The New Orleans Saints parted ways with a couple of fan-favorites at linebacker this week, namely former special teams captain Michael Mauti. Mauti, a New Orleans native and son of former Saints special teamer Rich Mauti, joined the team in 2016 as a roster cuts poaching from the Minnesota Vikings. He made a strong impression quickly by scoring a touchdown off of his own blocked punt in a 2016 Monday Night Football victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Since then, Mauti has been a key special teams contributor and reserve linebacker despite struggling with a serious medical condition that made it almost-impossible to make playing-weight. Mauti battled back from that challenge to earn to Saints’ Ed Brock Courage Award. His story and personal New Orleans history has resonated with fans, making him a popular target for autographs after last summer’s organized team activities.
The Saints also waived former CFL all-star linebacker Adam Bighill this week. Bighill played well in the 2017 preseason but spent all but three regular-season games on the practice squad, appearing sparingly on special teams. His age, lack of size and speed probably kept him seeing a bigger role. Bighill’s activity in his foundation for helping children born with facial defects and scrappy style of play endeared him to Saints fans, making an easy guy to root for.
These are tough roster cuts but it’s kind of what you want to see. Linebacker has been an area of such glaring weakness in New Orleans for years, truly ever since Jonathan Vilma retired. It speaks to the top-to-bottom talent level there now when players like Mauti and Bighill don’t make it to training camp. Other recent contributors such as Craig Robertson and Nathan Stupar may not even be safe. Between the hiring of linebackers coach Mike Nolan, drafting of Alex Anzalone and signing of veterans like Manti Te’o, A.J. Klein, and Demario Davis the last two years, it’s clear that New Orleans has prioritized a facelift in the middle of their defense. The Saints have gotten better, even if there’s growing pains like these to be had along the way.