Washington signs new OL who’s played center — but it wasn’t Brian de la Puente

New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente (60) points before a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in Chicago.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente (60) points before a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in Chicago.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Washington on Friday signed a new player that has previously started at center, but it was not free agent Brian de la Puente, who’s been the Saints’ first-stringer at the position since 2011.

Mike McGlynn — who was a free agent after starting 11 games at right guard and three games at center for Indianapolis in 2013 — agreed to a deal with Washington on Friday afternoon, the team announced via Twitter. He had previously visited Washington, which de la Puente had also done.

It remains to be seen whether the news is any indicator that Washington might no longer be a landing spot for de la Puente, as at least one writer there — ESPN’s John Keim — believes McGlynn constitutes more of a depth signing than the acquisition of a starter.

During the annual NFL owners meeting in Orlando earlier this week, Saints coach Sean Payton said the Saints were still interested in re-signing de la Puente, though second-year offensive lineman Tim Lelito would be given the chance to win the starting job at center this preseason.

Separate from that, a league source confirmed the Saints’ continued interest in de la Puente to The Advocate during the owners meeting.

De la Puente started 44 games during the Saints’ last three seasons. He made a base salary of $2.02 million in 2013 while flanked by Pro Bowl guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans.

Under him on the Saints’ depth chart was Lelito, who started in place of an injured Evans in two games last season.

At the end of 2013, de la Puente told reporters he wanted to return to New Orleans.

“I really like this team — I like the guys, I like the locker room, I like the coaches, the front office,” he said. “I think that’s big in this business.”

The Saints have reportedly been far from alone in coveting de la Puente, however. Aside from New Orleans and Washington (which cut its starting center Will Montgomery), the Giants, Broncos and Patriots have previously been reported as possibilities for de la Puente.

It’s worth noting that Tom Curran, who covers the Patriots for Comcast SportsNet New England, reported on Friday that the Pats re-signed Ryan Wendell, who’s been their starting center.

Vendor of StarCaps, which resulted in suspensions for former Saints, pleads guilty to misbranding drug

A socialite whose weight-loss supplement was linked to banned-substances suspensions for three New Orleans Saints and a few other NFL players several years ago pleaded guilty Wednesday to misbranding the drug, according to Reuters.

Nikki Haskell — known to appear at events involving Aretha Franklin and Ivana Trump — as well as her company, Balanced Health Products Inc., pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal district court to a misdemeanor count of misbranding in connection with the sale of a pill called StarCaps, whose label did not disclose the presence of a diuretic called bumetanide, Reuters reported, via Yahoo Sports.

That diuretic was banned by the NFL. In 2008, former Saints running backs Deuce McAllister as well as defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith tested positive for it, and the league issued them suspensions.

The players appealed the discipline, though, and both McAllister and Grant were out of the NFL before the proceedings were resolved. Ultimately, only Smith served a suspension, and it was for two games in 2011.

Reuters quoted Haskell’s lawyer, Chris Mancini, as saying the defendant didn’t know StarCaps contained bumetanide, which he said was added by the supplement’s manufacturer in Peru.

Both that statement and the fact Haskell admitted her drug was not branded properly are strong indications the players had no way of knowing the banned diuretic was in the StarCaps supplement. The NFL declined to give Reuters comment.

Haskell is reportedly looking at no more than a year in prison. But her lawyer, Chris Mancini, told Reuters she possibly may only need to pay a fine of $60,000 to $100,000 under a plea deal.

(H/T SaintsReport.com)

Saints coach Sean Payton speaks out on Jimmy Graham, vast array of team and league issues

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton smiles before an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton smiles before an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Saints coach Sean Payton’s hour-long session with the media at the annual NFL owner’s meeting in Orlando on Wednesday produced information beat reporters in New Orleans could spend weeks of regular-season news conferences asking to get. Below are some of the highlights.

A few of these touch on topics The Advocate will revisit in future stories.

Jimmy Graham:

(Will the contract negotiations to reach a new long-term contract with All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to replace the now-expired deal he accepted as a Saints rookie in 2010 linger the way they did with quarterback Drew Brees in 2012?)

“It’s hard to put a time table on it. But I would say very similar to Drew’s, all of us felt like it was just a matter of not if but when. … We’re anxious to get it done, and he’s an important part of what we do.” Note: The Brees negotiations in 2012 dragged out until July of that year.

