With anger over Jimmy Graham sailing race photo mounting, firm announces he won $10K for charity

Jimmy Graham, right, flexes while participating in a charity sailboat. He tweeted the photo on Thursday, May 29, 2014, causing a controversy a communications firm tried to mitigate by publishing a statement that explained it benefited a charity. (Via Jimmy Graham's Twitter).

Jimmy Graham, right, flexes while participating in a charity sailboat. He tweeted the photo on Thursday, May 29, 2014, causing a controversy a communications firm tried to mitigate by publishing a statement that explained it benefited a charity. (Via Jimmy Graham’s Twitter).

All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham — who remains unsigned after the Saints put a franchise tag on him — infuriated some of his team’s fans on social media when he tweeted a picture of himself flexing his arms Thursday in a charity sailboat race near Manhattan, N.Y., captioned, “Suns out, Guns Out.”

Simultaneously, the vast majority of his fellow Saints were toiling through a third day of voluntary practice as part of organized team activities that began Tuesday.

But, with the furor over the photo in the background, a communications firm representing the team with whom Graham participated in the pro-am race circulated a statement to New Orleans media explaining it was all for a good cause. Graham and Team Hugo Boss won the event as well as $10,000 they will donate to the charity “Angel Flight,” which transports sick children to cities where better health care is available to them, the statement said.

In a provided quote, Graham remarked that Angel Flight is “near to my heart because I am a pilot,” as is evident from frequent pictures on his Twitter account that show him flying around various locales.

“The two are very similar — sailing and flying,” Graham said. “So a great experience here in New York.”

The statement from JDP Communications said Graham moved the sails and ropes on the boat he and Team Hugo Boss raced.

The communique and the charitable donation may win Graham back the good will of some Saints fans who were momentarily annoyed he was sailing Thursday and was not with the team. But others worn out by the offseason saga that’s been Graham’s contract situation may be unmoved.

Last season, the final one on his rookie contract from 2010, Graham led the Saints in receiving yards (1,215) and touchdown receptions (an NFL-best 16). He spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, but the team handed him a franchise tag that both prevented him from becoming the most-sought unrestricted free agent and labeled him a tight end, the position at which he was drafted and has been to two Pro Bowls.

The NFLPA filed a grievance against the Saints for designating Graham as a tight end rather than a wide receiver, which pays $12.312 million rather than the $7.035 million for a tight end.

The Saints have repeatedly said their goal is to ultimately sign Graham to a long-term deal that replaces his expired contract, renders the tag null and which both sides agree is fair.

It’s obvious why New Orleans is seeking to keep Graham around. His 41 touchdown receptions are fourth all-time for the Saints and the most for a club tight end.

His 301 catches and 3,863 receiving yards rank sixth and seventh all-time for the Saints, and they each are tops among tight ends who have suited up for the franchise.

Graham holds single-season team records for catches (99 in 2011) and receiving touchdowns (an NFL-best 16 last year). He has gone to two Pro Bowls and helped the Saints to the playoffs in 2010, ’11 and ’13. He was the Saints’ lone Associated Press first team All-Pro last year.

Note: JDP Communications shared photos of Graham participating in the race, but they are too large in size to embed in this post. They are available here. Also, this post has been updated since it was first published to include more information.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead to launch clothing line Friday night to benefit his charity

Advocate Photo by KYLE ENCAR --Saints punter Thomas Morstead shows off his bead tossing skills on the number two float during the Krewe of Caesar on Saturday, February 22, 2014.

Advocate Photo by KYLE ENCAR –Saints punter Thomas Morstead shows off his bead tossing skills on the number two float during the Krewe of Caesar on Saturday, February 22, 2014.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead wants his team’s fans to kick off the Memorial Day weekend with him — and in the process help his efforts to advocate for cancer patients, children and other causes.

Morstead on Friday night will host a launch party for an apparel line dubbed Sprout 6, all the profits of which will benefit the punter’s philanthropic foundation, “What You Give Will Grow.” For the clothing line, Morstead teamed up with B NOLA, a T-shirt company started in New Orleans.

The Sprout 6 event will be at the B NOLA store at 4500 Magazine St. No. 3 from 7 to 10 p.m. Morstead, some Saints teammates, several food trucks and live music by Twilight Band are all supposed to be at the party, according to a news release.

