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Steve Geller

"WWL First News" Sports Anchor
Weekdays 5am-10am

"Sports Talk" Producer
Weekdays 4pm-8pm

Twitter: @stevegellerWWL
Email: steve@wwl.com


Steve: Butler came, he saw and then he left. So now what?

The Saints' spicy offseason is getting even hotter as the Malcolm Butler tension mounts. The restricted free agent came to town and left. NFL Networks' Ian Rapoport indicates the courting process is likely to continue:



This morning, Sean Payton was raving about the 27 year old cornerback:



The Texans were mentioned as another team who had interest in Butler, but nothing has yet to surface about him heading to Houston for a visit.

If the restricted free agent signed a offer sheet from New Orleans and New England didn't match, the compensation the Saints would have to send to the Patriots would be the 11th overall pick in this year's draft. That does not mean it has to go down like that, though. The two sides can work around they want to. We know Sean and Bill have a good rapport and respect one another from the numerous joint practice sessions during recent training camps. They also have mutual disgust for the commish, and that can be a pretty strong bond.

Ultimately, I think somehow, some way, Malcolm Butler will soon be getting fitted for a Saints uniform.
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Steve: CB Malcolm Butler has arrived....now will he stay?

Looks like restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler was anxious for his meeting with the Saints. He arrived in town last night ahead of his scheduled Thursday visit with the team:



If the Saints can work out a long term deal with the 27 year old and New England doesn't match it, New Orleans would have to send their 11th overall pick to New England. There are ways to work around that, though, if both franchises want to.

Butler would have to sign his tendered deal with the Pats first, and then they could trade him to the Saints. It's very likely New England could get back the first round pick (32nd overall) they dealt to the Saints for Brandin Cooks, but New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis will surely try and finesse a package with their 2nd round selection instead. I would expect something to be finalized today; and, in the end, Butler will get a deal that pays him on average between $10-12 million a season.
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Steve: Saints add more LB help in Alex Okafor

Outside linebacker/defensive end Alex Okafor was in town Monday for a visit with the Saints; and according to NFL Insider Rand Getlin, he's not leaving without a new contract:



WWL's Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic has independently confirmed the news.

Okafor is signing a 1 year deal worth $3 million. He was selected in the 4th round by the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. The pass rusher has tallied 13.5 sacks in his 4 year career but was dealing with a torn bicep in the AZ desert last season. He provides depth at the very least for the Black & Gold, who just saw Kasim Edebali sign with the Denver Broncos. Okafor is 6'4, 264lbs and is reunited with Texas alumnus Kenny Vaccaro.



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Is today D-Day for Brandin Cooks trade?

USP NFL: PRESEASON-TENNESSEE TITANS AT NEW ORLEANS S FBN USA LA
Who's ready for a wild Friday? According to Michael Lombardi of theringer.com we shall receive a definitive answer on whether or not Brandin Cooks will be traded:



Lombardi is a former NFL executive, so he has a vast number of connections. New England is said to be considering trading cornerback Malcolm Butler while Tennessee has two 1st round draft picks and may be willing to part with either the 5th or 18th overall selection.
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Steve: Saints/Patriots trade talks heating up



It appears the Super Bowl champs have very high interest in Brandion Cooks. After being reportedly shot down last week for the 32nd overall pick in the draft, Bill Belichick and the Pats front office have fired a counter back: Butler is a 27 year old cornerback that seems to have become expendable for New England after they have inked free agent Stephon Gilmore early this morning. Stay tuned for more details as this story continues to develop.
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Saints FA Targets: Guards

This continues our four part series on position groups the Saints are targeting in Free Agency. Check out our Saints Free Agent HQ for breakdowns of the LB, DE, and CB targets for the team.
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The Saints may take a dip in the free agency waters to sure up their offensive line for 2017. Protecting Drew Brees is always a top priority. The guard position is the biggest question for the Black & Gold since Jahri Evans and Tim Lelito are both unrestricted free agents. Some options for the team to court include:

Kevin Zeitler – 6ft4, 315 lbs. - 27 years old
Zeitler is the top offensive lineman on the market and should easily command 11-12 million a season. He gave up just 1 sack last year in Cincinnati and is one of the best run blockers in the NFL. Beefing up the o-line is never a "sexy" offseason move but if the Saints were able to land this big fish it would be a huge SPLASH.