(On the general tone of the negotiations)

“There’s a ton of respect between a guy like (Graham’s agent) Jimmy Sexton and (Saints) General Manager Mickey Loomis. All of those things make it a positive — but difficult at times — process.”

(What if Graham holds out of preseason workouts in the event a deal isn’t done by that point?)

“Younger guys are going to get reps. He’s at a point in his career where he has a good grasp of what we’re doing.”

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Note: Indeed. In 2013, Graham led the Saints in receiving yards with 1,215 and the NFL in touchdown grabs with 16. That was despite battling through foot and elbow injuries for a significant part of the season.

(Are you surprised a tight end like Graham would possibly be interested in wide receiver money?)

“I think that’s a byproduct of a little bit of an antiquated system with regards to franchise numbers. I think those will be, over the years, revisited and adjusted.”

Note: Graham spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a one-year, $7 million franchise tag classifying him as a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.

A franchise tag for a wide receiver is worth $5 million more, and it’s believed he could file a grievance through the players association to be classified as a wideout, given the massive boost in pay that could result in, depending on the decision of a third party.

Graham, though, might not even play under the tag if he and the Saints can agree on a long-term deal before the season starts. The Saints have repeatedly maintained that is their aim.

Possible needs as free agency rolls and draft nears

(Brees is still elite, but he’s 35. When do you look for a successor, and do you do so in the draft?)

“I don’t know that you go into a draft and say, ‘All right, put on your gloves. Here we go. This is it.’ But you are paying attention to that market, that specific position’s market each year because it’s a little bit like that high-end delicatessen item that doesn’t come in every day, and so you’re always waiting to make sure that something’s not on the shelf. I think it’s important to pay attention to that, and we’re fortunate to have a player like Drew.

You always have one or you’re looking for one. And then I think it’s important that constant development or vision of developing one exists.”

Note: Under Brees on the depth chart are veteran backup Luke McCown as well as No. 3 QB Ryan Griffin, a 2013 undrafted rookie from Tulane who Payton said the Saints see a lot of potential in.

(What are some holes there might still be on the roster that can filled in the draft or free agency?)

“You always put a value on corners and pass rushers, defensively. … Those coveted spots, you’re always in the business for. What I mean by that is pass rushers and guys that can cover. It’s a deep draft we think at receiver, so there are a lot of teams that are going to be able to draft maybe a good player there.”

The safeties

(There were lots of three-safety packages last year, when the Saints finished No. 4 in defense overall.)

“It was an answer to the injuries we had at outside linebacker (initially). … Yet there was still some elements that we wanted (so it was kept throughout the year).”

Note: The Saints lost outside linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler to year-ending knee injuries in the 2013 preseason. They headed into the regular-season opener with three players at the position. That led to then-rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro lining up at various places over the field, in addition to his fellow position mates Malcolm Jenkins (now with Philadelphia) and Roman Harper (now with Carolina).

Carolina Panthers' Ted Ginn (19) is knocked out of bounds by New Orleans Saints' Kenny Vaccaro (32) as they run into Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, back, in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Carolina Panthers’ Ted Ginn (19) is knocked out of bounds by New Orleans Saints’ Kenny Vaccaro (32) as they run into Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, back, in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(Stemming from the previous point, it’s apparently not the plan for the hard-hitting Vaccaro to play all over the field in 2014. Payton suggested he’s eager to see him play off new safety Jairus Byrd, who was acquired in free agency and whose 22 interceptions are the most among safeties since he joined the NFL in 2009).

“As for Jairus and Kenny, I think there’s a clear vision of how we want you use them, and that’s important. … Kenny played in a lot of spots last year. I think he’ll play in less of those spots this year. … That vision this year will be a little more clearer.”

(The risk of pursuing an elite free agent such as safety Jairus Byrd, whom the Saints succeeded in signing):

“The risk is just like asking someone out on a date. He might say no, and you have to be comfortable in trying to go after someone and approaching. So Mickey was good during this time.”

Training camp at Greenbrier golf resort in West Virginia

(How valuable is it to bond in a less-than-familiar place for a football team?)

“I like that. … I think that’s important, and I think this is a venue that can provide that. It’s separate from a lot of existence. You’ve got to find it really.”

(Optimum conditions there?)

“I don’t want to say optimum conditions because it’s pretty warm anywhere you’re at (that time of year in the country). It’s just a little cooler than the humidity we might get for the full five weeks in Metairie.”

