Lost in the chaos of the fall out of the Saints penalties regarding “Bounty Gate’ are the status of several key free agents that still remained unsigned nearly a month after the start of the free agency period.
The more notable players are linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Leigh Torrence, wider receiver/returner Courtney Roby, defensive end Jeff Charleston, as well as defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin.
Versatile linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar had an offer on the table to return to the Saints.
Fans were hopeful he would come back considering he played both middle and outside linebacker for the team last season with decent success.
New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could have used Dunbar on the outside at strong side linebacker.
Given the expected suspensions of several Saints players on the defensive side, including middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, having plenty of bodies at multiple positions has become hugely important.
He had his best season as a pro in 2011 — amassing 90 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles — but had little interest from teams in free agency, other than the St. Louis Rams.
Dunbar visited with the Rams almost two weeks ago, but no further information had come down the pipe in regards to if they had made him a serious offer to join up until today.
Dunbar agreed to a contract with the Rams this afternoon making him the fourth “starter” from the Saints squad last season to sign elsewhere.
Linebacker Ramon Humber was not tendered an offer by the Saints.
However he proved useful on special teams last season and also possesses the ability to play multiple positions at linebacker, although he is primarily a middle linebacker.
Leigh Torrence was also a special teams contributor while spending the last few years as the team’s fifth cornerback.
He has good cover skills and could prove useful when the Saints defense plays in nickel or dime formations, but he was known as Gregg Williams “guy”, and Spagnuolo may have no use for him.
New Orleans is already down one cornerback after letting Tracy Porter hit the free agent market, where he eventually would sign with the Denver Broncos.
Porter was good in man-to-man coverage, and decent in zone, but became an increasingly poor tackler over the last few seasons.
Currently the Saints have six corners on the roster – Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, Johnny Patrick, Kamaal Mcllwain, Cord Parks, and Josh Victorian – but it’s questionable the last three make the roster.
Courtney Roby has extreme value to the Saints as a special teams player, leading the team in tackles there both of the last two seasons while playing the “gunner” role.
Roby is a capable kick returner with a career average of 24.9 yards per return. He just doesn’t find the end zone much, scoring only one special teams touchdown since joining the Saints midway through the 2008 season.
He is also very familiar with the Saints offense, and should someone go down in the receiving core, can certainly step up and fill-in more than adequately.
New Orleans is thin at the defensive tackle position having only five currently on the roster heading into the draft.
Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was a very nice pick-up, but youngsters Mitch King and Swanson Miller could have a hard time earning a roster sport as the Saints may have to load up at linebacker.
It’s surprising that the Saints have not made a run at defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, the better player in comparison to Shaun Rogers, who was also allowed to walk after an uneventful 2011 season.
Franklin may be better suited as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, where he excelled as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, earning a reputation as one of the league’s best run defenders.
So that’s right where Franklin may want to return, as a 3-4 nose tackle. The Kansas City Chiefs may have interest in signing him according to several reports, but a return to the 49ers seems out of the question.
But Franklin’s wide body can still be useful in the Saints 4-3, and Franklin could end up back in New Orleans for the 2012 NFL season still yet.