In a statement, Morstead said All Sprout 6 products will come with a card that has a tracking number and instructions to perform a random act of kindness and to then pass on the card to the recipient of the act. The one-time Pro Bowler said he hopes the “GEAUXGIVE” cards inspire “endless unplanned acts of giving,” whether it’s paying strangers’ bar tabs, buying them cups of coffee or something more noble.

Recipients of GEAUXGIVE acts of kindness can visit Morstead’s foundation’s website, WhatYouGiveWillGrow.com, to find out the story behind individual card.

Morstead began What You Give Will Grow in 2012 as a donor-advised fund with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. However, at the conclusion of a project with a group whose mission is to start 52 businesses and nonprofits in a year to demonstrate that entrepreneurial and charitable undertakings are more feasible to start than people might think, Morstead turned What You Give Will Grow into a full-fledged, 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

That permits What You Give Will Grow to access a wider range of grants and fundraising opportunities as it supports cancer research and hosts activities like birthday parties for New Orleans-area children in foster care.

“It’s always been my vision that ‘What You Give Will Grow’ is more than a foundation,’” Morstead said in a statement. “It’s a movement.”

Amidst his charitable projects, Morstead and his wife, Lauren, had their first child April 15, a son named Maxwell.

“It’s been an exciting couple of months,” Morstead said.

Drew Brees, Kenny Stills hope to — and think they can — excel with Brandin Cooks for years

Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 20th pick the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the New Orleans Saints as the 20th pick the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday, May 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

It’s not just Saints fans who expect rookie first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks to dazzle when he trots out to the football field in 2014.

Two of his new colleagues — quarterback Drew Brees and fellow receiver Kenny Stills — sounded just as giddy about finally seeing Cooks in action when answering questions from the media about him at a charity softball game in Metairie on Wednesday night.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass during a 2014 Pro Bowl practice. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass during a 2014 Pro Bowl practice. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Brees said it speaks volumes about the potential the Saints see in Cooks that the team traded a third-round pick to move up seven spots in the draft order and take the former Oregon State receiver No. 20 overall on May 8.

“That tells me a lot … about his talent and his skill-set and just the type of guy he is,” said Brees, who in 2013 guided the Saints to a divisional playoff appearance and commanded the passing attack to a No. 2 ranking.

“From all accounts, he’s a phenomenal person, great teammate, extremely tough work ethic (and a) great character guy. He fits in perfect into our locker room and loves football — we love those guys.”

It’s been widely said the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Cooks has never missed a football game at any level. He is coming off a season in which he set Pac-12 Conference records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards, which were most in the nation.

He also had an Oregon State record 16 touchdown receptions in 2013 and a school career mark of 24. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver last year.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

At February’s NFL combine, Cooks ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, the fastest time among wide receivers. Coupled with the fact that he returned kicks in college, Cooks is someone the Saints envision can line up as an inside and outside receiver while getting touches on special teams.

He’s a prime candidate to emulate the role vacated by running back Darren Sproles, who led the Saints in all-purpose yardage from 2011 to 2013 before being traded to Philadelphia in March.

It’s also possible that defenses focused on avoiding surrendering big gains to Cooks will permit more opportunities for those around him, such as Stills.

“His explosiveness as a player, who doesn’t get excited about that?” Stills said. “It’s going to be a fun season for us as an offense.”

As Cooks tries to live up to expectations while adjusting to the NFL as a rookie, he can count from guidance on Stills if he wants it.

Stills — a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2013 — impressed in his rookie campaign with 32 catches, 641 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His 20.3 yards per catch were the best among NFL players who qualified to be considered for that statistical category.

“If Brandin asks for help, then I’ll help him,” Stills said. “I’m one of the outgoing guys that (likes) to talk, so I’m more than happy to walk him through the process.”

Applying to young Saints pass-catchers such as Cooks and Stills, Brees added that he dreams of developing the same kind of on-field connection with them that he has with veteran teammates such as Marques Colston and Robert Meachem and with former targets like Devery Henderson and Lance Moore, all with whom he won Super Bowl XLIV.

Brees is heading into his ninth season with Colston and his seventh with Meachem. He had seven years with Henderson (who hasn’t been in the NFL since being released by Washington in the 2013 preseason) and eight with Moore, now a Pittsburgh Steeler.

