Bears sign tight end Josh Hill to offer sheet; Saints have five days to match _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints tight end Josh Hill (89) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The New Orleans Saints appear to be set at tight end for the next three years.

The Saints matched the Bears’ three-year, $7.5 million offer to restricted free agent Josh Hill on Friday, adding Hill to a group that this offseason has brought in Coby Fleener and brought back Michael Hoomanawanui on a three-year deal.

Before free agency opened, New Orleans tendered Hill to the tune of $1.67 million, allowing the Saints to have the right of first refusal if any team tried to sign him away.

Hill, 25, has played the H-back, or move tight end, role for the Saints the past two seasons, hauling in 30 catches for 296 yards and seven touchdowns.

With Fleener and Hoomanawanui locked up for the foreseeable future and limited salary-cap space — the Saints opened the day with just $273,215 available — there was widespread speculation that New Orleans might allow Hill to move on to Chicago.

But coach Sean Payton hinted that New Orleans might exercise its right of first refusal with Hill.

“I wouldn’t count on (Hill going to the Bears),” Payton said at the time. “The good news is we control that for five days.”

Now, after the Saints have locked up the tight end, Hill will remain in New Orleans. He’ll play a complementary role behind Fleener, who is expected to become the primary receiver at tight end, and Hoomanawanui, who is expected to assume the blocking role.

Fairley good chance

The Saints could be looking to add another piece to their defense.

After meeting with Nick Fairley last week and then watching him meet with the New England Patriots, the Saints are still in the mix to sign the defensive tackle, a source told The Advocate.

“Go ahead and come join the squad big bro,” safety Kenny Vaccaro tweeted. “We need your talent!”

The NFL Network took things a step further and reported there’s an expectation Fairley will sign with the Saints. That aspect of the report could not be confirmed.

The Saints could use the help. Payton said earlier this week that a three-technique defensive tackle remains one of the team’s biggest needs. Fairley fits the bill and likely would slide in next to John Jenkins on the defensive line if he signs with the Saints.

This addition likely would not preclude New Orleans from obtaining additional talent at defensive tackle in the draft. But it would alleviate a pressing need at the spot and help open up draft options in the first few rounds.

The 6-foot-5, 291-pound Fairley recorded 29 tackles and a half-sack during 15 games with the Rams last season. A former first-round pick, he was limited to eight games in 2014 by a knee injury, his final of four seasons with the Lions. His best years came in 2012 and 2013, when he recorded 11.5 sacks over those two seasons. He only had one sack in 2014.

New Orleans visited with defensive tackle Jason Hatcher earlier this month, a source said. The former Grambling standout last played for the Redskins.

A closer look

The Saints plan to privately work out San Jose State running back Tyler Ervin, a source confirmed Friday.

Ervin, a 5-10, 192-pounder, had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl as a route runner and receiver out of the backfield, and he’d likely project as a possible satellite back for the Saints.

A burner who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, Ervin rushed for 2,357 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons, caught 73 passes for 642 yards and returned three kicks in college.

NFL teams can bring in 30 prospects for official visits, but teams are also allowed to privately work out prospects away from team headquarters.