Alex Okafor

Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor (57) reacts to a defensive stop against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Rick Scuteri

Early in the offseason, back before free agency began, Kenny Vaccaro told Alex Okafor to keep an eye on New Orleans. 

Vaccaro and Okafor were captains together at Texas, and now the pair work out together in California during the offseason. With Okafor hitting free agency, Vaccaro let him know the Saints would need some help on the defensive line.

Okafor told his friend to wait and see, and now the pair have been reunited. New Orleans signed Okafor on Tuesday, offering the Cardinals pass rusher a one-year deal worth up to $3 million, according to a source, to fill a hole at defensive end. 

"Obviously, they're making defense a big priority this offseason, and there's an opportunity at the opposite d-end, away from (Cameron Jordan)," Okafor said. "I know I can be that guy."

Okafor has been that guy in the past. Drafted in the fourth round by Arizona in 2013, Okafor bounced back from a torn biceps as a rookie to rip off a team-high eight sacks in 2014.

A toe injury in 2015 and a torn biceps tendon in 2016 kept him from reaching those numbers again in Arizona, although he did play through pain in 15 games last season.

"Once you tear it, you can either get surgery and be out for the whole year or you can play through it and it'll heal on its own," Okafor said. "You don't really lose any strength from it; it's just dealing with the pain tolerance initially."

If Okafor can simply replicate the pass rush he produced while playing hurt last year, he'd be an upgrade over veteran Paul Kruger, the man who handled the spot opposite Jordan last season. Okafor recorded 3.5 sacks and six hits in 230 snaps; Kruger picked up 1.5 sacks and six hits in 571 snaps.

By signing Okafor, the Saints hope they've added a low-risk veteran upgrade in a sparse market that was picked dry by teams keeping their own edge rushers.

New Orleans gets Hau'oli Kikaha, a 2015 second-round pick who had four sacks as a rookie, back from the torn ACL that ended his season, and the Saints could use a draft pick on one of the deepest classes of edge rushers the NFL has seen in years.

But Okafor said he believes he can get back to his 2014 form if he's healthy.

"(Injuries) definitely played a part, they definitely slowed down my career a little bit," Okafor said. "I have no regrets in Arizona. ... but I'm ready to take that next step and get back to the player I know I can be."

Once it became clear that the Saints were a possibility for Okafor, Vaccaro started recruiting again, aided by Jordan and running back Mark Ingram.

For Okafor, it felt good to be wanted.

"Dream come true," Vaccaro wrote on his Twitter account after news of Okafor's signing broke. "Now hurry up and get back to Cali so we can get back to work."

Music to Okafor's ears.

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.