Former Saints Roman Harper, Ben Watson meet up before national title game

Former Saints standouts Roman Harper, Ben Watson catch up before National Championship Game

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That’s pretty cool: two retired New Orleans Saints players reunited before the National Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia, taking time to share a quick photo together on social media. Now working as broadcasters for ESPN, proud Alabama alum Roman Harper caught up with former Georgia tight end Benjamin Watson, his teammate in the 2013 season.

A second-round draft pick by New Orleans in 2006, Harper joined ESPN’s “SEC Nation” pregame show last summer. Watson was hired by ESPN this past July and has worked from the flagship’s SEC Network studio. They’re one of several former Saints who have turned to broadcasting after their playing careers ended, including Jonathan Vilma, Reggie Bush, and Drew Brees.

So it’s great to see them cross paths again. Hopefully they both enjoy the national title game, though you have to think Watson will be hoping his Bulldogs put up a better fight against Harper’s Crimson Tide than in their last meeting at the SEC Championship Game.

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Saints sent Thomas Morstead a king cake before Falcons game

The Saints sent Thomas Morstead a king cake before facing him in Week 18’s Falcons game:

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Now that’s sweet. The New Orleans Saints embraced Carnival season by gifting their former punter Thomas Morstead a king cake — from Manny Randazzo’s, no less — just before their Week 18 game with Morstead’s unfortunate Atlanta Falcons. The longtime Saints standout has caught some flak from fans in New Orleans after going turncoat and signing with their most hated rival, but the team wants it known that there’s no hard feelings.

Morstead shared the delivery of his king cake from the Falcons training facility, along with a note calling him an “Old Friend” with hopes that he’ll set a new personal best for the most punts in a single game on Sunday (for the curious, his career-high has been 10 punts in a 2015 Saints win over the Indianapolis Colts, 27-21). The Saints are visiting Atlanta and badly need a win to remain in playoff contention. Frustrating the Falcons offense and getting Morstead on the field early and often to punt the ball away would do a lot to help.

But they had better be careful about what they’re asking for. Morstead just won recognition as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for his efforts, regularly pinning opponents deep inside their own territory. New Orleans doesn’t exactly have the firepower to cross the field too often. Maybe Morstead can take it easy on them?

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Legendary Saints linebacker Sam Mills named Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist again

Legendary Saints linebacker Sam Mills has been named a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the third year in a row:

Sam Mills’ legacy has endured in fond memories for fans of both the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, and now the late Dome Patrol standout’s family has another opportunity to see him enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mills was announced Thursday as a finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2022, the third consecutive year in which his bid has made it this far.

And the stakes are high. This is the last time Mills will be eligible as a modern-era candidate. If the voters don’t do the right thing and put his bronze bust in the hall next to his iconic teammate Rickey Jackson, Mills’ supporters have an even longer road to travel as he would be reclassified as a senior candidate.

Hopefully this third time is the charm. Mills is one of 15 candidates on a loaded ballot, featuring NFL legends like wide receiver Andre Johnson, return man Devin Hester, linebacker Patrick Willis, and pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. It’s great company for Mills to be a part of.

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Former Saints punter Thomas Morstead named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month

Former Saints punter Thomas Morstead was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December. Keep punting, Falcons:

There aren’t many former New Orleans Saints players still so beloved by fans as punter Thomas Morstead, even after he went turncoat and signed with the team’s biggest rival. But there’s good news: the more often Morstead goes out to punt, the fewer points Atlanta is putting on the board. So it’s still easy to root for him in his new role — just not any of his teammates.

And Morstead has been outstanding. He was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December, having dropped 6 of his 11 punts inside the opposing 20-yard line while averaging 49 yards per try. He’s bounced back in a big way from his final season in black and gold, between his two stops with Atlanta and, earlier, the New York Jets. Good for him.

But his successor in New Orleans has been terrific, too. Blake Gillikin put his rookie year (effectively a redshirt season on injured reserve, studying up on what’s made Morstead so successful for so long) to good use, winning recognition as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October. For context, Gillikin put 10 of his 17 punts inside the opponents’ red zone that month. There’s no buyer’s remorse here despite Morstead’s continued high level of play.

So don’t be too hard on Morstead while he’s punting for the dirty birds. Remember, they don’t want him out there too often — so it ultimately benefits the Saints when he’s putting in a hard day’s work, even if he’s doing it well. Let’s hope every Falcons drive ends with a Morstead punt in Week 18’s regular season finale against New Orleans.

