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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and Seth Dunlap on "Double Coverage!" 

Weeknights 8pm-Midnight

Twitter: @kristiangaric
Email: kristian@wwl.com

Kristian: Saints to release Jairus Byrd according to report

The Saints plan to release Safety Jairus Byrd before the beginning of the league year on March 9th, according to a report.  

Byrd was due a base salary of $7.4 million dollars, and projected to count $11.2 million dollars against the salary cap.  Byrd represents $8 million dollars in dead cap money, but nets the Saints $3.2 million dollars of cap savings.

In three seasons with the team, Byrd played in 33 games with 31 starts void of the big plays he made as a Buffalo Bill, before signing with the Saints in the 2014 off-season.  Byrd's first two seasons were marred by injuries, before appearing in all 16 games last season with 15 starts. 

The Saints have not announced the pending transaction, first reported by Ian Rappaport of NFL network. 
Hear the latest on Sportstalk with Bobby & Deke tomorrow at 4pm, and talk about the latest Saints & NFL Combine News with Kristian Garic & Seth Dunlap tomorrow night at 8!
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Arden Key taking time away from football

Perhaps the most talented LSU defender entering the 2017 season is taking a break from football for personal reasons.  

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron announced the news earlier today: “In consultation with our staff and his family, Arden Key has decided to take some time away from football for personal reasons. We fully support Arden in his decision and look forward to welcoming him back home to the Tiger family at the appropriate time.”  

The Big Chief Deke Bellavia says this is a huge loss for LSU. "Key was one of the best sack specialists in the country last season, and considered to be Heisman candidate by some experts.  Losing Key really hurts, this is a big blow for the Tigers," Bellavia explained. 
Orgeron and Key will have no further comment on the matter. Orgeron asked that fans and members of the media respect the privacy of Key as this is a personal matter.

Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: FB John Kuhn back with the Saints

The Saints are bringing back FB John Kuhn on a one year contract, per league sources.

The veteran FB joined the Saints in training camp last season after Austin Johnson injured his knee. Kuhn provides veteran leadership and really good versatility as a blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield.

The one year contract is worth the veteran minimum, according to one source.

Photo via USA Today
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Saints hire two more assistant coaches

The Saints continue to fill coaching staff vacancies, as first reported by ESPN.  Curtis Johnson is back as the Saints WR Coach.  Johnson spent last season as the Chicago Bears WR coach, but after Johnny Morton left the Black and Gold to run the New York Jets offense, the path was paved to reunite with the Saints and coach Sean Payton.

Johnson assumes the same post he held from 2006 to 2011 before leaving to be the head coach of Tulane.  Johnson will take over perhaps one of the best wide receiver trio's in the NFL with veterans Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Thomas. "He's an excellent motivator, there won't be a lot of missed assignments from the receivers. He's very detailed," explained Saints color analyst Deuce McAllister. 

New Orleans also hired a special teams coach. Bradford Banta will lead the Saints special teams units this season. He spent the last three seasons as an assistant special teams coach with the Washington Redskins. Kevin O'dea will return as the teams assistant special teams coach. The team has not officially announced the hires of Johnson and Banta.  The Saints special teams unit were an eye sore last season under Greg McMahon, with miscues in three games that likely cost the Saints a few wins.
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Saints hire Sirius XM host Mike Nolan

The Saints have a new linebacker coach. Mike Nolan is leaving his satellite radio post to join Sean Payton's coaching staff.

The post Nolan will assume was previously held by Joe Vitt before being fired this off season. Nolan is an experienced coach in the league, and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

The move was announced on Twitter by Sirius XM radio.
  Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: Saints still believe in Anthony; White a no-go at Senior Bowl

How does Saints third year linebacker Stephone Anthony fit into the future plans? We might not truly find out until training camp and beyond, but assistant GM Jeff Ireland says the the team still thinks pretty highly of their former first round pick. "We still believe in Stephone, I think he's going to have a great year next year. It's a shame he got injured at he end of the year.  His best football is ahead of him. I'm looking forward to seeing him develop into the player we thought back in 2015," said Ireland.

 Anthony was selected by the Saints out of Clemson 31st over all that year, and after a strong rookie campaign had a tough time finding the field in '16.  Sean Payton described Anthony as struggling with his instincts earlier last season. Anthony registered just 16 total tackles this season, and spent the final two games of the season on injured reserve with a leg injury. 

This week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, has been productive for the team. The Saints have met with a variety of players, including LSU Linebacker Duke Riley, Center Ethan Pocic and QB Nate Peterman from Pitt.  As I mentioned yesterday you can't read too much into the visit portion this week - after all most teams meet with just about every player available. 

LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White (ankle) will not play in the Senior Bowl on Saturday.  White suffered his ankle injury on Wednesday at practice.  The decision to not play in this game isn't surprising nor will it impact his draft stock in April.  Scouts that I've talked to have all agreed his college tape plus the first couple of practices this week clearly has him as a first rounder.  Also, he'll have opportunities at the combine, Pro-Day, and private work outs to answer any unfulfilled questions about this game. 

Photo via USA Today
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Kristian: Saints Coaching news? Boulware, Riley on Black & Gold radar

Saints Coach Sean Payton hasn't been at the first two days worth of practices for Senior Bowl week, but he's been busy interviewing coaches to fill five vacancies on his staff.  

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan reportedly interviewed with the Saints this week in Mobile, and was spotted sitting with Saints coaches and scouts during practice on Wednesday.  Nolan recently interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  We're not clear on if Nolan has been officially hired.  The Saints are in the market for a defensive line coach and linebackers coach after the firing of Joe Vitt and Bill Johnson. 

Clemson's Ben Boulware is undersized but is very much on the Saints radar.  One scout describes him as having "off the charts football instincts."  You can see it on the field during practice, he's always one step ahead of the offense and is nearly perfect in his reads.  "He's tremendous, and some teams will be scared off from his size at 6'0 - but he was a big part of that National Championship team for Clemson, and people that know him rave about his leaderships skills," said one NFC scout.

LSU Linebacker Duke Riley is another player the Saints seem interested in.  Riley met with the Saints at the beginning of the week and he described the meeting as "really good, it was great meeting their defensive staff and the GM. I think it went well."  Riley grew up watching the Saints as a home grown New Orleans kid that prepped at John Curtis High School. 

LSU Cornerback Tre'Davious White left practice early with an ankle injury but walked off under his own power.  The Senior Bowl doesn't release injury reports so it's not exactly clear as to the severity of the injury.  Offensive lineman Ethan Pocic has also met with the Saints, and while New Orleans doesn't necessarily have a need at center they do have a need as a swing player along the offensive line, so Pocic makes sense for the Saints to look at.  
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Saints doing homework on O-Line, Linebacker, and QB's at Senior bowl

Two obvious areas of need for the Saints in the upcoming NFL Draft are along the offensive line, linebacker and even quarterback. The Saints spent nearly two hours with Pittsburgh QB Nate Peterman last night at the Senior Bowl. I asked GM Mickey Loomis about how much time the team spends discussing life after Drew Brees.

"Some, not a lot though. We're focused on the now. How do we make our team better now. That's the mood we're in. I have an eye on the future. Drew didn't show any signs of slowing down, and I'm excited about that," Loomis explained.  However, he added the team is "always on the look out for the QB of the future." 

The Saints have not made a decision on the location of training camp for the summer, according to Loomis, but he expects a decision to be made soon. The Saints spent the last three summers in West Virginia, but the team and the Greenbrier didn't renew their contract to hold training camp there for 2017.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Saints return to Metairie for this season, considering the three training camps in West Virginia have resulted in 7-9 seasons. 

Reports surfaced again this season about the future of Sean Payton in New Orleans, and the prospect of the team looking to trade him this off-season.  Loomis dismissed all those reports. "No teams called me, I haven't called any teams. I don't know where that stuff comes from. Once it gets on the internet it spreads. That's the nature of the business," Loomis added. Loomis also said "I value him as our head coach and our relationship is as strong as ever." 

The Saints are in a different situation this off-season with over $35 million dollars to spend in free agency, as opposed to the last couple of seasons. "It will be a little different, a little more room that we've had in the past. It's not a surprise.  It will be nice to have a little room and flexibility," Loomis said.

The Saints still have to get a deal done with DT Nick Fairley. "We're still going through the evaluation process, it's premature to comment on that. We'll have a list of things we need to accomplish, he played well for us" Loomis explained. 

There has been so much consternation about the involvement from team owner Tom Benson, who is 90. Loomis said Benson is not pleased with three straight 7-9 campaigns. "He's not happy with 7-9, yet he understands the building process. He's been nothing but supportive," Loomis explained. Loomis also downplayed his perceived roll with the Pelicans proving a distraction to his job as the Saints General Manager.

Saints LB Hau'Oli Kikaha is on the mend after suffering a torn ACL last off-season, and I'm told he's ahead of schedule by a league source -but I would expect the Saints to take it slow with his recovery.  Kikaha likely will be able to participate in the off-season conditioning program and workouts, but the Saints will likley be cautious in bringing him back to full speed.  I wouldn't be surprised nor alarmed if Kikaha isn't on the field before training camp. 