Note: Payton said the Saints will start their 2014 training camp at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. and stay there through the second preseason game. They’ll then return to their training facilities in Metairie for the rest of camp. This is different from what a Saints spokesman said earlier, which was that the camp would be at The Greenbrier for a latter portion.

Miscellaneous:

(Reaction to the NFL’s intention to prohibit dunking a football over the crossbar, which has been Jimmy Graham’s post-touchdown celebration):

“I didn’t really think too much of it.”

(Taking care to not overwork Marques Colston, who’s heading into his ninth year in the NFL and with the Saints):

“He played some of his better football late in the season, so he battled some soreness in his foot. That wasn’t easy, but he’s such a target and competitor inside. I think the key is just monitoring his snaps during training camp — the thing you have to start doing with a player like him during the season with regards to practice time.”

Note: Colston caught 75 passes for 943 yards and five touchdowns in 15 regular-season games in 2013. He is the franchise leader in receptions (607), receiving yards (8,337) and receiving touchdowns (63).

(On left tackle Terron Armstead, entering his second year)

“It was nice to have had a chance to evaluate Terron and then see the production we got from him. That clears things up a little bit as you approach the draft as opposed to getting through the season possibly not playing and maybe not having the exposure, too. I think he got better each week.”

Note: Armstead was inserted into the starting line-up after left tackle Charles Brown was benched following a Week 15 loss at St. Louis. He played four games, including two playoff contests. Brown is a free agent at the moment.

(on former quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, now the offensive coordinator in Detroit):

“I think he’ll do well, especially with his success and track record in New Orleans, the wins, and the playoffs, those experiences will do well. I think it’s just — I’ve just been in his position before, and when you come in as a young coordinator or play-caller, I think the players are really interested in winning and can you help us do that. I think very quickly he’ll answer that question.”

Note: Lombardi became the Saints’ QB coach in 2009, at the end of which the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. When he left in January for his job in Detroit, Brees had posted three of his four 5,000-yard seasons. The Saints went to the playoffs in four of the five campaigns Lombardi was QB coach, which are the experiences Payton alluded to.

(Would Saints players be open to a gay teammate?)

“(Former NFL coach Bill) Parcells said it best last year. He said winning teams and winning locker rooms open (up) to players of all diversity. They really do. It can help them win. Their doors are wide open. They tend to push out those players they feel like can’t help them win. …

“As an organization and as a locker room, we look at diversity to include a gay football player. I just know how our locker room is, and it’s something we spend time on : the respect of others and the mission statement being winning. And if those things are pointed in the right direction, then the other stuff is not that important really.”

Note: Such questions have been asked at virtually all NFL-related gatherings ever since draft prospect Michael Sam came out in February. He is trying to become the first openly gay player to make the NFL.

Tim Lelito will be given shot to earn Saints’ starting job at center, Payton says

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

New Orleans Saints guard Tim Lelito (68) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

ORLANDO, Fla. — As things stood when Saints coach Sean Payton met with the media at the annual NFL owners meeting on Wednesday, New Orleans’ plan at the center position was in no way finalized.

That’s chiefly because Brian de la Puente — their starter at center the previous three seasons — remained a free agent, and he was reportedly mulling his possibilities in New Orleans, Washington and possibly elsewhere.

However, Payton did sound sure about at least one thing on the issue: Tim Lelito, who is heading into his second year after starting two games at right guard for the Saints in 2013, will enter New Orleans’ 2014 training camp with a shot to earn the first-string job at center.

“It’s still unfolding, so it’d be premature to just say, ‘Hey, (this is) the plan today …, (but) we feel like (Lelito) has a chance to be that player,” Payton said in response to a question about the situation at center.

Payton, though, made it abundantly clear that he’d most likely be competing against more veteran competition, whether that’s a re-signed de la Puente or another free agent.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a player signed,” Payton also said. “Tim Lelito would be a guy that’s in the mix as someone competing for that opportunity, but … we’ll see who it is he’s competing against.”

Lelito, listed on the roster as a backup guard/center, certainly got experience on the offensive line in 2013 that will serve him well moving forward. After making the Saints as an undrafted rookie from Grand Valley State at the end of a preseason in which he memorably recovered an end-zone fumble for a touchdown, he filled in at right guard for two games that four-time All-Pro Jahri Evans sat out due to injuries.

