METAIRIE - The New Orleans Saints moved one step closer to getting their starting offensive line back intact Monday when Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks, a restricted free agent, signed his tender offer.
Nicks, a four-year veteran, arrived at the team’s training facility Sunday and Monday morning accepted the one-year, $2.61 million tender he received from the Saints before the lockout began in March.
The 6-foot-5, 343-pound Nicks had an opportunity to seek offers once the new collective bargaining agreement was approved last week, but said there was little interest since the Saints could have matched the deal or otherwise accepted a first-round draft pick as compensation.
“There was a possibility of someone maybe giving them a first-rounder, but that never happens,” Nicks said after watching Monday morning’s practice. “I’m happy to be here, and I want to prove my worth and maybe next year we can talk long term. Right now, I’m just focusing on this year.
“I felt like that was the best way to do it,” he said. “Just be back to football, to be back with my teammates and focus on the task ahead ? and that’s win the Super Bowl.”
Nicks, who is generally regarded as one of the top 10 guards in the NFL, said there may have been a little interest from other teams - but it wasn’t anything serious.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to come back anyway,” he said. “I know the system, we’ve got Drew (Brees) and a great offensive line and a great bunch of guys. So I wanted to come back anyway.”
Only center Jonathan Goodwin remains unsigned from the starting offensive line that has been together since the middle of the 2008 season.
Because Nicks and all free agents signed after the new collective bargaining agreement was approved last week can’t practice until the league year begins on Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton is working with thin numbers at several positions - including cornerback and the offensive line.
Only 62 of the 70 eligible players on the roster were healthy enough to practice Monday morning, and Payton said many of them were getting “75 to 80 percent” of the repetitions in the first four days of practice.
“We had only three cornerbacks practicing at the end of practice and had three offensive linemen playing two positions,” Payton said. “We had only three tackles available, but we have more depth at other positions.”
Teams normally carry 80 players on their roster to start training camp.
Payton announced a couple of changes to his training camp schedule after Monday morning’s practice.
Payton had scheduled a morning practice for Tuesday and an off day for the Saints on Wednesday. Instead, the players will be off Tuesday and return to the practice field at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday for a workout scheduled to be open to the public - weather permitting.
Also, Payton will hold a regular practice at 8:50 a.m. Saturday instead of the Black & Gold Scrimmage. That workout will also be open to the public.
Counting Nicks, Payton should have at least 20 more veterans at practice Thursday after tackle Zach Strief agreed to terms Monday afternoon.
Strief, a valuable backup who often serves as an extra tight end, is entering his sixth season with the Saints. A seventh-round draft pick in 2006, he has performed well when called upon with seven starts in 71 career games.
Also, the Saints on Sunday night signed defensive end Turk McBride, who had five sacks in 2010 for the Detroit Lions, and former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Clint Ingram, who was with the Saints last summer but couldn’t practice because he was still rehabbing a surgically-repaired left knee.
Not practicing Monday morning were CB Tracy Porter (knee), RB Chris Ivory (foot), T Charles Brown (hamstring), DE Greg Romeus (knee), G Carl Johnson (hamstring), CB Josh Gatlin (thumb/knee), LB Jerimiha Hunter (Achilles) and WR Michael Galatas (hamstring).
Running back Mark Ingram broke several tackles, including one when he spun out of the arms of a defender, on a 20-yard run in Monday’s practice before free safety Malcolm Jenkins threw him to the turf. ? Jenkins also knocked the ball loose after running back Chris Taylor caught a swing pass near the sideline. Jenkins dove to keep the loose ball alive, but linebacker Ezra Butler couldn’t recover it while falling out of bounds. ? Cornerback Jabari Greer intercepted a Drew Brees pass that was knocked into the air by intended receiver Adrian Arrington during team drills.
Former Saints coach Jim Mora observed practice Monday before doing some promo shoots for WDSU, for whom he does pre- and post-game shows for Saints games that are televised on NBC. ? After Ingram’s big run, a fan in the stands yelled, “Reggie Who?” ? WWL sports anchor and Saints radio play-by-play man Jim Henderson experienced heat-related problems at the end of Monday’s two-hour practice as he tried to seek relief from the blazing sun. He received treatment from medical personnel and was feeling better in the media workroom after practice.