Don't be surprised if the Saints explore the tight end position in the NFL draft. Alabama Tight End O.J Howard will probably be the first player drafted from this years Senior Bowl, and it could be the Saints that pull the triger on him.  Another name to watch is Ole Miss Tight End Evan Engram, who the Saints like.  Sure the team spent big money on Coby Fleener last off-season, but there is something to be said for a young talent at that position. 
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Drew Brees headed to Orlando for Pro Bowl

Despite being initially a Pro Bowl snub, Saints QB Drew Brees is headed to Orlando for the NFL all-star game after all.  

Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan punched the Falcons' ticket to Super Bowl XLI, and will forgo the chance to play in the Pro Bowl, which opens the door for Brees.  

The Saints finished 7-9 for the third straight season despite some eye popping offensive numbers from number 9. The 16-year veteran completed 70% of his passes this season, throwing for over 5,000 yards with 37 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.  

This will be his 10th appearance in the Pro Bowl, and so far, Brees is the only Saint to get an invite. Read the rest of the Saints' announcement below:


New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been named to the 2017 NFC Pro Bowl squad, it was announced by the Saints and the National Football League today. It is Brees’ 10th Pro Bowl overall and his franchise-record ninth as a member of the Saints. The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 29 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The game will be televised live at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN. 

Brees, 6-0, 209, finished his 16th NFL season and 11th with the Saints. In 2016, he started all 16 games completed 471-of-673 passes (70.0%) for 5,208 yards with 37 touchdown passes and a 101.7 passer rating, finishing the season ranked first in the league in attempts, completions and passing yardage, second in completion percentage, third in touchdown passes and fifth in passer rating. The only player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards more than once, Brees’ 5,208 passing yardage total marked the fifth time he reached the 5,000-yard mark and was the fourth-highest total in league record books. It also marked the NFL-record seventh season where Brees led the league or tied for the lead in passing yardage. His 471 completions set an NFL record.

In his 16-year NFL career, the Purdue University product, who originally entered the NFL as a second round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2001, before signing with the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006, has played in 233 games (232 starts) and has completed 5,836 of 8,758 passes (66.6%) for 66,111 yards, 465 touchdown passes and a 96.3 passer rating. He’s the NFL’s all-time most accurate passer, is ranked third in completions, passing yardage and touchdown passes and seventh in rating.

Brees will replace Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan at the Pro Bowl, whose team advanced to the Super Bowl.


Photo via USA Today

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Kristian: Who's ready for some LSU baseball?

Me, me, me! Love it or hate it, I'll admit I'm a college baseball junkie, and can't wait for LSU's 2017 season.  You should be excited too.  

The Tigers are going to be really, really good, perhaps title contending good. LSU coach Paul Maineiri has a loaded squad with ace Pitcher Alex Lange back for his Junior season, not to mention SR Left Hander Jared Poche.  LSU has their weekend rotation set, which is huge when contending in the the SEC.  

I'm not the only one that thinks high of LSU baseball this season.  Perfect Game and the National Collegiate Baseball pre-season polls both have LSU at No. 2 in the country.   Experience will be LSU's biggest advantage this season with veterans like catcher Micahel Papierski, infielder Kramer Robertson, 2B Cole Freeman, and 1B Gregg Deichmann returning, just to name a few. Deichmann will be the biggest power bat in the Tigers line up, smacking 11 home runs last season.  

The Tigers are replacing just one position starter this year. Bryce and Beau Jordan return for their Junior seasons, along with sparkplug Antoine Duplantis, and steady 3B Chris Reid.  The third starting pitcher is always kind of a work in progress and evolves as the season goes along, and trust me, that holds true for just about every team in the country.  The Tigers have talent at the front line spots on defense, in the batting order, starting rotation and the bullpen with the likes of Hunter Newman, Alden Cartwright, Caleb Gilbert, and Russell Reynolds as options out the bullpen for LSU.  The front runner for the Tigers closer roll is Hunter Newman, with 8 saves a year ago. 

LSU will have to navigate the treacherous SEC with teams like Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss all ranked in the top 10.  However, the Tigers overachieved last year as young team, and living up to the expectations that are LSU baseball might be a pitfall.  However, I can't wait for the Tigers to play ball starting at home against Air Force on February 17th.  LSU's first big match up will be in Houston against No. 1 TCU at the Shriners Hospitals for Children college classic, on March 3rd.  Omaha hasn't been kind to LSU in recent years, but this year could be different.  

I fully expect LSU to get to Omaha at the College World Series and make some noise.  This is going to be a really fun season!
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