The Saints won both games. In the first, against Arizona in Week 3, he surrendered three quarterback sacks against three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. In the second, at Atlanta in Week 12, he gave up a play that ended in lost yardage and was called for a holding penalty, but he noticeably improved.

More importantly, New Orleans won both games on the way to a run to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Nonetheless, Payton declared it was “essential to have someone” at camp with Lelito. “And it could very well be a guy like de la Puente or another player who’s out there.”

Aside from de la Puente, an unrestricted free agent since March 11, another logical possibility is Jonathan Goodwin.

Though Payton didn’t mention him specifically on Wednesday, Goodwin hit the open market this offseason after playing with the Saints from 2006 to 2010. After helping the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV in his fourth year in New Orleans, Goodwin left for San Francisco in free agency and remained there for three seasons.

Rob Ryan loves New Orleanians back because ‘they let him be him,’ twin says

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- The Saints defensive coach Rob Ryan hands out a flower during the Irish Channel St. Patrick's Day Parade in Uptown New Orleans, La. Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH — The Saints defensive coach Rob Ryan hands out a flower during the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Uptown New Orleans, La. Saturday, March 15, 2014.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The reasons New Orleans Saints fans love defensive coordinator Rob Ryan are obvious.

He took a Saints defense that gave up the most yards in NFL history in 2012 and coached it to a No. 4 overall ranking in 2013, a season that culminated with New Orleans’ first-ever true road playoff victory.

Then, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Irish Channel came around, and Ryan marched around in a tuxedo with his shirt un-tucked, a beer in his hand, a cigar in his mouth and oversized green beads around his neck, stopping every few steps to take a photo with countless men, women and children who pleaded to get in the same frame as his renowned silver mane.

On Tuesday, his twin Rex, the coach of the New York Jets, took a moment away from the action at the annual NFL owners meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes hotel to explain why Rob loves the Crescent City back just as much and just as fervently.

“The fans there appreciate him not just for his looks, but for his passion, his work ethic, … and he feels great about it,” Rex Ryan said. “They let him be him. It’s a town that’s embraced him, and he’s embraced that community, and it’s great both ways there.”

Saints mourn the late Ralph Wilson

Shortly after news broke that Bills owner Ralph Wilson died at the age of 95 on Tuesday, new Saints safety Jairus Byrd wrote via Twitter, “R.I.P mr. Wilson… Thank you doesn’t describe how truly grateful I am for the opportunity you gave me to play a game I love.”

Buffalo selected Byrd in the second round of the 2009 draft. After picking off 22 passes in his time with the Bills, the most among NFL safeties since he entered the league, he hit unrestricted free agency on March 11 and soon signed with New Orleans on a six-year, $54 million contract guaranteeing him $28 million.

Saints owner Tom Benson added in a statement: “The National Football League lost one of its visionaries today in Ralph Wilson Jr. The thoughts and prayers of my family and the Saints organization go out to his wife Mary and the rest of the Wilson family.

“Personally to me, Ralph was a valued friend and colleague since I first entered the National Football League in 1985. Professionally, Ralph contributed so many things to the sport and the league we love. His vision and leadership first became evident when he founded the Bills and helped lead the merger of the AFL and the NFL. He continued throughout his ownership to foster the growth of our game and our league and all of us who have benefitted in this game owe Ralph Wilson Jr. a debt of gratitude today.”

Co-owner Rita Benson LeBlanc said:

“Ralph Wilson Jr. was a passionate believer in the NFL and the integrity of the shield. The vision, drive and dedication Mr. Wilson embodied made him a living legend and I feel privileged to have known him. My heart and prayers go out to his wife Mary Wilson, his daughters and his niece Mary Owen as they continue his legacy and his compassion through football, philanthropy and community.”

Tomlin says Steelers’ pitch to ex-Saint Lance Moore was simple: Help us get Lombardi No. 7

Lance MooreORLANDO, Fla. — The Steelers’ pitch to former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore during a recent free agent visit was simple, as Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin recalls.

The team walked Moore past a case displaying the Steelers’ six Super Bowl trophies and said they would like his help in placing a seventh in there.

“We just told him the truth, and that’s what we tell all free agents: who we are, how we do business, how we potentially see them fitting,” Tomlin — who’s responsible for the newest of those trophies — said Monday at a meeting with the media covering the annual NFL owners meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes hotel. “I think it fell in line with some of the things that he’s interested in doing as a professional.”

