"Yeah, that's hard. He's my head coach. We've got a great player-coach rapport, professional relationship," Brees told NFL Network's Marshall Faulk in an exclusive sitdown that airs Sunday on NFL Network. "But I would say 50 percent of our conversations are football. And the other 50 percent are life. Talked about family, talked about other things.
"I miss that. It's kinda like they took your friend and put him in solitary confinement."
Payton was suspended for the 2012 season for his his role in the Saints' "bounty" system, which ran from 2009 to 2011 and provided a structure in which players were rewarded for injuring or knocking their opponents out of games. Assistant coach Joe Vitt has taken Payton's place, though he'll be absent the first six games as a result of his own "bounty"-related suspension.
"It's gonna be a heck of a journey," Brees said. "I look at this season as being maybe one of the more exciting seasons for us because of the opportunity that we have. So much swirling around us. The speculation, 'What are you gonna do without this guy, that guy?'
"It really just allows us an opportunity to come together, you know, create an identity. Just reinforce all the things that we've been taught and the culture that we've created here, the environment, that winning attitude, that need to go out and be the hunter and not the hunted."
Brees paints the Saints as the victim of a botched investigation by the league. Right or wrong, the team is using that belief as its prime motivator.