Tagged in: Saints

New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz will miss start of season due to injury

New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz is estimated to miss time at the start of the season because of injury, according to a source, adding to the Saints’ growing roster upheaval.

Lutz’s specific timetable is unknown, but there is optimism that he won’t miss too many matches. He missed time at the beginning of training camp with a groin injury, and the source indicated that Lutz aggravated a previous injury.

The kicker took to Instagram to acknowledge that he had an injury that had worsened and decided to get it “fixed now in order to miss the least amount of time as possible.”

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Lutz did not say when he hoped to return.

The Saints are signing veteran kicker Brett Maher after Monday’s auditions to fill in for Lutz, a source told ESPN. Maher, 31, spent two seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ kicker 2018-19 and has been on practice squads/offseason rosters since then with the Jets, Washington, Texans and Cardinals.

The Saints are expected to have at least 11 new starters in Week 1 due to Drew Brees’ retirement, an offseason salary-cap purge, defensive tackle David Onyemata’s suspension and now injuries to Lutz and receiver Michael Thomas.

Lutz, 27, was a Pro Bowler in 2019 and ranks as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history with a field goal rate of 86.6% during his five-year career.

The Saints will also have a new punter in 2021 after releasing longtime standout Thomas Morstead this offseason. Second-year pro Blake Gillikin is anticipated to take over the role after spending last season on injured reserve.

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LB Kwon Alexander agrees to re-sign with New Orleans Saints

Linebacker Kwon Alexander is back with the New Orleans Saints after he spent the offseason recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.

They agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It’s a birthday present of sorts for Alexander, who turned 27 on Tuesday.

Alexander, who played college football nearby at LSU, proved to be a good fit for the Saints after they obtained him in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers last November.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder started seven matches for New Orleans and had 27 tackles, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. His season ended in December, however, when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a Christmas Day triumph over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Saints released Alexander in March before he was due to make $13.4 million in salary and bonuses this year. But clearly they kept the door open, and they brought him in for a workout last month after he was healthy enough to resume football activities.

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The Saints are suddenly crowded at the linebacker position after they drafted Pete Werner in the second round this year and Zack Baun in the third round last year. And it’s a position where they typically play only two linebackers at a time, with Demario Davis locking down one of those spots.

But Alexander, who is particularly valuable on passing downs, adds to their overall depth and versatility after they lost some key pieces at cornerback and along the defensive line during a salary-cap purge this offseason.

The Saints have been filling out their depth throughout the first week of training camp after they cleared out more than $10 million in cap space late in the summer.

They have also recently signed cornerbacks Brian Poole, Prince Amukamara and KeiVarae Russell; running back Devonta Freeman; receiver Chris Hogan and guard J.R. Sweezy.

Alexander, who was initially drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round out of LSU in 2015, made the Pro Bowl in 2017. He has started a total of 66 games in his career with 471 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions and 9 forced fumbles.

The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract as a free agent in 2019, but he was limited during the 2019 season by a torn pectoral muscle before returning for their playoff run. He played in five games for the 49ers in 2020 but was sidelined by a high-ankle sprain at the time he was traded.

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Chris Hogan reaches deal with New Orleans Saints

After moonlighting as a lacrosse player this summer, veteran wide receiver Chris Hogan will return to the NFL and try to help the New Orleans Saints make up for the absence of injured star Michael Thomas.

Hogan, 33, agreed to a deal with the Saints on Monday, a source told ESPN’s Mike Reiss, confirming an NFL Network report.

As expected, Thomas was formally placed on the physically unable to play list Monday to start training camp. He is expected to miss time at the beginning of the regular season after having ankle surgery in June.

Hogan (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) will compete for a roster spot along with Saints receivers Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway and others in a position group that is thin on proven talent after New Orleans released veteran Emmanuel Sanders this offseason.

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Hogan won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots during a nine-year career that also saw him play with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

But after playing in just 12 total matches with the Panthers and Jets in 2019 and 2020 while battling injuries, he briefly decided to switch careers this offseason and play in the Premier Lacrosse League before the Saints lured him back.

Hogan was a standout lacrosse player at Penn State before he spent a year playing football at Monmouth and joined the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

He was mostly inactive during his time in the PLL, starting with the Cannons before being traded to the Whipsnakes. Back in the NFL, Hogan brings versatility along with his experience.

He has lined up almost equally in the slot and out wide while catching 216 passes for 2,795 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season. He has another 34 catches for 542 yards and four TDs in the playoffs.

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New Orleans Saints agree to deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole, pending a physical, a source confirmed.