“You put that much time in, you’re going to see and experience everything you can possibly experience,” Brees said. “So, when it comes up again, you’re on the same page.

“I look forward to gaining that with … the young guys.”

As he successfully did in college, Saints receiver Kenny Stills focused on avoiding sophomore slump

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Not long after Saints receiver Kenny Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards and five touchdowns during his freshman year in college to help Oklahoma win the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, he was arrested on suspicion of underage drinking and driving.

Stills recalls many predicted he’d experience the dreaded second-year doldrums, and the fact that he was suspended for one game and missed another with a head injury to start 2011 didn’t ameliorate that perception.

But a slump never came. He caught 61 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore while Oklahoma triumphed in the Insight Bowl, and as a junior he had a career year with 82 grabs for 959 yards and 11 scores in 13 contests as the Sooners reached the Cotton Bowl.

As Stills heads into his sophomore campaign with the Saints in 2014, there is no legal distraction like there was in Oklahoma three years earlier. But his mindset preparing for his second year with the Saints is similar to the one he had moving toward season No. 2 with the Sooners.

“That’s kind of the mentality I took to this offseason — making sure, like in college, you don’t have a sophomore slump,” Stills, whom the Saints selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, said Wednesday night at a charity softball game in Metairie. “I gained a few pounds. My head’s been in this playbook. I’m so focused just on football.

“That negativity (from the public after his freshman year) has always driven me.”

The son a former safety for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Stills last season played as well as any rookie joining one of the most complex, prolific offenses in the NFL could hope.

He finished third on the team with 641 receiving yards off 32 catches. His astounding 20.03 yards per catch was the best among NFL players who qualified for that statistical category’s leader board.

Stills had five touchdowns receptions and incorporated himself smoothly into the Saints’ passing offense, which was second in 2013 and has never been worse than fourth since quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006.

The “shortest” of those TDs was 34 yards. The longest was 76. In between, the scores were from 42, 52 and 69 yards. Four of them were on obvious, third-down passing situations, but he nonetheless managed to free himself of the coverage.

From all that, Stills only concludes that he’s “a little more comfortable around the stuff … (he’s) learning” alongside a receiving corps which is led by nine-year veteran Marques Colston and recently added rookie Brandin Cooks, the first-round pick out of Oregon State.

“There’s so much I can still learn from this offense, and that’s what I’m focused on this offseason,” Stills said. “There’s definitely more that I can do. There’s always more that I can do.”

Quotable:

“A lot of fans have been asking if I’m going to be taking over Lance (Moore’s) dancing. I’m not a big dancer, but we’ll find a way to keep the fans entertained.” — Stills, on Moore, the longtime Saints receiver who was released in March and later signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stills said he speaks to Moore daily via text message and is happy he landed with the Steelers, whose six Super Bowl trophies are the most in the NFL.

Stills and Moore may forever be linked in the memories of Saints fans because Moore, on his last touchdown celebration at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, thrust his hips three times in a celebration inspired by the skit “Excessive Celebration” from the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele.”

Moore and Stills — who threw his playing towel in the air as part of a celebration they insist was talked about beforehand but never rehearsed — were each fined $7,875 afterwards.

Saints CB Champ Bailey says he can live with Corey White not giving him No. 24 jersey

Champ Bailey in January.

Champ Bailey in January.

Yes, Saints cornerback Champ Bailey did ask about the possibility of taking teammate Corey White’s jersey No. 24. And no, the 16-year veteran didn’t get upset when White — whom the Saints drafted in 2012 — turned him down.

“I’m not the one to get attached to anything like that,” said Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler whose 52 career regular-season interceptions are the third-most among active NFL players. “It’s just a number. I’ll make the number I have look like something.”

Bailey, who joined the Saints in free agency this offseason after 10 years with the Denver Broncos and had worn No. 24 throughout his career, spoke about the situation at a charity softball game hosted by New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs in Metairie on Wednesday night.

He said he asked fellow cornerback White if he was attached to the number. White said he was, and Bailey let the matter end at that.

Bailey subsequently chose to wear No. 27 for the Saints because he wanted to remain in the 20s, and it was one of only two open in that range. No. 27 had been worn by ex-Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who left for Philadelphia in free agency in March.

