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Saints whittle down 'to-do' list

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Mickles: Saints whittle down 'to-do' list By SHELDON MICKLES smickles@theadvocate.com Advocate sportswriter The New Orleans Saints went into the NFL's free-agency signing period on Wednesday with a "to-do" list that included 18 things. After three days, four of those important ...

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Old 03-06-2004, 10:28 PM   #1
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Saints whittle down 'to-do' list


Mickles: Saints whittle down 'to-do' list


By SHELDON MICKLES
smickles@theadvocate.com
Advocate sportswriter

The New Orleans Saints went into the NFL's free-agency signing period on Wednesday with a "to-do" list that included 18 things.
After three days, four of those important items have a nice big check mark alongside them.

The work, however, has just begun.

Four down with 14 to go is a start, but it's nothing more than that for General Manager Mickey Loomis, coach Jim Haslett and director of player personnel Rick Mueller.

The Saints have already re-signed three of their own unrestricted free agents and continue to pursue a fourth.

Following extensive off-season evaluations in which the front office and coaches left no stone unturned in an effort to find reasons for their 8-8 finish in 2003, the Saints started by targeting five of their own free agents.

And one by one, they're getting them back.

The first was fifth-year defensive end Darren Howard, their best pass rusher and perhaps their most valuable defender, who was tagged as the Saints' franchise player.

While Howard isn't officially back yet, another team would have to come up with a whole lot of cash and two first-round draft picks assuming the Saints declined to match the contract offer.

Then, in a three-day span, they negotiated a two-year contract for cornerback Fakhir Brown, a three-year deal for weakside linebacker Derrick Rodgers and beat the Philadelphia Eagles with a four-year contract to retain the services of starting cornerback Fred Thomas.

They are still working on getting fullback Terrelle Smith, who is valued for his blocking ability (just ask Ricky Williams or Deuce McAllister), back into the fold.

"We have put a priority on re-signing the people who have been our top contributors," Loomis said after completing the deal with Thomas, who is penciled in as the starting left cornerback. "Retaining guys is a good start, but we need to improve our team as well by adding some players. Things remain to be done."

While they haven't made as much noise as they have in the past in the first few days of free agency, the Saints are carefully following the plan they laid out over the last two months.

That was to get most of their own players signed, while letting the market settle a little, and bring in a few more pieces to the puzzle as they go along.

They've been feverishly working on that as well in the last few days. The Saints signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Aaron Stecker to a four-year deal on the first day of free agency, filling a big need.

The Saints wanted to sign a capable backup for McAllister, who was spelled last season by Ki-Jana Carter and Lamar Smith -- a pair of 30-somethings whose best years are behind them.

The Saints are still stalking their biggest need in free agency -- an experienced interior defensive lineman to plug into the front four alongside second-year pro Johnathan Sullivan.

They had the St. Louis Rams' Brian Young, who is believed to be the player they want, in for a visit on Thursday.

The Seattle Seahawks' Cedric Woodard visited with the Saints on Friday, while the San Francisco 49ers' Travis Kirschke is due in Sunday.

Young is one of the top defensive tackles among the unrestricted free agents on the open market. The Saints have company in their pursuit of him, however, as he also has trips planned to Atlanta, Denver and San Francisco.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens also visited along with Young on Thursday.

Others will be in over the weekend and next week, all with the idea of shortening the Saints' list.

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