Terms of the agreement were not instantly known. NFL reporter Josina Anderson first reported that Poole stated he intends to sign a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.

Poole, 28, spent his first five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets after going undrafted out of Florida.

The 5-foot-10, 213-pounder established himself as one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 9 last year.

Poole had two interceptions, one sack and seven pass break-ups in his abbreviated 2020 season with the Jets. He has seven interceptions and six sacks in 70 career games.

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Cornerback has been a pressing need for the Saints ever since they released veteran starter Janoris Jenkins during a salary-cap purge at the start of the offseason.

Poole is a curious fit since he primarily plays in the slot – where New Orleans has other proven options like safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Patrick Robinson. But the increased depth and talent can’t hurt.

The Saints, who recently created more than $10 million in cap space through revised contracts, could also look to add more veteran help at wide receiver and defensive tackle as they head toward the beginning of training camp this week.

Poole is known for his physical coverage against slot receivers, yet he was called for only three penalties in 2019 and none in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

He spent his first three years with the Falcons, and quickly became an integral part of the defense. As a rookie, he saw significant playing time on their NFC championship squad. In 2018, he struggled at times in pass coverage, prompting the Falcons to set him free by declining his restricted-free agent tender.

Poole proved to be a solid, cost-effective acquisition for the Jets, first signing a one-year, $3 million deal in 2019, then a one-year $5 million deal in 2020.

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New Orleans Saints signing RT Ryan Ramczyk to five-year, $96 million extension

The New Orleans Saints have not yet identified their next quarterback after Drew Brees’ retirement. But they ensured that he will be well protected on Wednesday by signing All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk to a five-year extension.

The Saints revealed Wednesday that they had signed Ramczyk to a five-year extension but did not disclose financial terms.

The deal is worth $96 million in new money ($60 million guaranteed), a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which makes Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL.

The $19.2 million average per year in Ramczyk’s extension sets the standard for NFL right tackles, surpassing the $18 million average per year in the deal Lane Johnson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019.

It makes sense, because Ramczyk has been among the league’s elite linemen since being drafted with the 32nd pick out of Wisconsin in 2017. He was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 and to the second team in 2018 and 2020.

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“It’s a huge relief. I’m extremely happy with how everything played out,” said Ramczyk, who was asked what it means to him to be the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history.

Ramczyk also said that he reflects “quite often” on how far his “unique journey” has taken him.

He quit football for a year after high school and briefly considered becoming a welder before realizing how much he missed playing.

He wound up attending five different schools (Winona State, Madison Area Technical College, Mid-State Technical College, Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wisconsin) before becoming a first-round draft pick.

“There’s not a lot of guys who kind of go through what I did,” Ramczyk said. “But I think it was necessary for me, and I think everything played out obviously really well. And I wouldn’t change a thing looking back on it.”

Signing Ramczyk long term was a no-brainer for New Orleans, even at this hefty price tag. All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead is also heading into the final year of his contract, which could lead to a tough financial decision next year.

But the Saints certainly couldn’t afford to lose both as they build for the future behind quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and/or a candidate to be named later.

Ramczyk, 27, was due to earn $11.064 million in the final year of his contract this campaign. But the Saints could actually save some needed salary-cap space in the short term, depending on how they structure the deal.

The Saints had about $5 million to $6 million in cap space before Ramczyk’s new deal. They should now have room to add some veteran help heading into this season, with potential needs at cornerback, receiver, defensive tackle and possibly linebacker.

Ramczyk and Armstead have formed an elite duo over the past four years, while the Saints have won four consecutive NFC South titles and produced the league’s best regular-season record.

Ramczyk was part of New Orleans’ superb 2017 draft class, which also includes running back Alvin Kamara, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Marcus Williams and defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Kamara signed an extension last year, and Williams or Lattimore could be next.

The Saints placed the franchise tag on Williams this year and have until July 15 to reach a long-term extension. Lattimore has one year left on his rookie deal. Hendrickson signed a lucrative deal with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason.

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San Francisco 49ers center Weston Richburg retires from NFL, cites injuries

Almost three years ago, the San Francisco 49ers made Weston Richburg the highest-paid center in NFL history. On Wednesday, Richburg’s time with the Niners came to an end, as he declared his retirement from the NFL.

Richburg had an injury-plagued stint with the 49ers that culminated in his missing the entire 2020 season because of a lingering shoulder injury and his continued efforts to recover from a torn right patellar tendon suffered in Week 14 of the 2019 season.

“I consider myself extremely blessed to have played in this league and am so grateful for the experiences over the last seven years,” Richburg said in a statement released by the 49ers.