T.J. Lang – 6ft4, 318 lbs. – 29 years old
According to Pro Football Focus, Lang didn't give up a single sack on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last season, but also didn't even allow a hit! Lang did miss some time in 2016 due to a foot injury and in the offseason opted to have hip surgery which caused him to miss the Pro Bowl. His new deal could average in between the 8-10 million dollar range.



Larry Warford – 6ft3, 333 lbs. – 25 years old
This youngen will turn 26 in June and is line to make around 9-10 million a season. Warford has missed a bit of time over the years; but just one contest this past season though due to a hip injury. Run blocking is his strong suit and has shown a ton of potential when not hurt.



Ronald Leary – 6ft3, 317 lbs. – 27 years old
This Baton Rouge native could end up coming home to Louisiana this offseason for around 5-7 million a year. He has a ton of power packed into his frame, but former LSU Tiger La'el Collins is ahead of him on the Cowboys depth chart. Leary started 12 games in 2016 and allowed no sacks while just getting flagged 4 times.
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Saints FA Targets: Secondary


This begins our four part series on position groups the Saints are targeting in Free Agency. Check out our Saints Free Agency HQ throughout the week for breakdowns of the LB, DE, and G targets for the team.
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CORNERBACKS

The Saints defense was able to show slight improvement last year but fixing the league's 30th ranked pass defense remains a top priority for 2017.

Sure the lack of a pass rush didn't help but there were also a ton of injuries at the cornerback position. Expected starter Keenan Lewis could never get on the field during training camp and they lost Kyle Wilson and Damian Swann before the season ever started. Kickoff comes and then PJ Williams and Devlin Breaux go down leaving newbies Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris to be thrust into action. Veterans B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore were brought in and provided some pretty solid play as well as a positive presence in the locker room. Both of those vets are unrestricted free agents but could return as role players.

The Saints may also opt to do a little high priced corner shopping in free agency. Here are 4 upper tier targets they could pursue:

A.J. Bouye 6ft, 191 lbs. - This 26 year old came out of nowhere to post a Pro Bowl season for the Houston Texans and now looks to cash in. Is he a shut-down corner on the rise or a one-year wonder? He showed a solid ability to break up passes and is a good tackler. It is believed that Bouye could command around $12 million a year on his new deal.

Stephon Gilmore 6ft1, 190 lbs. - This former 1st rounder should see top dollar on the open market and is likely shuffling on off from Buffalo. He was drafted 10th overall by the Bills in 2012 and will look to cash in with a contender. Gilmore tallied 5 interceptions last year and even managed to pick off Brees at the Pro Bowl.
*The Saints may want to steer clear of this guy though given their past history with FAs who came from Buffalo (see Jairus Byrd & CJ Spiller…but then again Jabri Greer)


Logan Ryan 5ft11, 194 lbs. – Sean Payton and his staff have had a chance to take a good look at this 26 year old over the last 2 seasons of joint training camp practices with the Patriots. Ryan has played outside or in the slot for New England and recorded 11 passes defended with 2 INTs this past year. His ability to line up at multiple positions along with being a solid tackler make him a tempting target to try and lure from Emperor Bellichik's reign.

Prince Amukamara 6ft, 202 lbs. – This royal defender signed a one year contact with the Jaguars last year and proved he's still got "it" despite a number of previous injuries while with the Giants. Amukamara's speed and coverage skills could be a nice addition along with his veteran presence if New Orleans decides to not re-sign Webb or Moore.

SAFETIES


Safety has recently become a bigger need for this Black & Gold ballclub with the ending of the Jairus Byrd experience after 3 years. The Byrdman's time in New Orleans finishes with 33 games played in which he forced 2 fumbles and added 3 interceptions. Now, Vonn Bell, who is entering year 2, would be the guy starting with Kenny Vaccaro. That may prompt the Saints to add a more veteran presence for the free safety spot.

