Payton said the Saints are leaning toward staying in the Dallas area for the next several weeks until they are able to return home following the destruction of Hurricane Ida. And there is a good chance they will “host” their Week 1 game scheduled for Sept. 12 against the Green Bay Packers in Dallas or elsewhere if they are unable to host the game in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
“And we’ve got enough fans in this area and Houston and certainly from Northern Louisiana that we think that would be something that’s very realistic,” Payton added.
Despite Payton’s comments, AT&T Stadium does not appear to be an option for Sept. 12 because of the preparations for a concert at the venue on Sept. 15, sources told ESPN. It is unclear whether the game could be played on a different date at AT&T Stadium or if a different stadium would have to host the game.
Neither the Superdome nor the Saints’ practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana, sustained much damage from the hurricane. But it could take weeks for power and other services to return throughout the area. That could make it difficult for New Orleans to host its opening game, in addition to the staffing and security that will be required.
Payton said the team is making contingency plans to set up somewhere else through Week 4 — then “reel it back” from there if they are able to return home sooner.
Payton said the team initially considered Oxnard, California, where the Cowboys regularly host their training camp and where the Saints spent a week during training camp in 2011. But that didn’t make sense, considering the Saints’ Week 2 and 3 games will be on the East Coast, at Carolina and at New England.
They also considered Indianapolis, which is out because of a Guns N’ Roses concert, and The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which is expected to host the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.
Payton said an indoor practice space is also a priority. And they would have ample resources in the Dallas area, where they could practice inside AT&T Stadium if needed — and where both SMU and TCU have offered to share their facilities and resources.
On Monday, Saints owner Gayle Benson announced an initial donation of $1 million to support those impacted by the storm in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. On Tuesday, others from around the NFL announced donations as well, including Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who announced two grants totaling $1 million to the American Red Cross and the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette, who tweeted he is donating $100,000 to help his hometown of New Orleans.
While the Saints’ relocation because of the storm has been a rushed decision, the team’s choice as the starting quarterback was in the making for months. Payton said he ultimately chose Winston over Taysom Hill because “he’s done a great job, he’s earned that.”
“The No. 1 thing is leading your offense and moving the ball and scoring points. And we feel like he’s got a unique skill set with his arm talent — boy, he can get the ball down the field,” Payton said. “He’s done a really good job of working through some of the progressions.”
Payton said both Winston and Hill “competed their tails off”
“I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate how those guys have handled it,” said Payton, who added that “we feel good about that room,” which also includes rookie fourth-round draft pick Ian Book and possibly veteran Trevor Siemian, depending on the results of roster cuts and practice squad transactions.
Payton said he heard a lot of speculation that if the Saints chose Hill as their quarterback, they wouldn’t be able to keep using him in his versatile QB/RB/TE/WR role. “We couldn’t make the decision just based on that. We wanted to look at it completely from an open eyes standpoint,” Payton said in response.
Payton said he had a “real good dialogue” with Hill, even though he knows it was “challenging and disappointing” for him to lose out on the starting QB job. But Payton said he still expects Hill to be a big part of the offense in his unique role.
“I’ve got a very clear vision relative to how he’s gonna help us this year,” Payton said. “Those two are both gonna be extremely important if we’re to play well and win games this year.”
On top of everything else the Saints are dealing with right now, Payton said it has been especially difficult to make roster cuts while players and their family members are spending time together in their Dallas-area hotel.
Among the most notable roster moves the Saints are expected to make, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that receiver Michael Thomas will miss the first five games of the season on the physically unable to perform list, and running back Devonta Freeman will be released.
ESPN’s Todd Archer contributed to this report.