Mickles: Saints are just getting things going

By SHELDON MICKLES

Advocate sportswriter

At last, there was something for New Orleans Saints’ fans starving for good news to be happy about Thursday.

When the smoke cleared after the first few hours of the free agency signing period on Tuesday night, the salary cap-strapped Saints had lost two-time Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod and backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, another member of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV-winning team in 2009, followed them out the door Wednesday night.

When the sun came up Thursday, all the Saints had to show for two days of work was a four-year agreement with long snapper Justin Drescher — one of their restricted free agents.

With all due respect to Drescher, a solid and dependable long snapper since joining the Saints midway through the 2010 season, it wasn’t the kind of start nervous fans wanted to see following a 7-9 season.

But usually, patience is a virtue for the Saints in free agency. More often than not, they tend to avoid chasing big-name players and the sticker shock that comes with them.

So it was easy to see why those who wanted to see the Saints make a big splash to help rebuild a defense that set an NFL single-season record for total yards allowed and also ranked 31st against the pass were terribly disappointed in their start.

While signing a pass-rushing outside linebacker to fit into the team’s new 3-4 front or adding a run-stuffing defensive end or nose tackle to the roster didn’t materialize right away, the help came Thursday afternoon.

Nearly 48 hours after free agency began, the Saints landed former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis to help stabilize a secondary that gave up 31 TD passes last season.

Lewis had a breakthrough season in his first year as a starter in 2012 playing opposite former UL-Lafayette standout Ike Taylor and the Saints are hoping he’ll team up with Jabari Greer, their best cover corner, to make a formidable duo.

Lewis had 71 tackles last season and broke up 23 passes in helping the Steelers lead the NFL in total defense as well as against the pass.

Even though they aren’t flush with cash after having to trim about $20 million from the payroll just to get under the salary cap and have the ability to add Lewis to the mix, the Saints aren’t done yet.

They’ll continue to scour the market, perhaps looking for a tackle to replace Bushrod and a quarterback to back up Drew Brees.

And, of course, they may still make a play for a linebacker or defensive lineman, perhaps even another cornerback if they can find one that can fit under the tight salary cap.

The Saints have a plan — they always do.

If they don’t think they can replace Bushrod with fourth-year pro Charles Brown, a second-round draft pick in 2010, they’ll find one in free agency.

The same goes with quarterback, the defensive line and linebacker.

So for the Saints, Thursday was just a start.