The Saints’ efforts to infuse their roster with talent they hope will help them return to the playoffs for the sixth time under coach Sean Payton — if not win the franchise’s second Super Bowl — was far from over when the 2014 draft concluded Saturday evening.
As the night gave way to Mother’s Day Sunday, the Saints reached agreements with more than 20 players who were either undrafted rookies or had been unsigned after leaving school in previous years. The Saints had not announced their official list of post-draft signings by late Sunday afternoon, but word of many players with whom they had struck agreements of some kind filtered out from the athletes, their representatives, their schools and media reports.
The deals were far from the most lucrative, and some were mere invitations to try out for the expanded preseason roster at the upcoming weekend’s rookie minicamp. And it’s possible, for any number of reasons, that some agreements fall through by the time the Saints distribute their official list.
But for now, the post-draft haul included some names that were eye-catching, chief among them Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman, Grand Valley State center Matt Armstrong, Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders and free-agent guard Mike Golic Jr.
Rutgers confirmed the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Coleman agreed to a deal. He tied a school record for touchdown receptions with 20 and had 92 grabs for 1,743 yards in 26 starts.
He at one point had third- to fourth-round draft projections but went unselected. He reportedly was slowed by a knee injury in his final year.
If Coleman pans out, he could be another tall target for quarterback Drew Brees, joining 6-7 tight end Jimmy Graham and 6-4 receiver Marques Colston. The tallest pass-catchers in the pecking order under Graham and Colston are backups Josh Hill, a 6-5 tight end, and 6-4 receiver Nick Toon.
Armstrong is notable because of his former teammate Tim Lelito, a Grand Valley State alum. Lelito, an offensive lineman who made the Saints last year as an undrafted rookie and started two games at right guard, is on the shortlist of players the team said would compete for the full-time center gig left vacant when Brian de la Puente departed for Chicago in free agency.
Last season, Armstrong claimed the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the Football Championship Subdivision. Payton declined to comment Saturday on whether his team had any communications with a more-established center such as free agent Jonathan Goodwin (a former Saint who went to the Pro Bowl the year the team won Super Bowl XLIV and has been in San Francisco the past three seasons) to compete for de la Puente’s old job.
Golic went undrafted out of Notre Dame last year and unsuccessfully tried to make the Pittsburgh Steelers roster before agreeing to a deal (reportedly for two years) with the Saints on Saturday. The son of former NFL veteran and current national radio host Mike Golic Sr., he will aim to provide depth to the interior of the line and could audition at center, which he also played in college.
Flanders is the leading rusher in Southland Conference history. The 5-8, 207-pound All-American had 5,664 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns from 2010-13 after transferring from Kansas State. Comparisons to Saints running backs Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet — who made the team as undrafted rookies in 2013 and 2012 after dominating at small schools — are inevitable.
Other post-draft signings or minicamp invitations reportedly include: defensive back Shaq Bell (Colorado State), running back Ryan Boykin (Ohio), kicker Sergio Castillo (West Texas A&M), tight end Jerome Cunningham (senior at South Connecticut State in 2012), cornerback Brian Dixon (Northwest Missouri State), defensive end Kasim Edebali (Boston College), outside linebacker Spencer Hadley (BYU), wide receiver Spencer Harris (Illinois), wide receiver Je’Ron Hamm (Louisiana-Monroe) and wide receiver Steve Hull (Illinois).
More were linebacker Cqulin Hubert (Southeastern Louisiana), running back John Hubert (Kansas State), tight end Nic Jacobs (McNeese State), quarterback Logan Kilgore (Middle Tennessee State), wide receiver Seantavius Jones (Valdosta State), offensive tackle Ryan McGrath (Ohio), defensive end Brandon McCray (Louisiana-Lafayette), linebacker TraShaun Nixon (New Mexico State), defensive lineman Micajah Reynolds (Michigan State; reportedly switching to offense), cornerback Derrick Strozier (Tulane), defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Colorado), defensive end Lawrence Virgil (Valdosta State), safety Pierre Warren (Jacksonville State), safety Luke Wollet (Kent State), and safety Ty Zimmerman (Kansas State).
The Saints only had 62 players on their roster (the second-fewest in the NFL) heading into the draft and had room to add more personnel than usual following the draft.
As is typical for them, the Saints on Saturday pointed out how many undrafted players have landed on their roster under the Payton regime. There were seven last year, and running back Pierre Thomas is getting ready for his eighth season in New Orleans after going unselected in 2007.
“With only seven rounds, there are some good football players that go undrafted,” Payton said. “We always try to preach to those guys that the business of acquiring the player is one thing, but once they get here, we really try to go by what we see.”