Mickles: Saints not alone with big needs

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis speaks during a media availability at the team's training facilities on NFL football draft day, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Metairie, La. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) Show caption
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis speaks during a media availability at the team's training facilities on NFL football draft day, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in Metairie, La. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

After one week of the NFL’s free agency signing period, the New Orleans Saints still have some holes to fill.

But take heart, Saints’ fans, they aren’t alone.

After an initial flurry of signings, which is typical for the start of the new league year, things have kind of slowed to a crawl with most of the bigger names having already been scratched off the wish list of most teams.

Now that the market seems to be settling a bit, there should be some bargains to be had — especially for salary-cap-strapped teams like the Saints.

The Saints don’t often make impulsive signings during the early stages of free agency. So combined with the fact that they didn’t have a lot of cap space to begin with, they weren’t expected to do much.

They did well, however, to fill two needs with the signing of cornerback Keenan Lewis and tight end Benjamin Watson.

Lewis, who signed a five-year, $25.55 million deal, will likely battle Patrick Robinson for the starting job opposite Jabari Greer, with the loser and Corey White, last year’s fifth-round draft pick, vying for the nickel spot.

Watson was a nice addition as well as an experienced pro who will serve a dual role as an extra blocker in the two-tight-end sets and be a receiver who could make Jimmy Graham even more effective because of the matchup problems they have the potential to cause.

But there are a few more holes to fill in the coming weeks, either through free agency or the draft. A lot of it, of course, depends on how they want to use some of their returning players in their new 3-4 defensive scheme being implemented by Rob Ryan.

With those things in mind, here are three positions that will bear watching between now and the April 25-27 draft:

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: This is one spot the Saints may have wanted to spend some money on as Paul Kruger, one of the elite players on the open market, said they were in the hunt before he went with the Cleveland Browns.

The fact that Kruger was going to cost a bunch of money tells you how important that position is to the Saints’ plans for their new 3-4 alignment. If they felt like they had it covered there, they wouldn’t have pursued Kruger.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: The Saints may have this spot covered in-house with Tom Johnson and Akiem Hicks, who were the backup tackles in the old 4-3 last season, both returning.

Neither Sean Payton nor Ryan have revealed how they plan to fill this spot, although it’s possible that Hicks could be a candidate to play end in the new scheme.

TACKLE: After losing two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod to the Chicago Bears, you have to wonder if the Saints feel comfortable plugging Charles Brown into his spot on the left side.

Brown was highly regarded as a second-round pick in 2010, but he’s had injury problems. So the Saints may try to upgrade here in free agency or the draft, which is loaded with prospects this year.