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Posted: Monday July 20, 2009 12:01AM; Updated: Monday July 20, 2009 2:14PM
Sean Payton Sean Payton >

A surprise playoff pick, suggestion for Goodell and 10 Things I Think

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Rex Ryan could lead the Jets to the playoffs in his first season

What separates players like Tom Brady and Drew Brees from peers

Hall of Fame talk, the new Cowboys stadium and more NFL thoughts

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Head coach Sean Payton and the Saints are coming off an 8-8 season in 2008.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With Peter King on his annual four-week summer vacation, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton took time away from vacationing in the Florida panhandle to write today's Monday Morning Quarterback column. Payton, who was voted NFL Coach of the Year in 2006, is entering his fourth season in New Orleans.

As I open this week's MMQB, the final one before Peter returns next week, I would like to thank him for considering me to fill in for him. I am the first NFL coach to pen this column, and with that, I feel a certain pressure to make sure I provide his followers with something of substance. So, let's get started.

• We are now just 10 short days from the start of most NFL training camps. Every team can officially begin practice 15 days prior to its first preseason game; the Bills and Titans can start earliest because they play in the annual Hall of Fame game Aug. 9 in Canton, Ohio.

One of the great things about our league is the optimism each team and its fan base share at the start of a new year. History has told us there will be four to six new playoff teams this season. Who are this year's Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens or Arizona Cardinals? If I had to choose one non-playoff team from last season that has a chance to make it into the 2009 postseason it would be the New York Jets. I think Rex Ryan will do a great job of creating a culture that lends itself to winning. I also love Mark Sanchez as a young quarterback prospect. We will find out soon enough.

• So, Peter, what's with putting the Saints 24th in your offseason power rankings? I mean, where is the respect? Clearly, there is more to this than meets the eye. Here is my thought. Peter graduated from Ohio University, and earlier in my career, I had the opportunity to coach at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. These two schools are polar opposites and hate each other. That is where I believe his angst really lies. Or maybe Peter's mad because we cut Ohio University long-snapper Ryan Senser not once, but twice last year before the start of the season. That's probably it, because I highly doubt it's my play-calling.

• A tip of my visor to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Seahawks coach Jim Mora for climbing Mount Rainier. Pretty good stuff for a great cause. Now, if I could only convince Goodell to have Will Smith and Charles Grant climb to the top of Mount Rainer in lieu of serving their four-game suspensions. That would be a pretty good tradeoff.

• If there is one player who climbs right back into the pilot's seat this season and doesn't miss a beat, it's Tom Brady. Indications are he is 100-percent healthy and ready to go. I'm not going out on a limb here, but there are certain players who have an amazing drive for greatness, and he is one them.

When we signed Drew Brees in 2006, he had an injured shoulder. The most important factor in our decision was Drew's work ethic and desire to be special. It is no doubt that one of the hardest things teams have to do each year leading up to free agency and the draft is evaluate players. How important is the game to the player? Will money change his work ethic? Does he see himself as being great?

Clearly the business of building teams is not an exact science, but I can say with certainty that players like Brees, Brady and Peyton Manning give us a barometer for the type of player we are seeking. Players who are driven, motivated and play the game with passion, just like those three do week in and week out.

• What a coup for ESPN to get Jon Gruden under contract for Monday Night Football. Like in the NFL, ESPN identified the player it wanted and went and got him. (And what was NFL Network thinking? You never let the player get on the plane back home without a contract!)

Having spent some time with Jon this offseason, I was reminded his passion for our game is unchallenged, his desire and knowledge of our game is unquestioned. He will make his mark in television, just as he did every year on the sideline. In 1997, he gave me my first NFL job. I prefer him up in a television booth somewhere with a coat and tie on, but I know it's only a matter of time until he's back on the sidelines causing us all fits once again.

• A lot has been written and discussed regarding the tragic death of Steve McNair. How we choose to remember him can vary greatly from person to person. However unfortunate, that has changed to some degree. I'll remember him as the Titan of a quarterback who led his team within one yard of a Super Bowl victory in a classic final drive. I still see that final drive very clearly. On one play, McNair scrambled for what seemed like an eternity, to complete a pass and move the chains. I remember a strong player who was a difficult sack with a powerful lower body. I remember a player who had one of the warmest smiles in our business. As Nashville police ruled his unnecessary death a murder-suicide, which is now sadly etched in our memory, I choose to remember Steve McNair as a fierce competitor we lost much too soon.

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