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With Fujita gone, Saints dive into free agency

Posted Mar 22, 2010

Saints-Offseason

METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Released from the shackles of the NFL's ``final four'' rule, the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints are diving into the free agent market and starting by taking a close look at defensive ends.

St. Louis Rams defensive ends James Hall and Leonard Little both are of interest to New Orleans, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said on Friday.

Hall was finishing up a visit on Friday and Little was expected to reschedule a visit that he had to call off this week because of a personal conflict, Loomis said.

New Orleans could use another experienced defensive end after releasing veteran Charles Grant last week. But the search was slowed by a league rule for an uncapped season limiting which free agents may be signed by teams that played in conference title games until they've lost free agents of their own.

When linebacker Scott Fujita signed a three-year, $14 million deal with Cleveland, the Saints could start looking at players with expired contracts on other teams.

``Scott just got an offer that was too good to turn down,'' Loomis said. ``He wanted to return to New Orleans. We wanted him to return to New Orleans, but we understand what free agency is. ... Now we've got an opportunity to bring some guys in.''

With Fujita turning 31 and the Saints' roster full of young linebackers, New Orleans could not justify matching the Browns' offer.

Loomis said 2009 draft pick Stanley Arnoux, 2009 undrafted free agent Jonathan Casillas, two-year pro Jo-Lonn Dunbar, 2007 draft pick Marvin Mitchell, three-year pro Anthony Waters and veteran Troy Evans all could compete to join middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and weakside linebacker Scott Shanle as starters.

Loomis would not rule out going after a linebacker in free agency, but acknowledged the Saints' depth at defensive end is thinner.

``We have a need at both of those positions. But we have some guys in the building, probably more guys in the building at the linebacker position than we do at defensive end,'' Loomis said. ``We've also got a lot of draft picks that we get to exercise in April, so hopefully we'll be able to fill both those spots between free agency and the draft.''

A day after meeting with the Browns, former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme had a visit lined up in New Orleans on Friday and Saturday. Because Delhomme had been released by the Panthers, he did not fall under the ``final four'' rule. But the 35-year-old also would not be competing for a starting role in New Orleans, where Drew Brees' job is as secure as they get.

While Cleveland's quarterback situation is less certain and could be more attractive to Delhomme, Loomis said, ``obviously Jake wouldn't take the visit (to New Orleans) if he didn't have some interest.''

Delhomme, a Louisiana native, keeps a permanent residence in his hometown of Breaux Bridge, where much of his family still lives and where he trains thoroughbred race horses with his father.

``We need to have a conversation with Jake and how he sees himself and how he sees his role here before we can say, 'Look, we're willing to sign you,''' Loomis said.

Loomis did not have an update on negotiations with free agent Darren Sharper, who has lamented publicly that the Saints aren't ``showing the love'' he expected after intercepting nine passes in 2009.

``Listen, I got all the love in the world for Darren Sharper, I just don't have all the money in the world for Darren Sharper,'' Loomis said. ``If it fits under our salary structure and the resources that we have, then we'll definitely want to have him back. If it doesn't, and he has an opportunity someplace else, then we understand that.''

Last season, the Saints drafted safety Chip Vaughn out of Wake Forest in the fourth round, but like Arnoux, he spent his rookie season on injured reserve. New Orleans also moved 2007 third-round draft pick Usama Young from cornerback to safety last season. Sharper was Young's mentor, though it remains to be seen if Young is ready to fill Sharper's shoes should the NFL's active interception leader sign elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Loomis reiterated coach Sean Payton's comments that the Saints had no intention of releasing Reggie Bush. Loomis added the club would not be asking Bush to renegotiate his contract, which pays him about $8 million in 2010.

Loomis declined to discuss whether a raise and contract extension were in the works for Brees, who is entering the fifth year of a six-year, $60 million contract.

``I'm not going to address that,'' Loomis said. ``These contracts are personal issues for players.''