Saints appear to accomplish early FA goals

Through the first two weeks of free agency, the New Orleans Saints have leaned toward re-signing their own free agents, which isn't necessarily a bad strategy considering the Saints are less than two years removed from the NFC Championship game.

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The Saints have done just about everything they set out to do in the first two weeks of free agency, which is a good start to what they hope will be a rebound season following a 7-9 campaign in 2007.

Throughout the second week of free agency, the Saints continued to work on getting many of their own unrestricted free agents re-signed while beating the bushes to fill some holes — especially on defense.

With things beginning to slow down around the league, the Saints were sitting pretty after re-signing eight members of their offense that ranked fourth in the NFL in total yards last season and two defensive starters.

But while they wanted to keep their offense intact as much as possible, signing two tight ends, two offensive linemen and three wide receivers, the remodeling of the defense continued.

After finishing 26th last season in total yards allowed and 30th against the pass, which included 32 touchdown passes given up, the Saints know they have to see some improvement if they expect to get back to the playoffs.

Which is why they went out and traded for middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma to get things started. Then, they picked up cornerback Randall Gay, defensive end Bobby McCray and linebacker Dan Morgan, who's expected to move from his normal spot in the middle to the weak side.

That means with more than a month to go until the draft, the Saints have addressed some of their pressing needs — especially at linebacker and cornerback — as they go forward.

Which means they'll have a lot more options in which to take the best player available and not have to fill a specific hole when they are put on the clock with the 10th pick in the first round on April 26.

Among the moves the Saints made in the last seven days:

— They made some key moves last week, especially on offense, in re-signing tight ends Eric Johnson and Billy Miller. Their return means the offense, which ranked fourth in the league in total yards a year ago, will return virtually intact.

— The Saints also agreed to a two-year deal with quarterback Mark Brunell, who was in for a two-day visit earlier in the week, to back up Drew Brees. Brunell will likely replace Jamie Martin, Brees' backup for the last two seasons.

Martin's agent, Tom Mills, said earlier in the free agency period that the Saints likely would try to re-sign his client. But that's unlikely to happen now that Brunell has agreed.

Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis don't talk publicly about possible personnel moves, so it was hard to tell if they were seeking a replacement for Martin or were just doing their homework when they brought in Brunell after visiting with Trent Green.

But their plans became clear Thursday.

As of last week, the only quarterback on the roster behind Brees was Tyler Palko. A second-year player, Palko spent last season bouncing between the practice squad and active roster after showing some flashes during training camp.

— Prior to signing Johnson and Miller, the Saints re-signed left guard Jamar Nesbit and center Jonathan Goodwin, who will replace the departed Jeff Faine, and brought back a trio of wide receivers — starter David Patten, Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper.

— They also re-signed versatile running back Aaron Stecker, who is a valuable component of the offense as a third-down back and a special teams captain.

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