About the strategic purpose of the case, Tomlin remarked, “That’s a strong selling point every day. I walk past (the trophies) every day when I come to work and appropriately so. I think it provides clarity for us when it comes to what it is we’re doing, and it’s a motivator.”

Moore agreed in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday morning when discussing the immediate impression the case left on him before accepting a two-year deal that USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reported was worth up to $3 million and included a $645,000 signing bonus. Moore officially signed the contract on Tuesday.

“At this point in my career, that’s why I’m here — I want to win,” he told his hosts, Ross Tucker and Amani Toomer. “I don’t want to be somewhere just collecting a check.”

Tomlin on Tuesday talked about the aspects of Moore’s game that attracted the Steelers to him, especially after their former receiver Emmanuel Sanders departed to Denver and Jericho Cotchery — whom Pittsburgh targeted in free agency — signed a deal with Carolina.

The Steelers coach called Moore “a savvy veteran who’s capable of winning above the neck,” someone who “can create space at breakpoints.”

“He’s developed a significant rapport with a guy like (Saints quarterback) Drew Brees over the years, and hopefully he’ll be able to do the same” with Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger, Tomlin said.

That also echoed comments Moore made a day earlier, when he said he didn’t much mind going from one quarterback who was a Super Bowl MVP (Brees, at the end of 2009) to another who had a hand in a pair of Lombardi trophies (Roethlisberger, at the conclusion of 2005 and 2008).

“They’re both … championship quarterbacks,” said Moore, who caught a key two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, New Orleans’ lone NFL title. “That’s the thing I’m most excited about: To go from one Super Bowl MVP to another Super Bowl-winning quarterback and have the opportunity to win again.”

The 5-foot-9 Moore joined the Saints in 2005 and went on to catch the fourth-most passes (346), fifth-most touchdowns (38) and sixth-most yards (4,281) in franchise history.

However, Moore was due $3.8 million in salary and bonuses for 2014, and his being cut would clear $2.5 million in cap space, of which there wasn’t a whole lot as the beginning of the free agency signing period on March 11 neared. It also didn’t help his cause that Stills — a rookie last year who’s owed about $543,600 in salary and bonuses for 2014 — had 641 yards and five touchdowns on 32 catches in the regular season while Moore had 457 yards and two TDs on 37 grabs.

The Saints released Moore on March 7. They are scheduled to visit the Steelers in 2014.

About Jairus Byrd, Bills coach Doug Marrone tells Saints: ‘You’re going to love him’

Jairus Byrd

Jairus Byrd

ORLANDO, Fla. — When he lost his marquee safety to his old boss’ team in free agency, Bills coach Doug Marrone had only one thing to say to the Saints about their new acquisition Jairus Byrd.

“You’re going to love him in the locker room; you’re going to love him in the field; he’ll do everything he can,” said Marrone, the offensive coordinator for Saints coach Sean Payton’s first three seasons in New Orleans. “You’re going to love him in the community. There’s not a bad thing to say about Jairus Byrd.”

Speaking to reporters at the NFL’s annual owners meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes hotel on Tuesday morning, Marrone made it clear that it pained him to be unable to retain Byrd, a safety whose 22 interceptions since entering the league as Buffalo’s second-round draft pick in 2009 are the most among players at his position.

The Bills fashioned what Marrone considered to be “a great offer” for Byrd, who played under a one-year franchise tag in 2013 but hit unrestricted free agency on March 11. However, soon after the free agency signing period began, Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million deal with $28 million guaranteed — the most lucrative contract for a safety in NFL history.

“Obviously, there was a better offer out there, and Jairus took it,” Marrone said.

Marrone also remarked, “I don’t blame (him). I really don’t. … I would like to keep him, but at the end of the day, it’s his decision, and a lot of it is based on the finances.”

The Saints heaped big money at Byrd in hopes that he’d ameliorate the one flaw on a defense that finished ranked fourth in the NFL in 2013 — it tallied the fourth-fewest takeaways (19). He’ll be joining a position group that includes second-year player Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush, heading into his third season in New Orleans.

It sounded on Tuesday like Marrone believed the Saints made a good bet with Byrd.

“His play speaks for itself. He’s a proven playmaker in this league, and he’ll be very, very successful,” Marrone said. “When you watch him play, … he hustles his butt off, and he puts himself in position to make those (takeaway) plays, and that’s a credit to him.”

For Marrone, being outbid for the services of a player the caliber of Byrd’s was far from ideal. But the outcome is one he can stomach, given that Byrd ended up with a coaching staff with which Marrone is quite familiar and one that is not in the same conference as the Bills.