“I just got to live with it,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t going to make him an offer (of money for the number) or anything like that. I’m not paying for anything.

“I think if the roles were reversed, I probably would’ve considered it, but he didn’t want to. It’s his own decision.”

Bailey and White are among a group of players competing to start opposite entrenched cornerback Keenan Lewis this year. In 2013, White started six regular-season games and two playoff contests after former Saints cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a year-ending knee injury in November.

White has picked off two passes, broken up 10 throws and made 72 tackles (54 solo) in 26 regular-season games with the Saints.

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Correction: This post originally said No. 27 was the only one available for Bailey to take in the 20s. It was one of two. This post has been updated.

Saints QB Drew Brees: All young players want to be in position to fight for 2nd contract like Jimmy Graham is

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.

For a couple of reasons, Saints quarterback Drew Brees won’t blame All-Pro Jimmy Graham if he sits out the team’s organized team activities in May and June.

Brees is certain Graham will be ready when he returns, which almost certainly won’t be until his contract situation is resolved. And Brees knows missing voluntary offseason workouts are an inescapable part of high-stakes NFL playing deal negotiations that can drag out well into the summer.

Brees discussed Graham at a charity softball game hosted by Saints guard Ben Grubbs in Metairie on Wednesday night. Brees said he didn’t like missing OTAs when he and his camp were negotiating the $100 million contract he accepted from the Saints in 2012, after he had led the team to its only Super Bowl title and had accumulated two of his mind-boggling four seasons throwing for 5,000 or more yards.

“As you’re going through it, you’re like, ‘Gosh, it should be much easier than this, right?’” said Brees, who didn’t re-join the Saints to prepare for the 2012 season until July of that year. “But listen, that’s part of the process. It’s a leverage game, and it’s back and forth. And the team has a job to do and the player has a job to do in regards to their contract.”

Graham might be bracing to do something similar. After the rookie deal he accepted as a 2010 third-round draft pick expired in March, he was given a franchise tag as a tight end due about $7 million to prevent him from hitting free agency while permitting both player and team to negotiate a new long-term contract.

But Graham filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association that he is owed in excess of $5 million more, arguing that he lined up much more as a wide receiver than as an in-line tight end in 2013. Franchise tags for wide receivers are worth about $12.3 million this year.

Graham would not even play under the tag if he and the team can settle on a new long-term deal before a July 15 deadline. Separately, a June 17-18 hearing date has been set for the grievance.

Any ruling issued by a third party in regards to the grievance would give the winning side significant leverage in arguing how much money Graham deserves in contract negotiations. That’s motivation to get a deal done before then; however, until one happens, Graham is not expected to participate in OTAs, and that doesn’t bother Brees.

“I know he’ll be staying in good shape and all those things,” Brees said. “I’m not worried about Jimmy Graham. When he comes back, he’ll be ready.”

Brees added: “We’ve been in contact, just checking on him, making sure he’s doing alright and he’s not getting frustrated, you know, disappointed or taking things personal. It’s easy to do that, especially as a young player.

“You look at your contributions to the team, and, ‘Here I am, drafted in the third round, been pretty much playing for minimum here over the last four years. And now this is my opportunity to get compensated based on my production.’”

Brees said all young players hope that they have the opportunity to go through what Graham is: hammering out a second contract. However, none of it means Graham wants to defect from the Saints, Brees said.

“I know he wants to be a Saint for the rest of his career,” Brees said. “I know I want him to be a Saint for the rest of my career.

“Hopefully, we can go at it for another five, six, seven years together and then go out champions together. But I’m confident it will all get worked out when it’s supposed to.”

Graham’s 41 touchdown receptions are fourth all-time and the most for a tight end in the Saints record book.

His 301 catches and 3,863 receiving yards rank sixth and seventh all-time for the Saints, and they’re each tops among tight ends who have suited up for the franchise.

He holds single-season team records for catches (99 in 2011) and receiving touchdowns (an NFL-best 16 last year). He has gone to two Pro Bowls and helped the Saints to the playoffs in ‘10, ’11 and ’13.

His rookie contract reportedly paid him $2.45 million over four years.

