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Saints try to balance needs, temptations

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Questions, questions, questions. No team has more of them heading into this season than the New Orleans Saints. Will new quarterback Drew Brees and franchise running back Deuce McAllister recover fully from recent injuries? Was defensive ...

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Old 04-28-2006, 07:13 AM   #1
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Saints try to balance needs, temptations

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Questions, questions, questions. No team has more of them heading into this season than the New Orleans Saints.

Will new quarterback Drew Brees and franchise running back Deuce McAllister recover fully from recent injuries?

Was defensive end Charles Grant's nearly 80 percent drop-off in sacks last season an aberration, perhaps tied to distractions related to Hurricane Katrina, or to team-wide lackluster performances in a 3-13 season?

Draft day certainly would be a lot less complicated for the Saints, who have the second overall pick on Saturday, if they knew for sure.

Then they could focus on what they need most: the best offensive lineman available, or a top linebacker.

But if they can't resist the talents and promise of more flashy players such as North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush, or Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart, could anyone blame them?

"They're in a great spot because they can get a great player who will help their football team regardless," said Mike McCartney, a Chicago-based agent for Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, who met recently with Saints officials in New Orleans.

The Saints appear to be serious about Hawk and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the 6-foot-6, 312-pound left tackle out of Virginia widely considered the best blocker coming out of college.

They invited both to New Orleans to meet and have dinner with team officials. Yet they also invited several other standouts at positions that would not fill obvious needs, including Williams, Leinart and Maryland tight end Vernon Davis. They asked Bush to town, but a scheduling conflict last week prevented that.

"I enjoyed my talks with all the teams," Leinart said. "In New Orleans, I had a good session with coach Payton and (general manager Mickey) Mr. Loomis. I don't know if they're really interested because they just got Drew. But in this situation, you never know what will happen."

McCartney said there was always the possibility some of those meetings were meant as smoke screens. Brees has been hailed like a savior since arriving in New Orleans, his No. 9 jersey being worn around town by more than a few fans. He has asserted he will be fully recovered from right shoulder surgery by training camp, but only the first year and first $10 million of his six-year, $60 million contract is guaranteed.

McAllister, trying to come back from reconstructive surgery on right knee ligaments, is entering the second year of an eight-year, $50.1 million contract. In addition to having been an excellent ball carrier, his Mississippi roots give the Saints additional regional marketing appeal. If Houston used its top overall pick on Williams, as the Texans have said they might, would the Saints really take a running back in Bush, who would be expected to supplant McAllister?

Bush said Thursday he doesn't expect anything — and doesn't rule out anything.

McCartney said he'd be surprised to see the Saints take a linebacker as high as second.

"My sense, and it would be great to be wrong, is that they're looking at a defensive end, Reggie Bush or even left tackle, and that they think those are the premier positions," McCartney said. "Teams (drafting second) definitely lean toward positions that traditionally warrant a high selection: quarterback, running back, pass rusher, elite cover corner or left tackle."

McCartney also doubted the Saints would drop down a few spots with a trade, which might allow them to get Hawk and other considerations.

Loomis and coach Sean Payton have done their best to give away as little as possible about their intentions. Saints officials declined to meet with reporters in the two weeks leading up to the draft.

But Loomis said shortly after Brees was signed that the Saints have proven they'll take the best player available, as they did when they drafted McAllister even though Ricky Williams was coming off a strong second NFL season in New Orleans. One season later, Williams was traded to Miami. Payton has spoken highly of Ferguson, calling him the top tackle in the draft. He and Ferguson have the same agent, Los Angeles-based Donald Yee, although Yee said this week that he wouldn't claim to understand the Saints' specific needs or wants enough to predict whether New Orleans would take Ferguson at No. 2. He offered only this.

"In my experience, every team has its own particular strategy which can change from year to year, but at this juncture, given the salary cap and the pressure organizations face to win right away, it seems that in recent years teams are choosing based on immediate need as opposed to the proverbial best player available."

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