After trading TE Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks for C Max Unger and the 32nd overall pick, the Saints used that pick to acquire LB Stephone Anthony out of Clemson. Anthony led the team in tackles on a poor defensive unit, but struggled to get playing time after getting benched in 2016.
Anthony was supposed to be the long-term answer to the Inside Linebacker position once occupied by Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma in years past. Craig Robertson, originally signed to primarily be a rotational linebacker and special teams ace, got the bulk of playing time in the middle of the linebacking corps for the Saints last year. With Robertson’s play being solid but unspectacular, there were thoughts the Saints could make a run for talented Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster in the 2017 NFL Draft. Foster seemed like a perfect target in the first round to help be the long-term piece Anthony couldn’t seem to become.
Then the 2017 free agency period started.
Early in free agency, the Saints signed ILB A.J. Klein from the Carolina Panthers to a four-year, $24 million dollar deal. Klein played his career behind All-World LB Luke Kuechly, but seemed to have the potential to be a solid starter in New Orleans. Even still, the addition of Klein wouldn’t make a Foster selection impossible; the Saints could just choose to let Klein help ease the rookie into an NFL system. It’s also possible the Saints could try shifting Klein to the outside if Foster proved himself ready for starter’s minutes.
Then later in free agency, the Saints inked ILB Manti Te’o from the Chargers. Unlike Klein, Te’o has no hope of shifting outside, lacking the size and strength to play with the physicality necessary at the position. Sure, Te’o could primarily see time on special teams, but if he is playing on defense, it would be at the middle linebacker position, a spot already presumed to go to A.J. Klein.
So now with Klein and Te’o signed this offseason, along with Adam Bighill out of the Canadian Football League and Travis Freeney on a futures contract, plus the aforementioned Craig Robertson, the Saints seemingly have plenty of bodies to anchor their linebacking corps. Who the full-time starter will be in 2016 is anyone’s guess (smart money would be on Klein), but it’s safe to say that one of the above is going to be “the guy.”
Now the Saints have multiple options at Middle Linebacker, glaring needs at Cornerback and Defensive End, and Reuben Foster looks to no longer be a fit in New Orleans.