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Drew Brees, Philip Rivers declined last-minute recruiting pitches from Saints

Drew Brees, Philip Rivers declined last-minute recruiting pitches from Saints

As first reported by the Times-Picayune | Advocate’s Jeff Duncan and confirmed by NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill, the New Orleans Saints tried to make a big move at quarterback this week after losing Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian when they entered COVID-19 protocol. Drew Brees was their first choice, but the Saints also called in on recently retired signal-caller Philip Rivers. Unfortunately, both NFL veterans turned them down.

Brees has been busy celebrating the holidays with his family in Hawaii when he’s not busy offering expert commentary on NBC Sports. Rivers finished his first season as a high school football coach in Alabama and also opted to enjoy time at home. The prospect of rushing into the lineup with just a few days of practice, working in an offense short on weapons and missing its bookend All-Pro tackles, wasn’t very enticing.

Duncan adds that the Saints also reached out to Josh McCown — a venerable quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap since 2019, and brother to former New Orleans backup Luke McCown. He also wasn’t interested, prompting the Saints to sign ex-Jacksonville Jaguar Blake Bortles to prop up rookie draft pick Ian Book on Monday night.

It’s far from ideal, but the Saints only have themselves to blame. Rivers’ name was floated back in early November when Jameis Winston first went down with a season-ending knee injury. He voiced interest in coming to New Orleans at the time, but the Saints instead opted to go winless for a month with Trevor Siemian under center before pivoting to an injured Taysom Hill, who managed to get the team back to .500 before COVID sidelined him.

They’ve done too little too late to find an upgrade at quarterback. You can’t blame them for taking a moonshot to try and remain competitive in the thick of the playoff race but it’s really something that should have been explored about two months ago, not four or five days before kickoff.

And it’s tough to interpret this as anything but a no-confidence vote in Ian Book. The rookie was inactive for 12 of 14 games this year including all of Hill’s recent starts. Now erosion to the depth chart is forcing him into his first career start on a roster depleted at nearly every position group. He’s got an uphill battle in front of him, but it’s still telling that the Saints would rather have pushed Brees or Rivers or someone else entirely new through a week of practice rather than someone they spent a fourth-round draft choice on just this year. Whatever the expectations are for Book in New Orleans, let’s hope he exceeds them.

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Dolphins bring up WR Tommylee Lewis for revenge game vs. Saints

Dolphins bring up WR Tommylee Lewis, OL Cameron Tom for revenge game vs. Saints

Oh, here we go. The Miami Dolphins elevated two players from their practice squad as single-game replacements for teammates on the COVID-19 reserve list — and they’re both former members of the New Orleans Saints.

Let’s start with wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. He bounced on and off of the roster in New Orleans a number of times from 2016 to 2021 before trying out for other teams, having been released with an injury designation earlier this year.

Lewis played a bit part in the receiving corps and return game with the Saints, but his most notorious moment came as the targeted receiver in the 2018 NFC championship game no-call. There are still fans that would swear to you if he’d sold his response to the illegal contact better that the referees would have thrown a flag for it (I’m inclined to agree, though I understand the 168-pounder’s thinking to try a no-sell instead).

In any case, Lewis figures to return punts for Miami in the Caesars Superdome on Monday night. He’s totaled 409 punt return yards on 46 tries in his NFL career, all with New Orleans, with a personal-best of 59 yards on a single return back in 2016. The Saints will have their hands full without four of their top six special teamers in snaps played: J.T. Gray, Jeff Heath, Kaden Elliss, and Dwayne Washington (all of them in COVID protocol).

As for the other ex-Saint called up for Week 16: that’s offensive lineman Cameron Tom, the one-time understudy to Max Unger who was supplanted by the arrival of starting center Erik McCoy and his backup Will Clapp. Tom will be the next man up if something happens to Dolphins starter Michael Deiter. Curiously, Miami previously had another former Saints backup in this role — Austin Reiter — who ended up starting five games for them, only to cut him once Deiter returned to the lineup. Reiter spent a week on the Los Angeles Rams practice squad earlier in December but was released again.

But the Saints will be busy managing their own COVID-19 issues regardless of whoever the Dolphins trot out on Monday night. As things currently stand on Saturday evening, New Orleans would have to call up 10 of the 16 players from their practice squad just to fill out a 48-man active roster on game day.

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Former Saints Trey Hendrickson, Emmanuel Sanders ruled out of Week 14 games

Trey Hendrickson was pulled from the Bengals game with a back injury, while Emmanuel Sanders was ruled out of the Bills’ matchup with a knee issue:

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Two former New Orleans Saints players are dealing with some hardships in Week 14. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson had been on a tear this season with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he logged a sack — his ninth game in a row with a sack — against the San Francisco 49ers.