Chosen for Saints Hall of Fame induction, Aaron Brooks belonged in that number: Commentary

Photograph

Former Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks

For a brief time before Minneapolis enraged New Orleans’ collective conscience on Tuesday by beating out the Crescent City for the gig to host the 2018 Super Bowl, it was Aaron Brooks who primarily drew the ire of Saints fans.

The ex-Saints quarterback had been chosen for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame — and he had the audacity to show up to a news conference and express his thanks for the honor! In the middle of the day for everyone to see!

To the slightest of degrees, at least initially, such a reaction is understandable (very mildly). The Saints failed to qualify for the playoffs five of the six seasons that Brooks was the signal-caller, after all.

Who can forget that pass he threw backwards to tackle Wayne Gandy during a defeat at San Diego on Nov. 7, 2004, which resulted in a fumble, lost 23 yards after a New Orleans recovery and set up a punt on fourth-and-33?

Who can forget Brooks’ 84 interceptions and his 59 fumbles (23 of which were lost) with the Saints, and how he smiled seemingly after each and every one?

The answer is very few.

But forgetting is one thing. Forgiving is another.

And, almost nine years since his last snap in black and gold, it’s time to forgive Brooks for the bad times, congratulate him on the good ones and let him enjoy a distinction he earned fair and square.

Brooks’ 120 touchdown passes and 18 game-winning drives for the Saints from 2000 to 2005 rank second only to Drew Brees. His 19,156 throwing yards trail only Brees’ 38,733 and Archie Manning’s 21,734.

In his first year, Brooks threw four touchdown passes in the team’s first-ever playoff win, a 31-28 nail-biter at home against St. Louis. That night he became the first quarterback to ever eliminate the defending Super Bowl champions in his first postseason start.

Brooks had already helped the Saints beat St. Louis once earlier that season, in his first start in Week 13 in place of the injured Jeff Blake. Just two quarterbacks in NFL history before him had led their teams to wins over the reigning Super Bowl champs in their first league start.

A few weeks later, he guided the Saints to what was only the second division title of their existence.

Ultimately, that was Brooks’ peak. Critics explained that away by saying he was too aloof and didn’t possess the leadership qualities required of a true franchise quarterback.

There might be some truth to that. One episode especially illustrates this.

It was 2005, when the Saints finished 3-13 and didn’t play a single game at what is now called the Mercedes-Benz Superdome because Hurricane Katrina had destroyed it that August.

Brooks gave an interview on a pre-game show one week and excoriated the NFL for moving what should’ve been the Saints’ first home game that season to East Rutherford, N.J. He criticized team owner Tom Benson for relocating the organization’s operations to San Antonio, where practices were on high school fields and parking lots. He said the season in general had been “bulls–.”

Those were all sentiments the populace in New Orleans had voiced amidst the frustrations and anxieties in the wake of the storm. But Brooks’ effort to relay them fell flat.

He was lashed verbally for allegedly not sounding like the leader of a football team and for supposedly complaining too much when his circumstances were not as adverse as those of other Katrina victims.

“People didn’t know what was happening on a play, and they didn’t know anything about me, and yet they were criticizing me,” Brooks told media Tuesday while reflecting on his tenure with the Saints. “I tried to do things the right way. I tried to uplift people the whole time and to get that type of criticism was like, ‘Where did that come from?’ That stayed with me a long time. I guess I just didn’t take it well.”

Regardless, the facts and the math are cold and simple. Three quarterbacks — Manning (1988), Billy Kilmer (1990) and Bobby Hebert (1999) — were enshrined in the team’s Hall of Fame without some of the numbers Brooks produced or the credentials he possessed.

None of them won a playoff game. Hebert was the lone member of that trio to play for a division winner.

Brooks is the first to acknowledge he accomplished whatever he did with heaps of assistance.

“A lot of guys contributed to the success I had on the field and off the field,” Brooks said Tuesday. “I’m not accepting (the induction) just on my behalf; the teams … deserve just as much credit.”

Certainly, it did Brooks no favors that he was succeeded in New Orleans by Brees, his San Diego counterpart on the day of the backwards pass.

After joining the Saints in 2006 alongside coach Sean Payton, Brees has gone on to be the only NFL player to pass for more than 5,000 yards in four separate seasons and in more than one campaign.

He has taken the Saints to their only Super Bowl triumph; their two NFC Championship Games; three of their five division titles; and half of their 10 playoff appearances.