“Injuries are an unfortunate part of this game and I’ve reached a point where my body won’t allow me to continue playing and competing at a high level. I was able to play some good football all over the country and was fortunate enough to finish my career with the greatest franchise in sports. From top to bottom, the 49ers organization is comprised of some of the best men, women and athletes I’ve ever been around. To be just a small part of an NFC Championship and Super Bowl run is something I will never forget.”

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As it turned out, that Week 14 contest versus the New Orleans Saints was the final game of Richburg’s 49ers tenure.

Richburg, who turns 30 on July 9, also recently had hip surgery. In three seasons in San Francisco, Richburg started 28 games.

After four years with the New York Giants, who selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, Richburg signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the 49ers in the opening days of 2018 free agency. The Niners reworked that deal during the 2019 season to save some cap space, leaving Richburg with a scheduled cap charge of almost $11.5 million in 2021.

Since Richburg retired after June 1, the Niners can spread out the $7 million in remaining dead money evenly over the cap in 2021 and 2022. They will save $1.075 million in cap space for 2021 upon Richburg’s retirement.

“Weston was someone who made not only our offense, but our entire team better,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in the statement. “He led by example through his detailed approach and the toughness in which he played the game. He was a tremendous player for our organization and will be missed both on the field and in the locker room.”

The 49ers signed Alex Mack in free agency to take over the starting center duties.

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New Orleans Saints bring back QB Jameis Winston on 1-year deal worth up to $12 million

Quarterback Jameis Winston now has a chance to become Drew Brees’ successor with the New Orleans Saints.

Just one day after Brees revealed his retirement, Winston and the Saints reached agreement on a one-year deal worth up to $12 million, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner spent his first five seasons as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before signing a one-year deal in New Orleans last summer to try to revive his career as the Saints’ backup.

Although Winston played sparingly, the Saints were impressed enough to bring him back to compete with Taysom Hill for the starting job this year.

Sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the Chicago Bears were serious suitors for Winston in Monday’s free-agency process before he picked the Saints.

The Saints will have to carve out a bit more salary-cap space before the beginning of the new league year on Wednesday. They started the offseason nearly $100 million over the cap but had whittled that figure down to around $10 million by the start of this week.

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Winston, who turned 27 in January, went 28-42 as a starter with Tampa, completing 61.3% of his passes with 19,737 yards, 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions. He displayed some dynamic highs and lows during that tenure — especially in 2019. That year, he led the league with 5,109 passing yards but also became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.

Turnovers have been Winston’s biggest hurdle, with a league-high total of 111 from 2015 to 2019.

When the Buccaneers elected to move on to Tom Brady, Winston decided to try to revive his career in New Orleans. He signed a one-year deal worth just $1.1 million plus incentives because he said he wanted to get a “Harvard education in quarterback school” under coach Sean Payton and Brees.

Winston didn’t get much on-field experience in New Orleans behind Brees and Hill. But Winston did make his best play of the season when he completed a 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in the Saints’ playoff loss to his former team. Winston was 7-of-11 for 75 yards in the regular season with no touchdowns or turnovers.

Payton made it clear after the season that the Saints wanted to re-sign Winston and let him compete with Hill for the starting job following Brees’ retirement. Payton stated Winston was “fantastic as a leader” in addition to his arm talent.

Winston was suspended for the first three matches of the 2018 season after an eight-month NFL investigation ended that he engaged in detrimental conduct in March 2016 by touching a female Uber driver “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.” A settlement was reached in a separate lawsuit.

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New Orleans Saints to release WR Emmanuel Sanders

The New Orleans Saints are releasing veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders after just one season as they keep trimming their massive salary-cap deficit, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Sanders, who turns 34 next week, confirmed the move in an Instagram post, saying:

“New Orleans it’s been real. Sucks we didn’t bring a super bowl to the city which was the goal when I signed but it was a blessing to showcase my talents in front of you guys weekend and week out. #Blessingsoblessings #Imafreeagent #Wheretonext?”

Sanders was due to make $8 million this campaign, with $2 million guaranteed. The Saints will save at least $4 million against the salary cap by releasing him — and possibly $6 million if they designate it as a post-June 1 release.

Sanders caught 61 passes for 726 yards and five touchdowns in 14 regular-season games last season. He caught another eight passes for 51 yards in the playoffs.

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The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has a total of 662 catches for 8,619 yards and 47 touchdowns in an 11-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and the Saints. He has been selected to two Pro Bowls and has appeared in three Super Bowls — winning a title with the 2015 Broncos.

