The New Orleans Saints have landed a veteran presence to guide their young defense.
Two weeks after he first visited, former Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis has agreed to terms with the Saints, according to a post from the veteran on his Twitter account.
Laurinaitis, who has been one of the most productive middle linebackers in the NFL since the Rams drafted him out of Ohio State seven years ago, brings an impressive résumé to New Orleans.
“WHO DAT,” Laurinaitis tweeted. “I’m honored and excited to be joining the Saints organization.”
Drafted in the second round in 2009, Laurinaitis hit the ground running, establishing himself among the league leaders in tackles and refusing to let go of the reputation.
Despite playing just seven seasons in St. Louis, Laurinaitis holds the franchise record with 852 tackles, and he has never posted fewer than 100 tackles in any season in the NFL.
Since Laurinaitis entered the league, only one other linebacker, Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny, has more tackles than Laurinaitis.
Laurinaitis, 29, has also been incredibly durable. So far, the 6-foot-2, 248-pounder has played in every one of a possible 112 games in the NFL despite playing one of the sport’s most brutal positions.
Add in a penchant for big plays — Laurinaitis has 16½ sacks and 10 interceptions in his career — and the veteran linebacker had been the cornerstone of the Rams’ defense for the better part of a decade.
But as he got older, Laurinaitis’s production slipped, if only a little. Laurinaitis posted 109 tackles in each of the past two seasons — tied for the lowest mark of his career. The Rams decided to release the linebacker along with defensive end Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook in a series of cost-cutting moves that saved the moving franchise more than $24 million in cap space.
New Orleans pounced.
With Laurinaitis cut loose from his contract, the Saints opened by getting him in for a visit before the start of the free-agency period — and although he took other visits as the free agent cycle hit a fever pitch, Laurinaitis ended up coming back to the Saints. No financial terms for the deal have been revealed yet, but New Orleans entered the day with just $2.57 million in cap space, meaning the Saints likely offered Laurinaitis a multi-year deal with a small cap hit in the first year of the deal and an escalating salary over the life of the contract.
Now, the Saints add the son of the legendary pro wrestler “Road Warrior Animal” to a defense that has been remade over the last couple of years with young talent. Defensive end Cam Jordan, linebackers Hau’oli Kikaha and Stephone Anthony, cornerback Delvin Breaux and safety Kenny Vaccaro represent a young foundation.
Even though there’s experience in the secondary with veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Jairus Byrd, Laurinaitis instantly adds experience to a unit dominated by play from rookies last season. A true middle linebacker, Laurinaitis likely fits in the middle of the defense, a move that potentially shifts Anthony, who made 112 tackles at the position and called the defense last year. At his age, Laurinaitis is no longer a coverage linebacker, and the Saints already have a veteran presence on the weak side in Dannell Ellerbe.
But the Saints can figure out the lineup shuffle in the coming months. For the moment, they have added one of the league’s smartest and most instinctive linebackers to a defense that finished 31st in the NFL last season, giving general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton a key veteran piece to a defense in the midst of an overhaul.