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pakowitz 03-07-2003 12:30 PM

A look at the Saints' needs and draft priorities

This is an online-only bonus report
Staff and Wire Reports
Posted on March 7, 2003

The Saints hole at middle linebacker was perhaps addressed with the signing of free agent Orlando Ruff. Or maybe not. Ruff wasn't a starter last year at San Diego.

Then, there's former Saint Ashley Ambrose -- who arrives from Atlanta a little bit older and perhaps not as fast as he was back in 1999.

That still leaves defensive tackle to think about, as well:

Cornerback: You can never have too many cornerbacks and the Saints don't have anywhere near enough help at this position.

There's some question to whether Dale Carter can be the No. 1 guy. Fred Thomas is a capable No. 2, although he sometimes has confidence issues.

Even after the signing of Ashley Ambrose, the Saints could still pursue more corners.

Middle linebacker: Charlie Clemons apparently isn't the answer because of his below-average instincts. The Saints will look to shore up this position, probably through free agency because they already have two young linebackers (Sedrick Hodge, James Allen) who figure to start on the outside.

Defensive tackle: Norman Hand's weight problems and inconsistency make him a liability as it stood at the end of 2002. The Saints need more mobility up the gut.

Franchise player: None.

Transition player: None.

Unrestricted free agents: PK John Carney (Saints want him back; he thinks this could be a good year to be in Black and Gold); LB Bryan Cox (he's a good leader, but that's hard to do from sideline; likely to be gone); C Jerry Fontenot; TE Lamont Hall (limited pass-catching skills, but his bruising blocking makes him a Haslett-type of guy); CB Ken Irvin (Saints would like him back as key depth contributor in secondary);

S Sammy Knight (time in New Orleans is done; Saints feel he lacks range to play in space); RB Fred McAfee (invaluable special teams captain who Saints want back); G/C Bubba Miller (spent year on and off roster as he rehabbed a foot injury; shouldn't draw a lot of interest and Saints are expected to bring him back); WR Jake Reed (slumped down stretch; Saints may take a chance with brother Dale Carter on his own);

OL Scott Sanderson (valuable backup swing player who the Saints like having around); DE Willie Whitehead (will get most outside interest among Saints' free agents they want back; they see him as a reliable, if unspectacular, performer).

Restricted free agents: CB Michael Hawthorne (tendered at $605,000 with 6th-round pick as compensation; Saints will look at him as a safety, but there are doubts about whether he can make the transition); RB Curtis Keaton (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; Saints think he can help as backup given a full offseason to learn offense); FB Terrelle Smith (tendered at $605,000 with 4th-round pick as compensation; could draw interest from other teams, he can be a devastating blocker but not much else).

Exclusive rights free agents: S Steve Gleason (tendered at $450,000); LB Curtis Holden (tendered at $300,000); LB Roger Knight (tendered at $300,000); KR/WR Michael Lewis (tendered at $375,000); TE Boo Williams (tendered at $375,000).

Players re-signed: None.

Players acquired: CB Ashley Ambrose (FA Falcons; $8M/4 yrs, $1.5M SB); OT Wayne Gandy (UFA Steelers; $30M/6 yrs, $5M SB); LB Orlando Ruff (UFA Chargers; terms unknown).

Players lost: QB Jake Delhomme (Saints saw him as backup, but he wanted shot at starter's role somewhere); P Toby Gowin (fit in with specialist group but wanted to return to original team, Dallas, two hours from his hometown).

Medical watch: CB Dale Carter had surgery to repair his broken left forearm immediately following the season finale and will be out for two months.

DE Darren Howard may need surgery to repair ankle problems. WLB Darrin Smith ankle will probably also need cleanup work, too.

TE David Sloan will have surgery to repair his right knee, although it's expected to be minor.

QB Aaron Brooks had arthroscopic surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder on Jan. 17. He's expected to be out of action for a couple months, but the team is hopeful he'll be able to return for the team's first minicamp on May 4-5.

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