanor during the 17-minute interview with local and national media never really changed even though the majority of the questions had nothing to do with rookie minicamp and everything to do with Pill-gate. New Orleans' coaching hero deflected any and every question concerning the civil suit, filed more than a week ago.

But Payton remained calm and poised. He even told one reporter that he "appreciated" one of the questions involving the lawsuit.

Not exactly the reaction one would have anticipated considering his penchant for needling the media.

"With respect to the process, that's the position I'm in," Payton said about the lawsuit. "Certainly we understand the questions surrounding it, and yet I'm really not at liberty to [discuss the lawsuit]. ... As time goes forward, we'll know more and more."

When asked if he was frustrated by not being able to tell his side of the story concerning the suit, Payton replied, "There just needs to be the correct steps, and when you have a civil suit then those probably become more complicated. That's the thing that's challenging."

Payton said the lawsuit hasn't taken his attention off football, he hasn't addressed the lawsuit with the players and even if he knew how long the process would take to sort out the case, it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on it.

"Most of the time and attention for us this offseason is in regards to our roster, signing a guy like Jahri Evans or Darren Sharper and always this [rookie] camp," Payton said. "That's where our focus is."

When asked to paint a picture of how readily available Vicodin is in the NFL, Payton said, "It would be wrong for me to try to paint any picture today. That would be inappropriate. It wouldn't be the smart thing or really the right thing to do."

Later in the press conference, Payton wanted no part in addressing linebacker coach Joe Vitt's alleged involvement in the lawsuit, where it reads that Vitt was caught on camera stealing Vicodin from the team's prescription drug locker.

"It would be inappropriate for me to speak on anyone's behalf," Payton said. "He's obviously someone I think a lot of having hired him in our first year here. He's got as much to do with this Super Bowl run than anyone in this building. ... I don't think that would be fair or right or appropriate."

In other words, don't expect the team to talk publicly about the lawsuit.

Ever.

Of course, you figured Payton and the Saints would go the no-comment route, and you can't really blame them. And Payton, at least on the outside, is rather collected about the situation.

What it still does, though, is leave a dark thundering cloud of uncertainty hovering above the Saints wherever they go until this is resolved and/or the league reacts.

After the team came out and blasted Santini, basically calling his actions an attempted shakedown, the Saints have gone on a crusade of positivity since the lawsuit was filed.

First, the Saints re-signed unrestricted free-agent safety Darren Sharper after a lengthy and public contract negotiation. Then the team gave back season tickets to the 1,200 fans who lost their seats after the Super Bowl season because of the construction of a new press box. And finally, the Saints handed All-Pro guard Jahri Evans the richest contract for a guard in NFL history.

That's called Deflection City, baby.

And keep expecting more of it because this lawsuit has the potential, if the evidence is true, to go bad for Payton, Vitt, Loomis and the team trainers.

Real bad.

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