The New Orleans Saints replaced a veteran with a veteran on Tuesday, hoping that former San Francisco linebacker Parys Haralson successfully can plug in defensively and offer some of the same positives as linebacker Will Smith, who was placed on injured reserve as the team trimmed its roster the NFL-mandated 75 players.
Smith, entering his 10th season and the longest-tenured Saints player, injured his knee in Sunday's preseason victory in Houston. He walked off the field under his own power, but the damage was more extensive than was displayed by that act.
And the Saints, already thin at linebacker, acted quickly in attempting to plug the vacancy created by the loss of Smith, who is fourth in franchise history in sacks (67.5).
Outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, and inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma haven't played this preseason due to injury and surgery. Galette and Vilma entered training camp as projected starters; Wilson, as a key reserve.
Each of them is expected to return soon, Galette and Wilson perhaps as soon as the season opener. But Smith, who was transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, will not.
Thus, Haralson, an eight-year veteran who started 68 of the 86 games he played in San Francisco, was acquired.
"He's a player there's a lot of film on, he's had a lot of experience as a starter there, he's strong at the point of attack, he's experienced in this system and he's experienced and had success with a very good defense," Coach Sean Payton said. "Those are some things that, No. 1, you see on film. All his character and football IQ, all those things are outstanding."
Haralson had 295 tackles (170 solo), 21.5 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 24 special teams stops with the 49ers. His sack total is tied for second all-time for a 49ers linebacker.
The 6-foot, 255-pound Haralson started all 16 games in 2011 and had 39 tackles (23 solo), two sacks and a career-high three forced fumbles, as the NFC West Champion 49ers advanced to the conference championship game. He missed last season with a triceps injury.
Haralson has returned this preseason healthy and appeared in all three preseason games for the 49ers, recording seven tackles (six solo) and three sacks.
But his addition meant the subtraction of Smith, whose transition had been going smoothly, according to coaches.
"It's disappointing and I know he's frustrated because he's put a lot of work in this offseason to, number one, get his weight where he wants it and the position change, and he was handling all of that well," Payton said. "It's frustrating and I'm disappointed for him. I know he is."
Similarly, teammates also were downcast for Smith.
"Really tough," quarterback Drew Brees said. "He's been a mainstay ever since I have been here. He has meant so much to this team. He has been there every snap. I can't remember a game that he has not been in.
"As durable a guy that there is. Unfortunately, you suffer an injury like that on kind of a freak play in the preseason and, man, you hate to see a guy like that go down. I know his leadership is still going to be there. He is very influential with the young guys that we have up front and he is still going to be a part of this team."