- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' “window of opportunity” became a popular story line in recent days after quarterback Drew Brees (who turns 35 on Wednesday) admitted that he doesn't know how many more shots he'll get at the Super Bowl.
It also became one of the subjects of coach Sean Payton's messages to players on Monday as they held their final team meeting of the 2013 season.
“I said to our players, ‘You're gonna hear this new buzz word called window.' And honestly the window, as long as I'm head coach here, we're trying to slam it open always,” Payton said. “And so, you can take each individual player and say, ‘When's the window of opportunity?' With regards to a specific player like Drew, I get that. And yet, that window's still all the way open. And I mean that.”
Brees echoed that sentiment. Even though he admitted Saturday that he's aware of his football mortality -- he said he doesn't see the Saints falling out of contention anytime soon.
“You look around and look at the veteran leadership we have on this team, look at the young talent, look at the systems in which we play, this organization and the expectation level we've set for ourselves, the track record. And you would say that the future is as bright as we want it to be,” Brees said. “As hard as we're willing to work, it's all there for us.”
In fact, several veteran players talked Monday about the fact that they see this team improving in several areas heading into 2014 -- namely on defense, where several dynamic young players like Cameron Jordan, Keenan Lewis, Junior Galette, Kenny Vaccaro and Akiem Hicks had breakout seasons.
“I think when we talk about the window closing, I think it's more of the team that we've been used to around here,” said veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March. “I know the entire locker room has really almost turned over since I've been here (in 2009). So that window of winning with those same guys is pretty much probably closing.
“There will be new faces, there will be new guys making plays. But I don't think the Saints are anywhere out of contention at all. I think if anything we're getting better.”
Payton and players said they were especially impressed by the growth and development this young roster showed down the stretch of the 2013 season -- bouncing back from ugly losses at Seattle and St. Louis in December.
Offensive tackle Zach Strief said that's one of the hardest things about the Saints' season coming to an end in the divisional round of the playoffs in last Saturday's 23-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Strief said he felt like the Saints were peaking at the right time.
“Obviously it becomes more difficult the closer you get to your goals,” Payton said. “But then also discussing the challenges this team has faced, the way they've responded, there are a lot of things that kind of motivate me, excite me about coaching ‘em going forward.
“I thought they handled a lot of things this year, coming off of everything a year ago (Payton's suspension and the ‘Bountygate' fallout, the injuries). None of these things were ever discussed as excuses. But just anytime we had some tough setbacks, tough losses, the response the next week, this team made it very -- not only enjoyable -- but stimulating to coach.
“There are four outstanding teams left. All of 'em deserve congratulations, and I'm sure there's some good football ahead. But just kind of for us, for me, you get excited for the next season pretty quickly.”