D.J. Swearinger 5ft10, 205 lbs. – He racked up 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed last season in Arizona. Swearinger was initially drafted in the 2nd round by Houston in 2013 but never lived up to expectations until this past season with the Cardinals. Maybe it was a product of the system in the dessert but still entering his prime at 25 years old.
Bradley McDougald 6ft1, 209 lbs. – Started all 16 games for Tampa last year and logged 91 tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions. Has shown improvement every year in the NFL since going undrafted out of Kansas in 2013. New Orleans staff pretty familiar with him having to play the Bucs twice a year.


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Steve: What will it take for Pelicans to make the playoffs?

They're baaaaack! The All-Star break is OVAH and the Pelicans return to action to host the Houston Rockets.  It’s been quite some time since there has been this much excitement over the Pels playing. The team is 11 games under .500 but it’s the addition of DeMarcus Cousin that has folks anxious to see if the newly formed “Big Easy Big 3” can rally for a playoff push.  

Cousins joins Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday in the quest to achieve the eighth seed in the Western Conference; which is currently 2.5 games out of reach with 25 games left to play in the regular season. 
 
2.5 games may not seem like a lot of ground to make up, but some have estimated the team needs to win 15 of their remaining games to have a shot at a spot in the postseason.  The "Voice of the Pelicans" Joel Meyers feels that total needs to be even high.

"You not only have to catch Denver, but there are a couple of other teams between you and Denver," Myers said.  "You're 3 back in the loss column, you are bunched in with a few other teams that you've got to hop over and I think you have to be north of 15-10. More like 18 wins."  
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Steve: 5 games in 6 days for LSU baseball

Baseball season for LSU is off and running.  The Tigers went 3-0 opening weekend and don't get to ease into things as they must now must deal with 5 games in the next 6 days.  The Tigers travel to 3-0 UNO tonight, then go back home to host Hofstra for another mid-week match-up on Wednesday and will then welcome Maryland into Alex Box for a 3 game weekend series.

Senior southpaw Jared Poche was named the SEC's pitcher of the week after tossing a 7 inning no-hitter this this past Saturday.  Poche struck out four while walking not a single soul in a 6-0 shutout of Army.  In fact the only batter to reach base was on an error.  Its was the 6th no-no in school history and the first for LSU since 1979.
  
5 members of the Bayou Bengals battery really stood out this past weekend.  2nd baseman Cole Freeman is leading the team with a .600 batting average while fellow senior Kramer Robertson is right behind him hitting .556.   Freshmen Jake Slaughter and Josh Smith didnt waste any time getting comfortable at the plate.  They combined to go 7 of 15 while plating 8 RBIs. Then there is junior Greg Deichman who didn't let surgery following a busted cheekbone cause him to be hesitant at the plate. The outfielder launched 2 homeruns and had 5 RBI and is hitting .444.  

We'll see if those bats stay warm when LSU takes on UNO in Maestri field this evening at 6:30pm.  The Tigers have won eight straight games over the Privateers, but their head coach Blake Dean has the program on the rise in his 2nd year as skipper.  Dean played for LSU and coach Paul Mainieri from 2007-2010. 
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The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert predicts Patriots in SBLI

Football season is about to be over, as the NFL finale is set for 5:30pm in Houston’s NRG Stadium. Once again we have the New England Patriots representing the AFC. Coach Bill Belichik and Tom Brady have made it to this game now seven times and have held up the Lombardi trophy in four of those chances.  To get number five they’ll have to shoot down the Falcons from the ATL who earned the NFC crown. The Dirty Birds offense can pour on the points and looks just as deadly as the Saints offense did in 2011.

What does the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert feel about Las Vegas having New England as 3 point favorites?

“I think the point spread is about right. I have it 27-24 Patriots. Some fans say they want to see the Falcons get crushed; I don’t think that’s going to happen.  If the Falcons were playing any other AFC team, I’d pick Atlanta.”

The age old question of which is better to have will be on display Sunday.  Atlanta owns the top scoring offense putting put 34 points per game while New England is the league’s top defense surrendering a mere 16 points per contest.

EA Sports' "Madden" Super Bowl simulation has the final score dead on to Hebert’s prognostication:



Good news for Falcons haters.  Madden has correctly predicted the victor of the big game 9 out of 13 times. See Bobby and Deke talk about their predictions below:

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