Saints to keep empty chair in draft room for Benson

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The New Orleans Saints will honor the memory of the late Tom Benson by keeping an empty chair in their draft room.

Benson, a longtime owner of the Saints and NBA’s Pelicans and contributor to many charities in his native New Orleans, passed away on March 15. He was 90.

“I’ve tried not to think about that, but we miss him on a daily basis,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told reporters on Wednesday. “The success of the Pelicans, his excitement level would’ve been off the charts, and having a horse in the Kentucky Derby and all these good things that have happened in the last few weeks. Man, he would have enjoyed all of that so much and I think he gets his greatest enjoyment by seeing how the city reacts to those kinds of things, and so he’ll be missed.”

With that in mind, the Saints are making sure his memory is honored at the 2018 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“We’ll have an empty chair for him and we’ll be thinking about him, for sure,” Loomis said.

New Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson will be in attendance, per The Advocate.

“She’s been there with Tom. I’m sure she’ll be there again,” coach Sean Payton said, according to the newspaper.

The Saints hold just two picks within the first 100, a first-round selection (No. 27 overall) and a third-round choice (91st).

“We had five picks in the first three rounds last year,” Loomis said. “So, we don’t have that opportunity this year — we’ve got two — and we’re picking later.

“The opportunity is different. I certainly appreciate how big an impact that class had a year ago, and yet I also would say this — that’s one year. Let’s not anoint that class as a big group of Hall of Famers or anything like that. They’ve had one good season and it’s a good season that we can build on, and we’re excited about them.”

Tom Benson was widely credited with keeping the Saints and Pelicans in his native New Orleans when their respective futures were in question. He initially purchased the Saints in 1985 when it appeared the team would be sold to out-of-state interests and potentially moved from Louisiana.

Benson helped to revive a Saints franchise that had never had a winning season at the time of his purchase.

New Orleans went 12-3 in 1987 — its first winning season since its inception in 1967 — and reached the postseason for the first time.

Under his ownership, the Saints went to the postseason 11 times, earned six division titles and won Super Bowl XLIV following the 2009 season — four years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that forced the team to play away from its home stadium for one season.

Benson also donated to Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village and has the stadium named after him.