We got the news this morning that the Saints had agreed to terms with Victor Butler, an outside linebacker who played for two seasons under Rob Ryan in Dallas. He was drafted in the 4th round back in in 2009 by the Cowboys.
Butler was a situational pass-rusher, playing as a backup. Overall, he played in 63 games with the Cowboys, with two starts, 64 tackles and 11 sacks. 49 of the tackles were solo. He also had three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He also had 40 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams.
I think he will be a really nice fit for New Orleans, and could become a premiere pass-rusher at the OLB position. He has some familiarity with the 3-4 defense, having played under Ryan's scheme before for two years.
He's been one of the more sought-after free agents at the OLB position.
So, what about Nnamdi Asomugha? Stay tuned. We're still kind of in a holding patter for that veteran DB.
All Black & Gold hands on deck: The Saints seemingly had just about every member of their coaching and front office staff at LSU Pro Day in Baton Rouge to get eyeballs on the supreme talent on display. Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan ran the linebacker drills, which included Barkevious Mingo. (Click HERE to view a photo gallery from LSU Pro Day.)
When you watch Mingo you can see why most have him projected as a top 15 overall pick in April’s NFL draft. He’s so explosive…and, as one NFL scout told me, “He has game-changing ability at OLB, and some teams will shy away because he’s thought of as strictly a pass rusher.” Mingo has been knocked for his seeming inability to hold up against the run, but he has has a simple answer: “Just watch the tape, they’ll see.” Saints coach Sean Payton was in attendance as well, but kept a very low profile.
Fast Feet: They say speed kills, and cornerback Tharold Simon killed the 40 yard dash at Pro Day, clocking a 4.39. Simon’s going to be a really good player at the next level…his stride is long, and even if he gets beat at the line, he’s so quick, he can close the gap so quickly. Running back Michael Ford also clocked a sub-4.4 40 yard dash with the same time as Simon at 4.39. I would say Ford is a player that helped his draft stock, and then some, at Pro Day. Safety Eric Reid logged an impressive time as well at 4.5 in the 40.
Familiar Face: Tyrann Mathieu was clearly the most intriguing prospect on the field, because of his off-field troubles. One personnel evaluator said this of Mathieu “He just gets it done, he’s a play maker. He has a rare knack for finding the ball, and if he can stay in the right place mentally, he’s going to be a really good player.” Most scouts feel like he’ll go in the 3rd round, but a team might get anxious and pull the trigger in the 2nd round.
Shepard: Wide receiver Russell Shepard might be in line for a position change at the NFL level. After working out at his normal flanker position, Shepard worked out as a defensive back as well. “A few teams think I have a shot to play cornerback and asked me to work out with them, so I’m willing to do what it takes to get there. I thought I did well, I just need some coaching and I’ll get it,” Shepard said after the work out. Sheppard also worked out privately with the Saints, mainly returning kicks and punts after his Pro Day.
Well, a league source tells me that the Saints and LB Victor Butler had their visit, and he left town without a deal. I'm honestly a little surprised.
Butler worked under Rob Ryan for two years when they were both in Dallas. The Saints have a real need in the OLB area. He would also bring some much-needed pass-rushing skills to the Saints defense. And, even though he hasn't made his chops in the NFL yet, he's just 25, the perfect age for development.
Butler has visited a number of teams so far without being able to work out a deal. His asking price may be a little high. The Saints may just be not willing to spend what he's asking, right now.
Of course, never say never...it *could* come back around, it's not a done deal. Just because he left town without a contract doesn't mean he won't eventually wear the Black and Gold. Stay tuned.
With free agent LB Victor Butler visiting the Saints, I think the chances are very strong he doesn't leave New Orleans Friday without a deal in place. Butler has made a handful of visits to other teams and not worked out a deal, because he wants to be with the Saints if the money is right.
Butler studied for two seasons under Rob Ryan when the two were in Dallas. OLB is an area of need for the Saints, and Butler also brings some pass rush ability to the Saints defense. He's a bit unproven in four years in the league, but is at the perfect age of 25 with seemingly his best football in front of him.
Asomugha Nnamdi: This is such a difficult one to call. Nnamdi is owed $4 million by the Eagles as a part of the five year deal he signed 2 years ago. The 49ers and Saints are in the hunt for the veteran corner back and the difference could be Rob Ryan. This is clearly a case of Asomugha trying to find the right fit. Stay tuned.
Herring: Linebacker Will Herring has reportedly agreed to re-sign with the Saints for a one-year contract. It's more of a depth move that's low-risk for the team. I think he's questionable to make the team...He'll have to earn it.
