The Saints need to create depth at the linebacker position, but that will most likely happen in the draft rather than free agency.
From all accounts defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is happy with the production of inside linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, however as you begin to move down the depth chart there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan B behind them.
In addition to help backing up Lofton/Hawthorne, I’ve documented the need for depth at pass rusher. With the continued emphasis on Ryan’s 3-4 system Cam Jordan will move to more of a run-stopping role, which will create space outside for another player to terrorize the quarterback opposite Junior Galette.
The Saints’ lack of interest in the free agent linebacker market is not because of a lack of talent; rather, when looking at cover32′s top 10 free agent linebacker list there are a few guys that would fit will in New Orleans.
Jason Worilds would provide the pass rush needed while also being an every-down option in the running game, as could Mike Neal if he stays healthy. In addition to Worilds and Neal, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Smith will end up being starting inside linebackers wherever they end up.
The problem is (as it is so often) financially related. After tagging Jimmy Graham (which will cost a pretty penny) the Saints’ offseason focus turns to keeping guys like Zach Strief, Brian De La Puente, and Malcolm Jenkins in house as opposed to testing the free agent market. Even if they are unable to re-sign those key guys, the money designated to be used in free agency would then go to reloading the offensive line and secondary.
When it comes down to it, the Saints linebackers played too well last year and present too much upside to be breaking the bank for any of the guys on cover32′s list. It is much more likely that they’ll use their position in the draft and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with the likes of Dee Ford or Ryan Shazier.
To see where Worilds, Neal, and the rest of this year’s free agent class at linebacker rank, click here.