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New Orleans Saints Offseason Needs: Linebacker

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Dec 28, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown (12) throws the ball as New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson (98) pressures during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I brought you the start of a series that addresses the glaring needs for the New Orleans Saints heading into the 2015 NFL Offseason. We started with a position that almost everyone could agree on, cornerback. As we continue to look further into the areas that the team needs the most help in, we stick to the defensive side.

Linebacker

Saints Free Agents: Ramon Humber (UFA), Parys Haralson (UFA), Moise Fokou (UFA)

Remaining ILBs: Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Kyle Knox, Jerry Franklin

Remaining OLBs: Junior Galette, Ronald Powell, Kasim Edebali, Cheta Ozougwu (IR)

What else can you say about the linebacker situation other than the fact that this team desperately needs an outside edge rusher opposite of Junior Galette. However, it won’t stop there.

The team is facing some major salary cap decisions with David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton. Both are some of the top drainers in 2015, One believes that the team will move on from Hawthorne, in all likliehood, and the team will work to keep Lofton a Saint. After all, Lofton has led the Saints in tackles for three straight years since coming over in 2012 from Atlanta. His 145 tackles this season was good for fourth best in the NFL behind Luke Kuechly, DeAndre Levy, and Lavonte David.

Junior Galette became the first Saints player to finish with back to back 10+ sack seasons since Charles Grant did so in 2003 and 2004. Galette also commands a hefty salary cap figure, but a quick move of his scheduled roster bonus of $12.5 million to a signing bonus could greatly benefit the Saints. However, his status with the team next year is up in the air with the recent events that transpired on Monday.

The larger and more obvious need for the Saints figures to be outside linebacker, but the argument can be made for the team’s need of an inside linebacker that can excel in pass coverage. We’ll look at both areas for the black and gold.

Who’s Available?

Seasoned OLB Veterans of Interest Available: Dwight Freeney (35), Brian Orakpo (28)

Younger OLB Experience Well Worth a Look: Justin Houston (26), Jason Worilds (26), Pernell McPhee (26), Brandon Graham (26), Jabaal Sheard (26)

Seasoned ILB Veterans of Interest Available: David Harris (30), D.J. Williams (32), Jasper Brinkley (29), Jerrell Freeman (28), Larry Foote (34)

Younger ILB Experience Well Worth a Look: Rey Maualuga (27), Rolando McClain (25), Brandon Spikes (27), Mason Foster (25), Kelvin Sheppard (26), Casey Matthews (25), Akeem Dent (27)

I’ve excluded 4-3 outside linebackers like Bruce Carter (Cowboys), Akeem Ayers (Patriots), Brandon Marshall (Broncos), and Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons). Obviously, a 3-4 scheme demands a dedicated SAM or JACK player. They could be considered, but doesn’t seem like the best fit for the New Orleans Saints.

Draft Prospects (OLB): Shane Ray (Missouri), Vic Beasley (Clemson), Shaq Thompson (Washington), Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida), Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville)

Draft Prospects (ILB): Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State), Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Denzel Perryman (Miami)

Dream Scenario Signing: Justin Houston

Personal Picks: Brandon Graham, The Draft

Justin Houston would be the ultimate signing for any team looking to beef up their pass rushing. However, the Chiefs front office would be silly to let Houston go. Salary cap constraints ($141.5 million) do make it a bit tough for the Chiefs to lock up Houston, but it would be easy to see them part ways with Dwayne Bowe to make space for him.

Houston is coming off of his best year as a Chief, finishing with 22.0 sacks. It was almost good enough to beat out Michael Strahan‘s 22.5 sack record from 2001, but Houston joins Mark Gastineau (1984) and Jared Allen (2011) for second best. It was his third straight double-digit sack season. The Chiefs could also use the franchise tag on Houston, which would make it difficult for a team to contemplate matching the said offer.

Brandon Graham would have been a personal pick of mine, but he’s hinted that he feels more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme versus a 3-4 scheme. Some other players like Brian Orakpo have an injury riddled history, and while they could prove to be ‘bargain’ players similar to what Parys Haralson was for the team in 2013, they are not long-term solutions.

Jason Worilds would be another tremendous add for the Saints, but he turned down a Steelers’ long-term offer and played for the franchise tag of $9,754,000 in 2014. The team would have to offer some type of large upfront bonus to make New Orleans an appealing landing spot.

For the inside, I love the fact of having another strong anchor in the middle with Mason Foster, however he’s not know for his pass coverage. He does brings leadership, which is something the Saints could desperately use. However, the team could land themselves a healthy prospect like Denzel Perryman in the 2nd round should they choose to go offensive lineman in the 1st round.

Naturally, it’s a giant balancing act of where to attack.

The Saints will be faced with a tremendous decision with the 13th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. All signs and speculation point to the team selecting a guard or linebacker. There’s a tremendous amount of appeal for players like Shaq Thompson, Shayne Ray, and Vic Beasley.

I firmly believe the best course of action for the Saints is to address this need via the draft. The team must stop putting band aids on the linebacker position, and select a long-term solution to let flourish.

The team may already have some solutions in-house for outside linebacker with Kasim Edebali and Ronald Powell, but they are still young and unproven.

What do you see the Saints best course of action for the linebacker position? Should the team look to lock up a big name, young up and comer, or turn to the draft? Sound off below!

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