The NFL owners eliminated the tuck rule today at the owners’ meeting. Thank God! It may have been the dumbest rule ever. I didn’t understand it anyway. It was also known as the “Brady rule.” Hardly anyone knew it existed until that infamous game between the Patriots and Raiders in 2002. Now, it’s gone. Good riddance.
The owners also passed a ban on offensive ball carriers that lead with the crown of their helmet in the open field on a defender. The infraction is a 15 yard penalty. Huh? Yep, the league just eliminated a dumb rule and replaced it with an even dumber one. I mean, you didn't see the "tuck rule" called that often...but the "helmet rule" could be called several times a game.
How can you officiate the “helmet rule?” It passed by a 31 to 1 margin. I think the team that voted against it should be rewarded with an automatic $5 million dollars in salary cap room. I’m not kidding. I’m waiting for the league to put flags on the uniforms next season!! It’s coming!
As a fan of the NFL, I want the officials out of the game as much as possible. This rule clearly places them in the middle of the action, potentially impacting the outcome of a game. That’s not what we want, is it?
We’ll discuss the rule changes today at 4:00 on SportsTalk with me and Bobby Hebert.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis stopped by the SportsTalk radio huddle with me and Bobby on Tuesday. Loomis gave us an update on how things are going in free agency as the Saints also look ahead to the draft next month.
One of Bobby’s first questions for Mickey was about finding a new starting LT to protect Drew. Loomis said that while Bushrod will be missed, he wasn’t completely surprised that another team made an offer the Saints just could not match.
“Jermon did a good job for us,” Loomis said. “I heard the same kind of concerns when Jamal Brown left us, and Jermon stepped in at that time and has done a good job for a number of years for us. So, the same thing will happen here. We'll find either a guy who's currently on the roster, or somebody we bring in, who will take the mantle who will step up and play that position. “
So, is the job Charles Brown’s to lose? Not so fast, according to Loomis.
“I think this: We've got a number of young linemen on the roster that we like. And they haven't been tested on fire, per se, but we like the things that we've seen so far. But I will say this: Charles has played in a number of games and has done well for us. He hasn't been able to stay healthy like we need him to...But no one's going to be handed the job. They're going to have to earn it. Charles isn't going to be any different than any player, in that regard.“
With all the pressure to turn the defense around, we asked Mickey if he and Sean are heading into the draft looking to draft the best player available, or does think there may be value in going back in the order and go after a defensive player?
“That's a good question,” Loomis said. “I think the philosophy that's done well for us is to take the best player available. Now, what you hope for, and what often happens, is when you're picking, you'll have three guys who are graded...equal, then you get the option of selecting the position that better suits your needs. But, let's go back to Deuce Mcallister, the year we drafted him. He was clearly head and shoulders better than any other player we had on our board. So, we took Deuce, and that happened again a couple of years later with Will Smith. What you want is the highest grade of players to fit the need you have.
And, Loomis remained tight-lipped about whether there could be any further discussions on whether Drew or Roman Harper may restructure their deals. However, he did say that restructuring a massive deal like Drew’s would have serious long-term implications to the salary cap in the years to come.
“We're going to be, not as tight, but we're going to be tight again next year. And so, restructuring money from one year to the next isn't necessarily in our best interest. We've got to comply with a flat salary cap for a few years here, so pushing it off down the road just creates another problem for us, so we've got to be very careful about how we do that.
Loomis also commented on the signing of DB Kennan Lewis and TE Benjamin Watson
“Keenan Lewis is a great addition for us. I don't know who's more excited, for us to have him or for him to be back in New Orleans. So that's really refreshing when a good player who's from New Orleans is extremely excited to play for the saints. Ben Watson is going to be one of those 'under the radar' editions, and is going to be an important part of our team. He gives us another weapon at the position, he's a well-rounded player, and he's a veteran player who'll be good for Jimmy Graham and our offense in general. “
Free agency is nearly a week old and the market is drying up quickly with a few big names still on the market. We'll take a look at the best available free agents and some possible fits for the Saints. I'll give you three names to watch at two different positions. Cornerback and Linebacker are up first. Tomorrow we'll look at offensive line and defensive line.
1. Nnamdi Asomugha: The 31 year old veteran was in New Orleans over the weekend for a sit down with the Saints. Asomugha is intriguing for the simple fact that he's still on the market. He doesn't have the leverage he had a week ago and the Saints could get a really good player at a pretty decent price. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is familiar with Asomugha having coached him, when the two were with the Raiders a few years ago.
2. Brent Grimes: He's still on the market after coming off an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season. If he's recovered, Grimes is a solid player. Some teams might question just how much he has recovered from his injury. Grimes is a notch below Asomugha as one of the top tier guys still available.