“I like Jairus Byrd — I want to see Jairus Byrd be successful,” Marrone said. “I’m happy he went to a place where I know those people, and they’re good people.”

Meanwhile, according to Raiders coach Dennis Allen, another of Payton’s former assistants, Byrd’s attributes shouldn’t detract from those of two outgoing safeties who preceded him on the Saints: Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.

Jenkins hit the open market on March 11 and quickly signed with Philadelphia. Harper was released in February and inked a deal with Carolina on March 18.

In his five years with the Saints, Jenkins picked off just five passes, and Harper had only seven interceptions in his eight seasons with New Orleans.

But they were both good enough to help the Saints win their only NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl trophy at the end of the 2009 season; they were part of playoff runs in 2010, 2011 and 2012; and they have plenty to offer their new teams, said Allen, who was in New Orleans from 2006 to 2010 and spent the last three of those campaigns in charge of the secondary.

“I think both of those guys are outstanding players, and both of them are outstanding individuals,” Allen, who watched Harper and Jenkins get drafted by New Orleans, said. “Both of them have a lot of qualities that you look for in a football player — they love football, they come to work everyday, and they were team players. … I think the world of both of them.”

Yet, there’s admittedly no understating how valuable it is to introduce a player like Byrd to any defense.

“You can never put too much emphasis on turnovers,” Allen said. “The only reason you go out on the field on defense is to get the ball back for the offense. That’s the only reason you take the field.”

Report: Saints, Graham likely to complete deal before April 22 grievance deadline.

The Saints and tight end Jimmy Graham are expected to work out a long-term deal by April 22, which is the deadline for him to file a grievance over being classified as a tight end according ProFootballTalk.com.

This is related to the franchise tag the Saints handed Graham at the end of February.

There is a $5 million difference between the franchise tag money for tight ends and receivers.

Graham spent most of his time with the Saints in 2013 lined up out wide. That is why some believe he may file a grievance asking to be paid as a receiver.

As “tight end or receiver?” debate drags out, Drew Brees now says Jimmy Graham is “a hybrid”

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON– New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) celebrates a touchdown with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) in a NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.

It was less than two months ago that Saints quarterback Drew Brees found himself at the center of a media controversy when he confidently declared All-Pro teammate Jimmy Graham was “a tight end.”

When he appeared on NFL Network’s Total Access on Thursday night, Brees wasn’t going to make the same mistake. So, after being asked to once again wade into the league-wide debate about whether Graham is a tight end or a wide receiver, Brees flashed a wry smile and replied, “He’s a hybrid.”

“He’s re-writing the requirements of the person at that position,” Brees said. “Any guy like him that’s drafted in the future — the bar is Jimmy Graham.”

While Brees delivered his politically-sound answer, it certainly seemed the fallout that ensued after he replied to a similar question less elegantly was fresh on his mind.

In January, during an interview with NBC Sports Radio’s Erik Kuselias, Brees remarked of Graham: “He’s a tight end. He’s a tight end.”

Brees was only reiterating his team’s well-known stance: Graham is a tight end because that’s what he was drafted as, and that’s what he’s been to two Pro Bowls as. However, pundits promptly accused him of possibly hurting the earning potential of Graham, who everyone knew was going to be given a franchise tag.

Graham, who spent most of his time in 2013 on the gridiron lining up out wide for the Saints, was handed that one-year franchise tag as a tight end on Feb. 28. A franchise tag for a receiver is about $5 million more than it is for a tight end, and many believe Graham could file a grievance through the players union to be classified as a wideout for the purposes of payment.

Graham might not even play under the one-year franchise tag if he and the Saints can work out a long-term contract to replace the now-expired rookie deal he accepted from New Orleans as a third-round draft pick in 2010. But, if Graham goes through with the grievance, then it may be up to an arbitrator to determine exactly what position he is.

And Brees on Thursday made sure to not say anything that could be misconstrued as his taking a stand against Graham, who led the NFL in the regular season with 16 touchdown catches and the Saints with 1,215 yards receiving, impressive enough to make him New Orleans’ only First-Team All-Pro player last year.

“He’s an important part of our offense — he’s a match up problem,” Brees said about Graham on the program. “There is a place I can throw it where he can catch it and the other guy can’t.

“I want to be throwing to that guy a long time.”

Brees went on Total Access in part to promote the Microsoft Surface 2 computer tablet.

