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Can James Laurinaitis Really be a Difference-Maker for the Saints?

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On Wednesday, the Saints inked former-Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis. The free agent was a solid LB under Jeff Fisher, until last year. With questions about health and performance, as well as age, what can Laurinaitis bring to the table next season?

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This offseason has seemed to be a let down for many Saints fans, with New Orleans failing to make the big splash everyone was hoping for. Sure, they signed Coby Fleener to help shore up the TE spot, but it wasn’t without, what some consider, the Saints paying a hefty price. The only reason New Orleans was in position to sign Fleener was due to the fact Benjamin Watson bolted for Baltimore after a career-year. The departure is part of a troubling trend that is starting to develop down in the Big Easy.

Simply put, the Saints, right now, are worse off now than they were last year. And that is an impressive feat, if you ask me.

On Wednesday, the Saints attempted to counteract those losses when they signed free agent linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Attempted being the operative word in that sentence.

I’m really not on board with this pick-up. To say this move was puzzling would be a complete understatement. This move just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. It completely goes against the drafting of Stephone Anthony. You just don't sign a player to fill a void that doesn't need to be filled. Especially with a player who can only play the position that doesn’t need filled.

Sure, the 29-year-old has put up some great stats in his career. He’s recorded at 100 tackles in all 7 of his NFL season, an impressive stat. But, tackle stats don’t tell the whole story. We’re talking about a guy that is coming off the worst season of his career, showing obvious signs of decline. And that isn’t even the worst part.

While the details have not been released yet regarding the contract figures, this writer can’t imagine a name like Laurinaitis came to New Orleans cheap, and he surely didn’t come here to be a backup. Money is just not a luxury New Orleans has at this point.

The issue is, he’s a middle linebacker, much like Anthony is. Laurinaitis has never played in another position during his career. Trying to learn a new position late in the game can be a tough task for some players.

What’s head-scratching to me is that the Saints brass ignored an obvious need: the outside linebacker spot. It’s not like there weren’t options at OLB in free agency, either. For instance, an OLB like Justin Durant, who would fit in great in the Saints 3-4 scheme, is still sitting at home, as of this writing at least. Even someone like Zach Brown, former-Titans OLB, would be a good fit. And the best part? They don’t come to you as a project. They’re already outside linebackers. You plug them in and go from there.

But, I get it, the Saints need LB help and people may look at this signing and think it was a smart move and I understand that, too. I’m from St. Louis, I’ve had the chance to see Laurinaitis play, both in person and on TV. He was a pretty good player and he was very consistent. But, that was the past. Fast-forward to now and the LB doesn’t look as dominant as he once was. He looked slow last season and out-of-sync. His time has come and gone.

So, to answer the question posed by the title of this article, no, he can’t be a difference-maker.

When you bring a player in of his caliber, it should bring more answers than questions with it, providing a sense of calm for the fan base that their team found the answer. This doesn't do that. In fact, it's the complete opposite of that. We all now have fewer answers than before, and even then it wasn’t as if we had that many to start with. This just adds to the heaping pile of uncertainty around our beloved Saints going into next year.

Keep in mind, the Saints don’t have a whole lot of play-room left with the checkbook, meaning, if Laurinaitis’s contract ends up being a larger one, this could be one of the last signings we see the Saints make this offseason.

If that’s the case, it would be a fittingly disappointing move to cap off a disappointing offseason.