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Pro Football Focus on Saints’ free agency: The Good and The Questionable

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The Saints were as active as expected in day one of free agency; locking up Nick Fairley, Larry Warford, Ted Ginn Jr. and AJ Klein. Though they were high on Fairley and Warford, there were concerns about the latter two players.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saints add G Larry Warford

03:39 p.m. ET, Thurs., March 9

After missing out on the Kevin Zeitler sweepstakes, the New Orleans Saints grabbed the next-best available guard in free agency as Larry Warford is heading to the Big Easy, according to Ian Rapoport. Warford has been a quality guard in the NFL each of his four seasons in the NFL and has been a great value as a third-round pick out of Kentucky. Warford was PFF’s Rookie of the Year back in 2013, but has yet to match those heights. His 81.5 overall grade in 2016 was the best mark since that rookie season. Warford provides a cheaper option for the Saints who couldn’t compete with Cleveland’s monster cap space. This is still a good win for a Saints team that had good play at both OT positions and at center but struggled at guard. — John Kosko, @PFF_JohnKosko

Although I personally am not sure that the Saints were ever on Zeitler’s radar, Larry Warford is significantly more than a consolation prize. Only 26 years old, Warford has been scratching and clawing his way back up after falling off from his stellar rookie year. He provides a young, reasonably priced option for the Saints’ issues at guards, and the Saints also run a very pass-protector friendly offense that will benefit Warford.

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Saints, Fairley close to committing long-term

1:13 p.m. ET, Thurs., March 9

The Saints are aiming to ensure a consistent interior pass-rush by inking Nick Fairley to a long-term deal. Ian Rapoport is reporting the two sides are closing in on a long-term extension. He enjoyed a solid 2016 season, his first in New Orleans, registering 47 combined pressures and 17 knockdowns. Fairley could improve against the run, he managed only a 47.9 run-defense grade a year ago, but offers a high impact rushing from the interior in the nickel. Combined with Cameron Jordan, the Saints at least have a pair of lineman they can build around. Assuming the Fairley deal is done, that is just a first step in retooling a toiling defense. — John Breitenbach, @PFF_John

Fairley was arguably the only true “priority” for the Saints to re-sign, and even that’s relative when talking about the Saints’ defense. Despite assertions that Fairley can improve against the run, the Saints were still 15th in the league in terms of adjusted line yardage (3.80), and 14th in stuff % (20%) (per Football Outsiders). Consider these numbers compared to 2015, where the Saints were 31st in adjusted line yardage (4.35) and 30th in stuff % (16%). Fairley signed on a prove-it contract, and he proved it. He earned this payday.

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New Orleans expected to sign wide receiver Ted Ginn

12:09 p.m. ET, Thurs., March 9

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn is expected to sign with NFC South rival New Orleans Saints, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini. Ginn played the best years of his career in Carolina, as he earned a grade above 72.0 in only those three seasons of his 10-year career. Nevertheless, Ginn still remained a boom-or-bust type of player with the Panthers—there were just enough big plays to outweigh his drops during his tenure in Carolina. While he did have 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons, he also dropped 17 passes in the same timespan. Ginn’s speed can still stretch the field, as he can take the top off defenses; however, since this role is currently filled by Brandin Cooks, this move may point towards the Saints eventually trading Cooks. — Zoltan Buday, @PFF_Zoltan

Very little to add to this one. Cam Newton does have a bigger arm than Drew Brees, but Brees has a better one. And everyone and their mother has speculated that this may be to mitigate the loss of Cooks in terms of vertical gameplay.

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LB A.J. Klein set to sign with the New Orleans Saints.

11:51 a.m. ET, Thurs., March 9

The Saints are attempting to shore up their defense by bringing in LB A.J. Klein from Carolina. Klein has been the primary backup to MLB Luke Kuechly in Carolina, and given Kuechly’s concussion issues, that has meant that over his four-year career, he has played exactly 1,100 snaps, occasionally flashing ability, but rarely looking like he can be an impact starter with a full-time role. The Saints have been swinging and missing at linebackers both in free agency and the draft for years, so Klein likely has a chance to prove he can step up as a starter, but for his career he has allowed 76.8 percent of passes into his coverage to be caught and missed 11.5 percent of his tackle attempts. — Sam Monson, @PFF_Sam

The call for wariness is warranted on this pickup, but with the Saints seeming to move towards wanting to play more Tampa 2 (or at least two high) defenses this move starts to make a bit more sense. The Saints just got a shiny new linebacker coach in Mike Nolan, and they’re testing him out of the gate. Klein has the athleticism to succeed, but he needs to work out his fundamentals. His sideline to sideline is as good as anyone’s, but unless he learns to start to cover the intermediate middle of the field, the Saints could find themselves in a spot of trouble regarding the direction that they want to take their defense.