Team Report: New Orleans Saints

There's been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the Saints trying to move into the top 10 in the first round of the April 26-27 draft, but coach Jim Haslett said it's unlikely to happen.

Haslett, general manager Mickey Loomis and director of player personnel Rick Mueller will certainly explore all their options between now and draft day, but Haslett said a trade that would vault the Saints into the upper reaches of the first round would be costly in more ways than one.

The Saints would probably have to give up their two first-round picks (Nos. 17 and 18 overall) and possibly another draft choice either this year or next to get what would amount to an NBA lottery pick.

"We might move up. But if you move up in the (Nos.) 4, 5, 6, 7 slot, it's going to cost you," Haslett said. "For the 17th and 18th picks last year, it cost you $11 million to sign both of them. But it will cost you $15 million or $20 million to sign one of those guys (in the top seven).

"So really, the benefit is to stay where we're at," he said. "You might get a better player (in the top seven), but you're paying twice as much and I'm getting an extra player. So I don't know if you take that deal."

Stockpiling draft picks has been Haslett's method of operation the last couple of years. Last spring, the Saints had an extra first-round pick (25th overall) from the trade that sent Ricky Williams to the Dolphins.

They used their own first-round pick (No. 13) for wide receiver Donté Stallworth and then nabbed defensive end Charles Grant with the selection they got from the Dolphins. Both became starters, along with second-round pick LeCharles Bentley, even though Stallworth struggled with injuries for part of the season.

The Saints would like to add more young talent with the five picks they have in the first three rounds. In addition to back-to-back picks in the first round (Nos. 17 and 18), they have their own second-round choice and two third rounders this year.

The second of the two first-round selections will complete the Williams trade, while the extra third-round pick came from the Chiefs for tackle William Roaf.

At this point, Haslett said his ideal draft would net the Saints "a really good corner" as well as a tight end, safety and maybe another cornerback later in the draft. The Saints have no picks in the fourth or sixth rounds, but they have one selection in the fifth round and two in the seventh.

Team Notes: 
--The Saints picked up some depth on the offensive line when they re-signed veteran tackle Scott Sanderson to a one-year contract. Sanderson is expected to the top backup for free-agent acquisition Wayne Gandy at left tackle and Spencer Folau or Victor Riley on the right side.

If center Jerry Fontenot doesn't re-sign with the Saints, left guard Kendyl Jacox is likely to move to center with Folau switching to left guard from his starting right tackle spot. That would move Riley, who has been impressive after reporting to offseason conditioning drills at 328 pounds, into Folau's spot at right tackle. LeCharles Bentley will likely remain at right guard.

--Two of the Saints' unrestricted free agents signed with other teams last week as middle linebacker Charlie Clemons went to the Texans and backup tight end Lamont Hall joined the Falcons. Meanwhile, strong safety Sammy Knight plans to visit the Steelers next week.

Clemons received a four-year, $4.67 million contract from the Texans. The deal includes a $1.3 million signing bonus for Clemons, who is expected to play outside linebacker for the Texans.

Clemons voided the final year of his four-year contract with the Saints by meeting certain playing time thresholds during the past two seasons. A two-year starter for the Saints, Clemons had 112 tackles last season after piling up career-high numbers in tackles (123) and sacks (13.5) in 2001.

Hall, who was primarily a blocking specialist with the Saints the last three seasons, signed a one-year deal with the Falcons that is believed to be for the league minimum of $530,000. Hall caught nine passes for 54 yards and one TD in 48 games with the Saints.

--With a possible deal for Patriots safety Tebucky Jones on hold, the Saints continue to search for a safety in the free-agent market. Ex-Raiders safety Anthony Dorsett visited the Saints late last week, while Dolphins safety Arturo Freeman, a restricted free agent, is expected in this week.

--The trade of Kyle Turley to the Rams not only landed the Saints a second-round draft pick in 2004, but it also freed up $3.4 million in salary cap room. That, along with the Sanderson signing, leaves the team about $12 million under the $75 million salary cap.

--With the signing of Sanderson, the Saints have now re-signed three of their own unrestricted free agents. Kicker John Carney and special teams ace Fred McAfee signed earlier. The team has also offered contracts to two other UFAs -- Fontenot and defensive end Willie Whitehead.

--Saints special teams coach Al Everest was recently voted by his peers as the NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year. The award, which is sponsored annually by Professional Kicking Services, is decided in a ballot of the league's special teams coaches.

Everest received the award at a ceremony on March 25, in Reno, Nev.

Last season, Everest coached two Pro Bowl picks in return man Michael Lewis and cover ace Fred McAfee. Kicker John Carney was a first alternate after breaking the team's scoring record with 130 points -- making 31 of 35 field-goal attempts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We fixed the offense last year. We can score some points. We're good on special teams. We're just not very good on defense. We've got to somehow fix the defense, and get some more speed and better players over there." -- Saints coach Jim Haslett on the team's focus during the offseason.

Team Skinny:
NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: CB, S, TE.

CB -- You can never have too many cornerbacks and the Saints don't have anywhere near enough help at this critical position. The Saints have Dale Carter, Fred Thomas and Ashley Ambrose, who was signed early in free agency, but they lost UFA Ken Irvin, whom they wanted back, to the Vikings last month and need more quality depth.

S -- The Saints are in the market for safeties that can cover a lot of ground. More speed on defense was a major need last season and Sammy Knight just didn't give it to them. Second-year pro Mel Mitchell will get a chance to be a starter, but they need an experienced veteran to go with him.

TE -- Free agent David Sloan was brought in last season, but was inconsistent as a pass catcher. In all fairness, however, he struggled during training camp and throughout the season with a sore knee. Still, upgrading this position is a priority.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Bryan Cox (he's a good leader, but that's hard to do from sideline; likely to be gone); C Jerry Fontenot (Saints would like to see him come back and continue anchoring the offensive line and Fontenot is comfortable with the club); S Sammy Knight (time in New Orleans is done; Saints feel he lacks range to play in space); 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); 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 Roger Knight (tendered at $300,000); KR/WR Michael Lewis (tendered at $375,000); TE Boo Williams (tendered at $375,000).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: PK John Carney (UFA; $4.42M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB/$50,00 RB; 2003 cap: $905,000); LB Curtis Holden (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); RB Fred McAfee (UFA; terms unknown); OT Scott Sanderson (UFA; terms unknown).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Ashley Ambrose (FA Falcons; $7M/4 yrs, $1.5M SB; 2003 cap: $1.13M); RB Tavian Banks (FA; terms unknown); P Mitch Berger (UFA Rams; $4.205M/5 yrs, $450,000 SB/$50,000 RB; 2003 cap: $837,500); QB Todd Bouman (trade Vikings); OT Wayne Gandy (UFA Steelers; $25M/6 yrs, $5M SB; 2003 cap: $2.833M); LB Orlando Ruff (UFA Chargers; $3.17M/3 yrs, $375,000 SB; 2003 cap: $825,000).

PLAYERS LOST: LB Charlie Clemons (UFA Texans; terms unknown); QB Jake Delhomme (UFA Panthers; $4M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB/$400,000 report bonus); P Toby Gowin (UFA Cowboys); $3.889M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB); TE Lamont Hall (FA Falcons; 1 yr, terms unknown); CB Ken Irvin (UFA Vikings; $4.5M/3 yrs, $1.2M SB); OT Kyle Turley (traded Rams).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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