The Saints now have a big void for a No. 2 receiver alongside Michael Thomas again.

The position will rank as one of their top offseason needs, especially since fellow receiver Tre’Quan Smith is heading into the final year of his contract.

New Orleans has now released veterans Sanders, punter Thomas Morstead, tight end Josh Hill and offensive lineman Nick Easton while trimming cap space this offseason.

The Saints will possible release linebacker Kwon Alexander as well, since he is due $13.4 million after tearing his Achilles in December. The Saints started the offseason nearly $100 million over the salary cap and had decreased that number roughly in half as of Wednesday morning after they placed the franchise tag on free-agent safety Marcus Williams.

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New Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell agrees to six-year contract

New Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell received a six-year contract from the team, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

The Lions informed Campbell’s hiring on Wednesday but did not disclose terms. The team will introduce him with a news conference on Thursday.

“With more than 20 years of experience as both a coach and player in the National Football League, Dan knows the rigors of professional football and what it takes to be successful. He will help promote the culture we want to establish across our organization, while also bringing with him high energy, a respect for the game and an identity with which everyone can align themselves,” Lions principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp said in a statement.

Campbell, the New Orleans Saints’ assistant head coach/tight ends coach, replaces Matt Patricia, who was released in November after less than three seasons with the Lions and a 13-29-1 record.

The Lions will now try to reset after concluding last in the NFC North the past three seasons. Campbell is expected to bring fellow Saints assistant coach Aaron Glenn with him as defensive coordinator. Glenn has a few other suitors, but Detroit is the favorite, the source told Fowler.

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The 44-year-old Campbell, who has never been a coordinator in the NFL, is viewed as a motivator and someone who can bring a team together, rather than an X’s-and-O’s guru. The Lions had been searching for people they considered unifiers as they identified qualities they deemed important to building a winner out of a franchise that has one playoff victory in the Super Bowl era and claimed its last division title in 1993.

Campbell doesn’t have much experience as a head coach — just 12 games as an interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins — but the Lions clearly saw enough to pair him with recently hired general manager Brad Holmes. Without experience calling plays on either side of the ball, whom Campbell brings in as coordinators will be paramount to his success.

During Holmes’ introductory news conference on Tuesday, the Lions stated all three of Holmes, Campbell and vice president of football administration Mike Disner will report to team president Rod Wood, creating a balanced structure. When asked whether Holmes or Campbell would have final say over the 53-man roster, Wood said it would be a collaborative process.

“Dan’s passion for this opportunity was evident throughout our interview process,” Wood said in a statement.

“When we began the search for a head coach, it was imperative that we find the right leader who values our commitment to building a winning culture based on organizational alignment and collaboration. The leadership Dan has exemplified throughout his football career has prepared him for this next step, and we are excited to support him as our new head coach.”

The Lions had conducted their searches for Holmes and Campbell simultaneously, often asking candidates whether they had people in mind for the other position they would want to work with. After Holmes was hired last week, Ford Hamp said Holmes spoke with some of their remaining candidates.

Campbell played 10 seasons in the NFL, including the final three years of his career for the Lions.

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New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas likely to have multiple surgeries on ankle

New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas is likely to have surgeries on the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his ankle that plagued him all campaign, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

The expectation is that Thomas would be recovered in time for summer OTAs under a normal offseason calendar, the source said.

Thomas first suffered the high ankle injury in the final minutes of Week 1 and missed a total of nine games in the regular season. But the source said he knew it was likely Drew Brees’ last season and didn’t want to miss out on trying to win a Super Bowl with him.

Thomas often wouldn’t practice all week, yet would still play in games, at much less than 100% and with pain medication, the source said. The coaches told him that, even as injured as he was, they were much better off with him than without him.

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Thomas went on injured reserve from Weeks 15-17 to try to get as healthy as he could for the playoffs. He returned with five catches for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season in the wild-card playoff victory over the Chicago Bears.

However, he had zero catches on four targets in the divisional round playoff loss to Tampa Bay — including a near-touchdown in which his knee was ruled out of bounds.

Thomas also missed Weeks 2-8 after first suffering the injury, then being disciplined for one game for a practice altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and then suffering a hamstring injury during his recovery.

He concluded the regular season with 40 catches for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games — just one season after setting the NFL record with 149 catches in 2019. He did, however, have two games with nine catches and more than 100 yards receiving during Taysom Hill’s four-game stint at QB while Brees was sidelined by injuries of his own.

Thomas’ 510 career receptions are the most by a player in the first five seasons of his NFL career.

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