The New Orleans Saints are hosting multiple defensive free agents, having already met with , or will be meeting DT Brodrick Bunkley, LB David Hawthorne, LB Joe Mays, and LB Curtis Lofton.
While Curtis Lofton would be a nice additions, formerly the starting middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, it’s defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and linebacker David Hawthorne that fans want to see in a Saints uniform.
But, with limited cap space, New Orleans might have to settle for either Bunkley or Hawthorne — not both.
So which makes more sense?
Bunkley graded out as the best run stopping 4-3 defensive tackles during the 2011 season according to many who closely analyze the sport, and the Saints have been miserable against the run for far too long.
A former first-round pick, Bunkley would represent a huge upgrade to the Saints defensive line.
He is superbly athletic, and extremely disruptive — not only at stopping the run — but getting up field towards opposing quarterbacks.
The Saints have six defensive tackles on the roster, and that includes unrestricted free agents Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin, who may not return to the team in 2012.
That leaves Sedrick Ellis, Tom Johnson, Mitch King, and Swanson Miller at the position.
While Ellis and Johnson will be on the roster opening day, King and Miller could find themselves out of the “53” altogether.
New Orleans needs play makers at defensive tackle without question, and Bunkley is just that, if he can be signed for the right price.
David Hawthorne entered the leagues as undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 2008, breaking into the starting lineup after multiple injuries to middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu.
He has developed into one of the leagues better linebackers the last three seasons totaling 338 tackles, 6 sacks, 15 pass deflections, 7 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles.
Hawthorne can play both middle and strong side linebacker positions, and the Saints could use help at both positions.
Like Bunkley, Hawthorne plays the run exceptionally well, but also excels in pass coverage given his seven interceptions.
Current starting middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma could not be available for the Saints to start the season.
A suspension is expected for his role in a “bounty program” after allegations surfaced he offered $15K to the man that could knock Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
Vilma’s production has been on the decline for some time, and he is due $5.9 million in 2012.
Scott Shanle as been the teams starting strong side linebacker for years.
But, not unlike Vilma, Shanle’s production has declined over past seasons and the Saints have to make a move at his position if they expect defensive improvement.
The reality is the Saints could use both quite easily, but if it came down to it the better signing might very well be Brodrick Bunkley.
New Orleans has a real need at defensive tackle, and the team already has some young talent at outside linebacker in Jonathan Casillas and Martez Wilson.
Now if the Saints are planning to part ways with Vilma than it makes the signing of Hawthorne, or Curtis Lofton, an absolute necessity.