Vargas: The Saints’ Jay Richardson deserves a roster spot

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Jay Richardson, left, and Ramon Humber celebrate stopping Darren McFadden on fourth-and-1 during an Aug. 16 exhibition against the Oakland Raiders in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Jay Richardson, left, and Ramon Humber celebrate stopping Darren McFadden on fourth-and-1 during an Aug. 16 exhibition against the Oakland Raiders in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Jay Richardson had not made an NFL roster since 2010, so he began selling insurance in Ohio.

He shouldn’t sell another policy any time soon, though — he needs to be a member of the New Orleans Saints come Week 1.

After knee injuries ended outside linebacker Will Smith’s season and possibly did the same to outside linebacker Victor Butler, the Saints apparently are poised to replace them with Martez Wilson (the third-round pick in 2011 with four career sacks and a fumble recovery) and Junior Galette (who has tallied 9.5 sacks and is in his fourth year with the team).

The problem is neither played in any of the Saints’ four exhibitions this preseason. Wilson has been dealing with an elbow injury, and Galette has had a leg problem. It’s asking a lot to expect both of them to face the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South showdown to open the regular season Sept. 8 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome without some good help waiting in the shadows.

The Saints knew that and made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for veteran outside linebacker Parys Haralson, who has 21.5 sacks in six seasons. But that didn’t happen until Monday, and Haralson sat out Thursday’s 24-21 loss in the preseason finale at Miami.

Enter Richardson. After spending his first three years in the league with the Oakland Raiders and part of a fourth in Seattle, he washed out following 2010. The former Ohio State player obtained a license to sell insurance before reporting to camp with the Saints this preseason as a defensive end. He moved to outside linebacker amid the injuries at the position.

Richardson, who spent two years playing for Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Oakland, went into Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Thursday hoping the bubble he was riding didn’t pop. It certainly didn’t seem that it would.

On third-and-8 early in the second quarter, the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder forced his way into the Dolphins backfield and dropped quarterback Pat Devlin for an 8-yard loss at Miami’s 34. The Dolphins punted.

Richardson followed that with a 7-yard sack of fourth-string Dolphins quarterback Aaron Corp, who tweaked his shoulder on the play and left the game. Richardson accounted for half the sacks New Orleans had against Miami.

It was a fitting bookend to the preseason for Richardson, 29, who started it by recovering a fumble in the first exhibition against Kansas City. That was the first of just four turnovers the Saints forced this preseason, and it helped his standing that it came on the heels of a sack he got in the intrasquad scrimmage a few days earlier.

Sure, Richardson’s two-sack outing against the Dolphins unfolded against backups. But it’s easier said than done for players to bolster their case to make an NFL team while lining up against backups in the last preseason game.

See cornerback Corey White, who was beaten badly on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Devlin to wideout Marvin McNutt in the fourth quarter, the longest play of the game. Wide receiver Andy Tanner played 30 snaps but was targeted just twice and had no receptions.

Richardson made the most of the circumstances and outperformed the Saints’ other remaining players listed at outside linebacker — Baraka Atkins and Rufus Johnson.

It could hurt Richardson that defensive end Glenn Foster, who led the Saints with four sacks, was essentially penned onto the 53-man roster when the Dolphins game wrapped up. Foster injured an ankle, but coach Sean Payton said he should be fine. Foster may be the Saints’ preseason MVP.

While less likely, the Saints may value Johnson — selected in the sixth round of this year’s draft — too much to cut him and expose him to the waiver wire. The Saints may feel Richardson would be expendable if they claim or sign players who are waived or released by other teams.

Payton on Thursday wouldn’t hint at what the Saints had planned for Richardson.

“He’s one of those guys we’ll look closely at,” he said. “He’s had a good camp. ... He’s done a lot of good things. He’s someone who’s right there.”

New Orleans would do well to keep Richardson around. When the final whistle blew Thursday, the licensed insurance salesman was the only Saint this preseason who had NFL experience, had shown versatility and the potential to produce, had played outside linebacker in New Orleans and actually appeared in a game for the team.