3. Antoine Winfield: He's 36 and that usually is considered ancient by NFL standards. The Vikings cut Winfield at the start of free agency, but he would fit in New Orleans if they miss out on Asomugha or Grimes. Winfield is likely headed toward a 1 year deal with his next team.
1. Victor Butler: He's definitely on the Saints radar, but also on other teams’ radar as well. He's a young player, and that's something the Saints love in plucking free agents off the market. Butler might command a bigger contract than the Saints are willing to pay for a guy who is an unproven back-up player in Dallas for four seasons. Rob Ryan knows this player pretty well too and can provide the Saints with some really good intel. I don't think he lands in New Orleans.
2. Elvis Dummervil: I have him ranked below Butler simply because I don't think the Saints can afford him. He would be a nice addition to the Black & Gold, but after the contract snafu in Denver he's going to look for big cash now that he has unexpectedly become a free agent.
3. James Harrison: The Saints have reached out to the veteran linebacker; gauging his interest in coming to New Orleans. I'm told Harrison would love to land in the Big Easy. However, this looks like a 1 or 2 year deal in the making. Harrison is in his mid-thirties with the possibility of just a season or two of good play left. The Saints could go with Harrison as some insurance in case they miss out on the guy they want in the draft.
Courtney Roby: The Saints will have their special teams captain back in the mix for at least one more year. Wide receiver Courtney Roby has agreed to terms on a 1-year deal with the Saints. Roby had hoped for something long-term, but decided to take the 1 year deal with the Saints.
Roby did receive some attention from the Cowboys and Giants during free agency.
Nnamdi sighting: Free agent corner back Nnamdi Asomugha was in New Orleans over the weekend, visiting with the Saints about possibility reuniting with Rob Ryan.
Asomugha played uner Ryan in Oakland, when he was the defensive coordinator for the silver and black. The 31-year-old corner was released by the Eagles on Tuesday and visited with the 49ers last week.
If the Saints reach a deal with Asomugha, it likely means the end for one of two cornerbacks currently on the roster, Patrick Robinson or Jabari Greer. Robinson makes more sense to part ways with.
Kristian@wwl.com - Free agency is nearly four days old, and the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New Orleans Saints have all made some moves to improve their teams. The Carolina Panthers are cash-strapped and appear to be sitting this one out. We’ll take a look at some of the moves from the rest of division and how that impacts the Saints.
Atlanta Falcons: The Dirty Birds have only added one player so far in the free agency period, but he’s a big one. Running Back Steven Jackson agreed to a three year deal with the Falcons. Jackson has eight straight 1,000 yard seasons. He’s 29 years old but doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Atlanta has done a good job of retaining some of their free agents. Safety William Moore, and Offensive Lineman Sam Baker have been re-signed by the Falcons.
The offensive firepower they currently have on their roster is downright scary. “To beat them you better be able to score points, it won’t be 13-10 when you play them. The Falcons are going to be really tough,” says WWL’s Bobby Hebert. “The addition of Steven Jackson scares the heck out of me.”
I agree with Bobby, Atlanta really helped themselves by keeping their own players plus adding a key piece to the puzzle and they also have tight end Tony Gonzalez coming back for one more bite of the apple.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last year they were the big spenders in free agency, and it improved their team. So far they’ve landed another big acquisition and are poised to add another. Tampa grabbed Safety Dashon Goldson to help bolster the worst pass defense in the NFL. The Bucs gave Goldson a five year deal, averaging about $8 million per season. That’s a lot of cash, but Goldson is an absolute ball hawk, hauling in 9 interceptions in two seasons previously with San Francisco.
And, for the second year in a row, Tampa plucked a player from the Saints, signing linebacker Jonathan Casillas to a four year deal. Casillas is a fast linebacker the Saints liked, but were unwilling to pay $3 million a year.
Carolina Panthers: For a team that won four straight games down the stretch and with little cash, it looks as though the Panthers are going to sit and watch in free agency. The Panthers haven’t added any players to the mix, but might enter the fray after the market starts to settle.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints began the reconstruction of the NFL’s worst defense from a year ago by nabbing a cornerback. Keenan Lewis signed a five-year deal with the Saints worth $26 million, $10 million of that in guaranteed cash. Lewis wasn’t the best corner on the market, but he’s the one with the most value. At 26 years old, the Saints love his upside. Lewis was 2nd in the NFL last season in passes defensed.
The Saints now have a rather big hole to fill on the offensive line. Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod is off to Chicago to play for the Bears, inking a huge 5-year deal worth $36 million, with $17 million in guaranteed money.
