Brian Allee-Walsh

The week’s big winners in the NFL are Sean Payton and the Saints. Here’s why.

The New Orleans Saints and Coach Sean Payton combined to defy daunting odds earlier this week to win an NFL exacta.

First, the Black and Gold out-wooed the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots for free agent tight end Jared Cook, and, secondly, Payton championed the cause to upgrade the league’s replay review system with regards to pass interference.

Losing Cook to the Patriots in the 11th hour, especially in the wake of tight end Rob Gronkowski announcing his retirement after 10 mostly Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, would have been a huge blow to the Saints off-season plans.

It took some clever negotiating by team officials and a ton of money but the mere fact that Cook opted to join forces in New Orleans speaks volumes about the current state of the Saints franchise and the people and players inside those four walls.

I will say this: It will be easier for Cook to follow in the footsteps of recently retired tight end Ben Watson in New Orleans than the iconic and legendary Gronkowski in New England.

Just saying.

Cook, who turns 32 on April 7, agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with $8 million in guarantees, including a $6 million signing bonus. And while the Pats came fast and furious after Cook last weekend, the idea of catching passes from quarterback Drew Brees and playing multiple positions in Payton’s offense appears to have meant more to Cook than playing with coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel and quarterback Tom Brady in New England.

Until told otherwise, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

With regards to Payton, the league’s decision to review offensive and defensive pass interference (including no calls) on a one-year trial basis won’t reverse the outcome of the Saints’ stunning loss in the NFC Championship game loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but it might prevent that regrettable mistake from ever happening again.

Because of Payton, Saints owner Gayle Benson and others, NFL owners were swayed to vote 31-1 in favor of using replay to review pass interference, including the ability of coaches to challenge non-calls for pass interference outside the final two minutes of each half.

The replay booth will initiate challenges with regards to offensive and defensive pass interference inside the final two minutes of each half.

“There was an owe-it-the-game responsibility,’‘ Payton said. “This isn’t going to be perfect always. (But) I think we got it right.’‘

“(The rule) needed to change,’‘ Benson said.

In other words, better late than never.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at