But few players in pro football history — let alone in Saints annals — can rival what Brees has done.

As far as Brooks is concerned, though, this isn’t the Pro Football Hall of Fame we’re talking about. This is one that has now memorialized more than 40 players who managed unique achievements or offered an unprecedented level of on-field production while representing the New Orleans Saints, whose finest moments for the most part have occurred in the last eight years.

The team’s Hall of Fame selection committee got this one right, folks. Brooks belongs in that number.

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Correction: Due to an error in archived reference material, this column originally said Brooks was No. 2 in passing yards in Saints history. He is actually No. 3, and this piece has been updated to reflect that information.

Saints sign four from rookie minicamp tryout

The Saints on Monday signed four players who attended their three-day rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.

The group includes former Tulane standout Derrick Strozier, who played running back and cornerback for the Green Wave. A native of Edgewater, Florida, Strozier was given a tryout as a running back in the minicamp that concluded Sunday.

A 5-foot-8, 181-pounder, Strozier also returned punts and kickoffs while playing the last two seasons for former Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson.

As a senior, Strozier had 54 tackles, three interceptions and broke up 14 passes and had five interceptions and defended 19 passes in his career.

The Saints also signed wide receiver Steve Hull (Illinois), outside linebacker Cheta Ozougwu (Rice) and offensive lineman Thomas Welch (Vanderbilt). Ozougwu and Welch both have NFL experience.

Ozougwu, a seventh-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2011, has played in nine games the past two seasons with the Chicago Bears.

Welch, who was selected in the seventh round in 2010 by the New England Patriots, has played in 27 games with the Patriots, St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills.

Hull was an undrafted free agent.

The Saints also waived guard Micajah Reynolds and nose tackle Brandon McCray, who played his college football at UL-Lafayette. They were among a group of 17 college free agents signed by the Saints after the conclusion of the May 8-10 draft.

Saints sign three draft picks to four-year deals

Like many other NFL teams, the Saints have gotten a head start on signing the players they selected in last weekend’s draft.

On Friday, the day their rookie minicamp began, the Saints announced that they signed three of the six players they acquired in the draft: strong safety Vinnie Sunseri, outside linebacker Ronald Powell and tackle Tavon Rooks.

All three players signed four-year contracts.

Sunseri and Powell were selected in the fifth round with the 167th and 169th picks, respectively, while Rooks was the Saints’ sixth-round pick at No. 202.

Powell was selected with the pick the Saints obtained from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for running back Darren Sproles.

The quick signing of the three rookies on Friday continues a trend that began when the new collective bargaining agreement was hammered out in 2011 — which included a slotted wage scale for draft picks,

The Saints’ remaining undrafted draft picks are wide receiver Brandin Cooks (first round), cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second round) and inside linebacker Khairi Fortt (fourth round).

All six draftees are taking part in the team’s three-day rookie minicamp that began Friday.

They were joined by the free agents the Saints signed after the completion of the draft last Saturday night, assorted first-year players and other newcomers to the team as well, and a number of players who were invited to participate in the minicamp on a tryout basis.

 

Former SELU, Catholic High standout trying out for Saints

Devan Walker — the former Southeastern Louisiana standout who had joined the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free-agent last year but was then hurt — will try out for the Saints at their rookie minicamp this weekend, according to an NFL source.

Devan Walker (via Southeastern Louisiana)

Devan Walker (via Southeastern Louisiana)

From 2009 to 2012, the 6-3, 240-pound Walker amassed 37.5 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage (No. 2 in school history) and 15 quarterback sacks (third all-time) as a linebacker for Southeastern. He had seven sacks in 2012 — the second-most in a single season for the program — despite only appearing in 9 1/2 games because of a shoulder issue.

Walker was then at training camp with the Chargers until he tore his meniscus ahead of the first preseason game. The team waived him with an injury settlement.

In high school, Walker attended Catholic High in Baton Rouge. He earned all-state, all-metro and all-district honors as a defensive end.

Reports are that Walker will be attending the Saints’ minicamp with at least one more ex-Southeastern player trying out: defensive end Cqulin Hubert. The 6-1, 250-pound Hubert was the first at the school to be named defensive player of the year in the Southland Conference.

Walker also has a tryout scheduled with the Kansas City Chiefs for the weekend of May 23.