The Black & Gold also lost backup QB Chase Daniel to the Chiefs. Daniel wanted a chance to start, and that wasn’t going to happen in New Orleans.
The Saints have signed Steelers cornerback, and New Orleans native, Keenan Lewis to a five-year deal.
A league source tells me the deal is worth $26 million, with $10 million of that guaranteed.
After a standout career at O. Perry Walker, Lewis went on to sucess out of Oregon State, then became a four-year veteran after being drafted in the 3rd round by the Steelers.
He's a big physical corner with nice size at 6" 1' and 208 pounds. He posted 71 tackles last season with Pittsburgh.
"I’m very excited to be able to come back to my hometown,” Lewis said. “Having grown up here I understand the passion that the fans have for the Saints and I’m blessed to be able to have the chance to play in front of them here in the future. I had a great visit with the Saints and am thankful for the time I spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers and wish them continued success.”
Kristian@wwl.com - Let’s get you caught up on the latest on the Saints in free agency:
Saints free agent linebacker Jonathan Casillas agreed to a four-year deal with Tampa. Casillas came to the Black and Gold as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009. This is not a significant loss, as Casillas flashed potential but was banged up in his time with New Orleans. They can find another un-drafted free agent to replace him.
Free agent cornerback Keenan Lewis visited with the Saints on Wednesday. On Thursday the team will visit with another free agent defensive back, Derek Cox. Both are four-year veterans with plenty of upside. Lewis prepped at O.P Walker High School and is New Orleans Native.
My source tells me the Saints really like Lewis. Cox had four interceptions last season with Jacksonville.
The New Orleans Saints will have free agent D-back Derek Cox at the team's training facility on Airline Drive tomorrow. Cox played four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being selected in the 3rd round in 2009.
New Orleans taking a slow, methodical approach in the early-goings of free agency. The Black and Gold also expressed interest in former LSU defensive tackle Rickey Jean-Francois, who is visiting the Eagles today.
I'm also told the Saints have not reached out to free agent Linebacker John Abraham for a visit or any discussions.
Butler update: If the Saints are indeed interested in linebacker Victor Butler, it will likely cost them in the neighborhood of 4 years and $16 million dollars, with about $3 million to $4 million guaranteed. Not the most expensive deal, but might be a bit to pricy for the Saints, given their cash flow issues.
Kristian@wwl.com - The Saints were able to free up some cap space by restructuring the contracts of LB Jonathan Vilma and DE Will Smith on this first day of NFL free agency. Following news of the deal to restructure his contract, along with a reported pay cut, Smith Tweeted, "Loyalty is everything." Despite the fact that the Saints saved $12.3 million today, and now hover about $7.4 million under the cap, the Black & Gold lost a fairly significant player on the left side of the offensive line today.
Windy City payday: Jermon Bushrod is reuniting with Aaron Kromer in Chicago. The Bears gave the man most responsible for protecting Drew Brees at left tackle 5 years at $35.6 million, with $17.7 million of that guaranteed. That's a lot for a team that is trying to rebuild their defense. Bushrod was one of my favorites to talk to after the games, but I would have passed on $7 million per year if I were the Saints.
Daniel going home: Chase Daniel spent three seasons with the Saints as the understudy to Drew Brees, and now has a 3 year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Daniel will now compete with Alex Smith for the starting job. He’s always looked at himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and now he might get his chance. Daniel played collegiately at the University of Missouri, and many Chiefs fans are abuzz about the prospect of getting a “local boy” in the fold at QB.
Interest: The Saints have shown interest in a few players on the defensive side of the ball so far. LB Victor Butler, who was with Rob Ryan in Dallas, is on the Saints Radar. So is former LSU standout DT Rickey Jean-Francois, now with the Niners. And, I’ve also learned the Saints are interested in DB Brice McCain, most recently with the Texans. The Saints have not yet scheduled any visits with the aforementioned players at this time.
It's early: I know fans want the Saints to go out and spend a ton of money right away, but that's not in their style. The Black and Gold wait for the market to settle, and then go find bargains. GM Mickey Loomis and Coach Sean Payton know what they are doing. They don't go into anything without having a "What If" plan.
As free agency is set to open at 3:00pm today the Saints are targeting a defensive back early in the process.
Unrestricted free agent cornerback Brice McCain is on the Saints' radar, and I'm told things could heat up quickly between McCain and the Saints.
McCain was the Houston Texans starting nickel back in 2012. He's been in the league for three seasons. McCain is a bit undersized at 5'9" and 185 pounds, but I'm told he will be off the market fairly quickly.
