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Dwight Freeney Could Provide Depth and Leadership To Ailing Saints

Even before injuries, the Saints needed depth at defensive end, this could be an answer.

Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints find themselves in the unenviable position of attempting to replace a promising young talent at a position they were already thin at to begin with. That young talent is second-year defender, Hau’oli Kikaha, the position is defensive end. Kikaha was lost for the 2016 season due to an ACL tear he suffered earlier this week.

Now, the Saints must either search in-house for Kikaha’s replacement or search the shallow free-agent pool. Of all the names available, and there aren't many out there, the most intriguing is that of veteran Dwight Freeney. Freeney has had a highly decorated NFL career over the past 14 years, most notably with the Indianapolis Colts, followed by a short stint with the San Diego Chargers, and most recently with the Arizona Cardinals.

Freeney is a 7-time Pro-Bowler, a 3-time First Team All-Pro selection, and is currently third in total sacks among active players (119.5), only behind DeMarcus Ware (134.5) and Julius Peppers (136), ranking him 19th all-time in NFL history.

The only issue with all of these accomplishments, of course, is that they are not only earned with talent, they are also earned with longevity. With longevity comes a great deal of wear and tear, as well as age. To say Freeney has been great over his career would be an understatement, but he is now 36 and at the end of his career.

Still, despite his age and mileage, Freeney put up some surprising numbers in Arizona last season. His production at 35 was solid with the Cardinals, as he had 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in just 11 games. Although the defense he played on was vastly better than the Saints have fielded, he certainly could be an asset despite that. He has proven he can still go.

That has to be encouraging for a player near the end of his run. If the Saints can get a defensive end with this type of production at the veteran’s minimum in free agency, they should take it. Just as valuable as the on-field production could be Freeney’s veteran leadership. We know how Sean Payton values leadership and "good locker room guys", see the recent re-addition of Roman Harper for example. Signing Dwight Freeney would certainly fall along those lines.

Ultimately, the Saints may just stay in-house and attempt to get production from and valuable reps for players like Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham, but the option to add Dwight Freeney for a low price may be too enticing to pass up. The key here, of course, is if Freeney is actually willing to accept a veteran minimum contract. He did so last season in Arizona, so it would stand to reason that he would do so again this year.

Freeney is reportedly eager to sign with a franchise sooner rather than later. The following quotes from an article published at last month may provide some insight into what Freeney is looking for:

In the meantime, the 36-year-old — who led the Cardinals with eight sacks last season despite playing just 11 games after signing late — said he will stay focused and keep training. Interestingly, he did add that he doesn’t really want to do what he did last season and sign in-season. He’d rather be there for training camp.

"I know my body loved (signing late), but the anxiety mentally wasn’t good," Freeney said. "So hopefully I can get signed before then."

"But if it doesn’t work out here, it could be anywhere,"  said Freeney, who is in Arizona right now. "It just depends. It has to be a winning team. I’m used to winning."

If the "winning" statement is a sticking point, then both Freeney and the Saints will be looking elsewhere. A move from the 5th ranked defense in the NFL to the 31st ranked defense in the NFL may not be the move Freeney is quite looking for, but the opportunity to play and not have to wait anxiously to sign with a "winning team" may sway him.

Signing Freeney would clearly be a short-term solution for the Saints, but they really couldn’t do much better than signing a solid, and still productive veteran at this point of the offseason. Youth will still need to be served for the Saints defense, but a dose of veteran leadership in this time of need can only be a positive.