But then Hendrickson suffered a back injury that left him on the field for several minutes. Team medical trainers waved over a cart to help him to the locker room, but Hendrickson brushed them away and climbed to his feet so he could leave the field under his own power. The team later ruled him out to return.

And another familiar name is managing things, too. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was ruled out at halftime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a knee injury. He had been a favorite target of Josh Allen’s with 11 targets in their last three games.

Hopefully neither situation is as serious as they appear. Even if these guys aren’t playing for the Saints anymore, you hate to see anyone go down with an injury.

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Watch: Jets DT Sheldon Rankins sacks ex-Saints teammate Taysom Hill

Watch: Jets DT Sheldon Rankins sacks ex-Saints teammate Taysom Hill

We’ll file this one for consideration in this week’s “Not Top 10” plays. New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill fumbled a snap out of shotgun while dropping back further against the New York Jets, and turned to corral the loose ball — with one of his former teammates closing in on him for a New York sack. Hill recovered the fumble, but Sheldon Rankins was credited with the 19-yard loss on the play.

Rankins, of course, left the Saints in free agency earlier this year after five seasons in black and gold. The team’s first round draft pick in 2016 struggled with injuries throughout his career and was questionable to play at all this week, but he was able to gut it out. And he ended up making an impact.

Good for him, but sheesh, couldn’t he have waited another week?

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Reports: Former Saints DE Glenn Foster dead in Alabama police custody

Reports: Former Saints DE Glenn Foster dead in Alabama police custody

Former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Glenn Foster died in Alabama per multiple reports, following an arrest in Pickens County near Tuscaloosa over the weekend. Initially booked Saturday on counts of reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, and attempting to elude police, Foster was rebooked Sunday on counts of simple assault and robbery.

He died Monday, with local authorities declining to comment to the Times-Picayune | Advocate’s Ramon Antonio Vargas and Mike A. Perlstein while the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation took over.

Foster, 31, spent two years with the Saints after signing with them as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois back in 2013. The team cut him in 2015 and he stayed in Louisiana, managing several successful business ventures in real estate and development. He was profiled just months ago in a discussion on his post-football career and joined former teammates at the Saints Legends Community event.

This loss is a big shock for all involved. We’ll update this space as the situation develops.

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Trey Hendrickson extends NFL-leading sacks streak to 8 games

Former Saints pass rusher Trey Hendrickson extends NFL-leading sacks streak to 8 games with Bengals

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The New Orleans Saints aren’t missing many players they lost this offseason more than Trey Hendrickson. The veteran pass rusher has been sensational with the Cincinnati Bengals, bagging at least one sack in each of his last eight games — a franchise record for Cincinnati and the longest active streak in the NFL. Hendrickson is now up to 11.5 sacks on the season, a year removed from his 13.5-sack campaign with the Saints in 2020.

It was easy to write off Hendrickson as a one-year wonder in free agency. He had created just 6.5 sacks in his first three years with the Saints put together, and benefited from the heavy attention opponents gave to slowing down Cameron Jordan on the other side of New Orleans’ defensive line. But credit where it’s due: Hendrickson is playing the best football of his career right now. He’s put in a lot of work and now he’s reaping the benefits while running point for Cincinnati.

Brandon Thorn is one of the best evaluators of line play around, publishing regular updates to his charting of every sack by every player each week, year over year. Last season Hendrickson finished with a middling sacks score, crediting most of his sacks to time bought by the coverage, cleanup of pressure created by a teammate, or otherwise low quality reps by the offense. Midway through this season, Hendrickson cracked Thorn’s top five defensive linemen across the league with nearly as many high quality sacks as low quality takedowns, with little help from the secondary or his teammates up front.

Good for him. It’s a shame that the Saints weren’t able to re-sign Hendrickson to a contract extension, but that’s going to happen when the salary cap is $28 million beneath where it was supposed to be. Financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic led the league to depress this year’s cap, stunting the growth that the Saints and other teams had been planning to take advantage of in recent years. That meant they couldn’t sign everyone, and good players like Hendrickson walked away.

But he’ll be back soon. The Bengals are scheduled to visit New Orleans in 2022 for a game at the Caesars Superdome, and the Saints will need to be ready for him and other familiar faces on that roster like Vonn Bell and Eli Apple, and a couple of guys who found success in college up the road at LSU in Joe Burow and Ja’Marr Chase.

Before that game is even scheduled, though, the Saints are projected to receive a fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2022 NFL draft for losing Hendrickson in free agency earlier this year. Hopefully his sky-high level of play helps bump that up to a more-valuable third rounder, but we won’t get an answer on that front for a few more months. For now, let’s just cheer on Hendrickson from afar.

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