The Texans selected the Utah product in the 6th round of the 2009 draft. He's played in a 3-4 scheme under Wade Phillips, and the scheme is similar to that of new Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan will use in New Orleans.
McCain has played in 44 games (2 starts) entering his fourth season as a pro.
Kristian@wwl.com - The new league year begins on March 12th. However, as far as the Saints are concerned, it’s already underway.
Following several Saints players on Twitter, you can see their excitement and enthusiasm for the upcoming season…Tweeting about their individual work outs, and wishing the season was right around the corner.
The Saints begin their off-season training program in April, and Drew Brees says he can’t wait. "Absolutely. We're all chomping at the bit. Obviously excited to have Coach Payton back, and excited to get back to work. I always look forward to that down time with the family, and I've taken full advantage of it, this last month or so. But I cannot wait to get back to work when the time comes.”
It’s a chance for normalcy, as for the first time in a year New Orleans won’t be talking bounties and appeals. They’ll be talking X’s and O’s. The rest of the league is squarely in the crosshairs of the team. The Saints typically approach every season with urgency, but this one will be interesting to watch from the front row. They’ve had a year to stew on the banishment of their head coach. Sean Payton had a year to sit back and watch from afar and study the game from a different perspective. To me, that spells trouble for the rest of the NFL. I’m not saying the Saints are in the Super Bowl next season, I’m simply saying they won’t go 7 and 9.
Defensive play-makers are high on the priority list for New Orleans this off-season. However, they’re not far off. A few pieces and this defense will be improved. They don’t have to jump from 32nd in the NFL to 1st. If Rob Ryan can get them into the teens, they’re a play off team. It’s that simple folks.
Another missing element of having Ryan in the mix is the competition that will make the offense better. "I really look forward to it. I've got a lot of respect for him and his schemes. I've faced him a number of times...so, he's one of those guys, I like his swagger. It seems like his defenses play extremely hard, and they do a lot of things. They're very multiple in the things they can do defensively. He seems to be very creative, and he's done a great job kind of incorporating the skills and talents of his defensive players into the scheme, wherever he's been,” Drew Brees told WWL’s SportsTalk hosts Bobby Hebert and Deke Bellavia.
NFL free agency begins on March 12th, with the Saints as it stands now about $2 million over the $123 million cap. However, the team still has some wiggle room to save a ton of cap space with the contracts of Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, and Roman Harper. Below is a list of some free agents the Saints could target on the open market.
Sebastian Volmer (Offensive Tackle) New England: If he doesn't re-sign with New England, and the if the Saints lose Jermon Bushrod, this is the most logical move for New Orleans. Brady loves him, and Brees would love Volmer protecting him as well.
Andre Smith (Offensive Tackle) Cincinnati: Again, all of this is predicated upon if they keep Jermon Bushrod in New Olreans. The Saints might want to upgrade at the position. Smith struggled with weight issues coming into the NFL out of Alabama. He's no longer the big bowl of jelly that he was when he entered the league.
Dashon Goldson (Safety) San Francisco: He played on one of the best defenses in the league the previous two seasons. Goldson is a flat out playmaker that hits everything moving. The Saints could have him as their top target in free agency. Malcolm Jenkins has 4 interceptions since coming into the league in 2009. Roman Harper has 6 interceptions in 7 NFL seasons. Goldson has 14 INT's in 6 seasons. Get my point? Goldson is expected to demand $8 million a year on the open market, possibly pricing the Saints out of the discussion.
William Moore (Safety) Atlanta: Yeah, as much as it might hurt to have another dirty bird in Black and Gold, Moore is a good football player. He's not really dynamic at one particular thing but does everything well. The Falcons, however, want to re-sign Moore before the start of free agency.
Tracy Porter (Cornerback) Denver: Believe it or not, the Hero of Super Bowl 44 could be back in the Big Easy. Porter clinched the Saints Super Bowl victory over the Colts, and after one year in Denver could find his way back to the Saints. Porter missed most of the season with the Broncos with an undisclosed illness. He signed a 1 year deal with Denver last offseason.
Delanie Walker (Tight End) San Francisco: Make no mistake, Jimmy Graham is the featured tight end in New Orleans, but Walker is used to being the complimentary piece of the puzzle. He filled the same role with San Francisco, with Vernon Davis as the main attraction. Walker can block, and catch the football. The Saints would love to add a compliment to Graham in the passing and running game.
Danny Woodhead (Running back) New England: The Saints love running backs, and I just figured why not. Why would he be an interesting name to kick around? Sure the Saints already have Darren Sproles, but heck that hasn't stopped them from adding running backs in the past. What a cool name! Woodhead! Say it! Woodhead!