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Revamped roster

Saints won't have as busy an offseason as last year

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Posted: Tuesday January 09, 2001 11:35 PM

  Jim Haslett Jim Haslett's Saints survived injuries to several key offensive players to make the playoffs. AP

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- When Randy Mueller became the New Orleans Saints general manager a year ago he found a team that was short on talent, short on speed, and short of victories.

A year later that has changed, but it's about to change some more.

"We still need a lot of things on this team," Mueller said. "The exciting thing is, I think that we can get there. It was sooner than expected this year. But I think we still have a ways to go to be successful"

Free agency begins on March 2 this year. Mueller and coach Jim Haslett won't need the 30 or so free agents they picked up for the team last year, but they will still be checking to see who is available.

There are also some Saints players set to become unrestricted free agents, including linebacker Darrin Smith, safety Darren Perry and cornerbacks Kevin Mathis and Alex Molden.

Cornerback Fred Weary will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Saints have the right to match any outside offer he receives. If Weary jumped to another team, the Saints would be entitled to a draft pick as compensation.

On offense, starting wide receiver Willie Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent. Tight end Cam Cleeland, who missed all of the 2000 season because of a torn Achilles' tendon, will be a restricted free agent.

Williams' deal unlikely to be redone

Running back Ricky Williams switched agents last March, dumping Master P's agency No Limit, and going with Leigh Steinberg. There's been speculation that if he had a good season he'd also try to dump the contract No Limit negotiated for him.

Well, the Saints season is over and Williams rushed for 1,000 yards in 10 games before going down for the rest of the regular season with a broken ankle. But Mueller said that Williams' deal figures to stay the same.

"It's never been talked about, never been discussed and is not really an issue at this point," Mueller said of renegotiating the incentive-laden, seven-year contract.

As for any trade rumors, Mueller said it's not feasible. A trade would force the Saints to count around $6 million against their salary cap for the remaining portion of Williams' $8.84 million signing bonus that hasn't gone against their cap yet.

"I don't think our cap could stand anything like that," Mueller said. "Ricky's a good player. I'm happy we have him. Hopefully, he'll be back to 100 percent next year. I look for exciting things from him for a long time."

Blake's healthy return could muddle QB picture

Aaron Brooks did an admirable job replacing Jeff Blake at quarterback after Blake broke his foot on Nov. 19. He went 3-2 over the last five regular-season games and led the Saints to a 31-28 playoff win over St. Louis while Blake had surgery and has been rehabilitating his injured right foot.

Blake hopes to be back for the Saints' first off-season minicamp April 28. Coach Jim Haslett said no decision about the starting quarterback for 2001 will come until training camp.

"We felt good about Jeff, that's why we brought him in here," Haslett said. "I still think he's the starter, to be honest with you. Aaron, I think, is going to be a heck of a quarterback. I think it's going to be based on how he does. I think it's great to have some competition."

Saints still working on training camp deal

The Saints don't have an agreement to return to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., quite yet.

But Mueller said the plan is to return to the south Louisiana city and something should be worked out soon.

"I think we'd like to go back there," Mueller said. "I haven't given it much thought and we'll probably have to sit down with those people in the next week or two and iron something out."

Last year, the Saints didn't decide to leave La Crosse, Wis., for Thibodaux until early March. Mueller said a decision will come much quicker this year.

"We'll definitely be done before then," Mueller said. "We need to find a home and start making plans."

Related information
Vikings end Saints' playoff run with 34-16 victory
SI's Banks: Culpepper leaves a wide path
What We Learned: Saints-Vikings
Saints end good year, planning for better ones
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