Rob Ryan will have a familiar face working in his revamped defense next season.
After he visited with the New Orleans Saints last month, Anthony Spencer signed a one-year deal, the team announced Friday. The move reunites Spencer with Ryan, his defensive coordinator in Dallas during the 2011 and ’12 seasons.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Spencer logged a half-sack in 13 games last season, though he was coming off a knee injury that limited him to one game in 2013. In his eight-year career, the 31-year-old has 497 tackles, 33 sacks and 12 forced fumbles.
Spencer has the ability to play defensive end in a 4-3 front and outside linebacker in a 3-4, which will be appealing to Ryan since he employees both alignments. It also helps that Spencer was at his best under Ryan.
Long a productive pass-rusher, Spencer hit his stride playing for Ryan in Dallas. He had six sacks and 66 tackles during the 2011 campaign but surged the next season, when he finished with a career-high 11 sacks and 95 tackles in 14 games.
Ryan left Dallas following that season, and Spencer suffered a knee injury that limited him over the next two years.
While the terms of the deal are not known, when the numbers become public, this likely will be revealed to be a low-risk move for the Saints. But the upside could pay dividends.
New Orleans struggled to generate consistent pressure last season with its pass rush, and getting stronger in that area has been considered one of the top priorities of the offseason. If he proves healthy and productive, Spencer could provide depth off the edges behind Cam Jordan and Junior Galette. On third down or obvious passing situations, Spencer could also rush off the edge while Jordan moves inside to defensive tackle.
The move continues a push by the Saints to improve a defense that finished among the league’s worst units last year. The team started out by signing Brandon Browner to start at cornerback opposite Keenan Lewis and has since added Kyle Wilson to further bolster the depth at cornerback.
New Orleans also acquired Dannell Ellerbe from the Miami Dolphins in a trade for receiver Kenny Stills. Coach Sean Payton said David Hawthorne will shift over to fill the void in the middle created by Curtis Lofton’s release, while Ellerbe will play weakside linebacker.
And with safety Jairus Byrd coming back from a knee injury that wiped out the majority of his inaugural season with the Saints, optimism exists that the defense will be improved from last season’s 7-9 unit.
The tinkering likely is not done. Both Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis have said that the moves made this offseason, including trading tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, were made with the intention of improving the defense. With nine picks in the draft, including three in the first 44 picks, New Orleans has the currency to address several needs.
It would not be surprising if the Saints look to add players at defensive tackle, cornerback and edge rusher through the draft. But until those players are added, Ryan can spend the next few weeks dreaming and scheming up ways to use one of the more productive players to come through his system.