New Orleans Saints

Roundup: Saints busy as free agency begins

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is pressured by former Carolina Panthers inside linebacker A.J. Klein (56) on Nov. 10, 2013. The Saints signed Klein on Thursday.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is pressured by former Carolina Panthers inside linebacker A.J. Klein (56) on Nov. 10, 2013. The Saints signed Klein on Thursday. AP

The Saints made an important move to keep their pass rush together.

With many of the top defensive ends off the market before free agency opened, the Saints struck a deal that will keep defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the fold for next season, according to a source.

The NFL Network reported the deal is worth close to $30 million over four seasons.

Fairley hooked on with New Orleans last season and finished the year with 6 1/2 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.

One of New Orleans’ stated goals for the offseason was to acquire more pass rushers, which presumably would have meant filling the hole at defensive end opposite Cam Jordan. But with many of the top pass rushers scheduled to hit free agency being retained by their original teams, the market did not develop as expected.

Saints sign Panthers LB

The New Orleans Saints’ search for a middle linebacker has taken them to a young player backing up the game’s best for a division rival.

A.J. Klein, a former Carolina Panthers linebacker, signed a four-year, $24 million deal with $9.4 million in guaranteed money with the Saints on Thursday, a deal that includes a voidable year in 2020 if he’s on the roster at the end of the 2019 season.

Now, Klein is finally getting the chance to start that he’s been denied while playing behind one of the league’s best linebacking corps.

“Excited to be a Saint!” Klein wrote on his Instagram account, with a picture of the Saints’ logo. “Looking forward to 2017 season! #whodat”

Klein has plenty of experience playing in the middle.

For the past four seasons, Klein has backed up Luke Kuechly in Carolina, stepping into the lineup for extended stretches when Kuechly missed the first three games of the 2015 season and the final six games of 2016.

Klein played admirably in those games, offering a glimpse of what he can do with a full-time role. Over four seasons, Klein has 146 tackles and four sacks, and he’s made 86 tackles and 13 starts over the past two years combined.

Source: Saints to sign Ginn

If changes are afoot in New Orleans, then the Saints’ new vertical threat is in place.

The Saints are reportedly signing wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., according to ESPN, which would give the team another deep option in the passing game.

Or, if the team pulls the trigger on a widely rumored trade for Brandin Cooks, the team would have his replacement in the fold.

Ginn spent the last two seasons in Carolina where he began to emerge as a consistent deep threat. He caught 44 passes for 739 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2015 and followed it with 54 catches for 752 yards with four touchdowns in 2016.

The one concern about him is that he drops passes. Ginn dropped five last season, and 10 in 2015. However, he could also help in the return game, where he has averaged 22.8 yards per kick return and 10.5 yards per punt return throughout his career.

Saints beef up OL

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to terms with former Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford, one of the top free agents on the market, according to his agent, Neil Schwartz.

Warford, presumably, fills the hole on the right side of the offensive line left by veteran Jahri Evans, who played in all 16 games last season after Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito failed to grab hold of the spot in training camp.

New Orleans was also rumored to be in the hunt for Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler, who became the highest-paid guard in history by inking a five-year, $60 million deal with $31.5 million in guaranteed money with the Cleveland Browns.

Warford, who should come at a cheaper price tag than Zeitler, was widely considered one of the top four or five guards available in free agency.

Drafted in the third round out of Kentucky in 2013, Warford was immediately inserted into the starting lineup and turned in a breakout rookie season.

Source: Manti Te’o visiting Saints

The Saints are looking for additional ways to upgrade their group of linebackers.

The team brought in former San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o for a visit on Thursday evening, according to a source.

Te’o spent the last four seasons in San Diego after being selected in the second round of the 2013 draft. He appeared in three games last season, but recorded 83 tackles in 2015.

Cooks for Butler?

The New England Patriots are reportedly considering a trade of cornerback Malcolm Butler for Cooks, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini.

New England has reportedly added Stephon Gilmore, the top free-agent cornerback on the market, to its secondary, a move that could make Butler expendable.

Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX for intercepting Russell Wilson at the goal line, has developed into a front-line cornerback for New England. The West Alabama product has started all 32 games for the Patriots since that Super Bowl, making six interceptions in two seasons, including four in 2016.

New England placed a first-round tender on the restricted free agent, meaning a team would have to give up a first-round pick to sign Butler, who has made it no secret that he wants a new deal.

But it may still take more to get Cooks, who has been the subject of trade rumors ever since the NFL scouting combine last week. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the man who first broke the news that the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles were interested in trading for Cooks, reported shortly after Russini that the Saints are still looking for a defensive starter and multiple draft picks, maybe over two years, to get the Saints wide receiver.

Cooks, who has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, hired high-power agent Ryan Tollner in the offseason, and he’s been vocal about his frustration in the Saints offense.