Quotable

– “He’s going to continue to do great things. I wish it was for us.” — Brees, on good friend and former teammate Darren Sproles, whom the Saints traded to Philadelphia for a fifth-round draft pick on March 13.

– To NFL.com’s Around the League editor Gregg Rosenthal, Brees said knowing things don’t last forever in pro football didn’t soothe the sting he felt when the Saints released receiver Lance Moore earlier in March. “(Moore) was always an unsung hero,” Brees said, according to Rosenthal. “Lance was just the quiet guy who just made plays and did what we asked him to do. I can think of so many big plays he had for us in his career.”

Rosenthal wrote that Brees got emotional discussing Moore. “It’s all rushing through my mind right now. You enjoy coming to work every day to be around guys like Lance.”

Steve Gleason to soon be another link between Saints, Loyola; Cam Jordan says he won’t let D.E. challengers see field

Former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason raises his hand to the crowd before the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in New Orleans. Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and defensive end Will Smith (91) look on. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason raises his hand to the crowd before the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, in New Orleans. Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and defensive end Will Smith (91) look on. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Former Saints safety Steve Gleason, who famously blocked a punt on the night the Superdome re-opened for the first time following Hurricane Katrina, will be the latest person to strengthen the bond between his old team and Loyola University New Orleans.

Gleason — an advocate for people fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease he has — will receive an honorary degree from the school during its May 10 commencement ceremony, which is at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Gleason will be honored for teaming up with his wife, Michel, to launch a foundation and initiative dedicated to providing technology, equipment and services to people battling neuromuscular diseases or injuries.

Team Gleason and the Gleason Initiative Foundation recently opened the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living in New Orleans, a residence outfitted with computer-operated technology designed to give people fighting ALS as much independence as possible. It is said to be only the second building of its kind in the world.

Gleason will soon be one of many links between the Saints and Loyola. For example, Saints co-owner and Vice Chairwoman of the Board Rita Benson LeBlanc is a member of Loyola’s board of trustees. Saints President Dennis Lauscha earned a master’s in business administration from Loyola. Loyola’s president, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., is often seen at Saints games with team owner Tom Benson.

Benson was enrolled at Loyola for a time in the 1940s. His cousin Bob was a star basketball player who helped Loyola’s team reach the semifinals of a national tournament in 1946.

Gleason played for the Saints from 2000 to 2008. While his stats don’t rank him as one of the franchise’s numerical leaders, he went public with his ALS diagnosis in 2011, and his subsequent advocacy against the disease has inspired innumerable people.

That was evident as recently as Wednesday, when he turned 37. Prominent NFL personalities as well as the mayor of New Orleans were among those who wished him a happy birthday.

Social media users celebrated his birthday by filming recreations of his legendary blocked punt and posting them online. Those who made videos included the families of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita — a close friend of Gleason’s — and of Mike McCready, the lead guitarist for the rock band Pearl Jam.

Correction: This post inaccurately stated Tom Benson was a Loyola alum. He was actually enrolled there for a time, the school said.

Cam Jordan jokes challengers to him might not see field

Appearing on Wednesday’s edition of NFL AM, defensive end Cameron Jordan was asked what player he’d pick in the first round of May’s draft, but the Saints’ Pro Bowler declined to answer, saying he trusted his team’s front office no matter what it decided to do.

“So you’re saying they can do whatever they want as long as they’re not getting a starting defensive end?” host Eric Davis said to Jordan.

Jordan replied, “I mean, they can go get him. That’s all part of it.” However, playfully lowering his voice, he then added, “You just don’t want to draft somebody that might not see the field.”

Jordan finished fifth in the NFL and first on the Saints with 12.5 quarterback sacks. He had 47 combined tackles.

Carr to retire

Chris Carr, who played 11 games for the Saints in 2013 as a backup defensive back, will retire from the NFL this week, he announced via Twitter on Wednesday morning. He broke up four passes, had one interception and made 16 tackles (11 solo) for New Orleans.

Carr also spent three seasons each in Oakland and Baltimore, and he had one campaign in Tennessee.

“It’s been a great ride!” tweeted Carr, who then thanked his hometown (Reno, Nev.), his high school (Robert McQueen), his college (Boise State) and every NFL organization of which he was a part.

About New Orleans, he tweeted: “It was a splendid experience playing for the Saints; rich culture, great food, and extremely (supportive) fan base.”