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Zach Thomas visiting the Saints today


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Saints are Zach’s best option


By Edgar Thompson | Sunday, February 17, 2008, 10:48 AM



Zach Thomas’ first stop in his search for a new home with a contending team might the only one he’ll really need to make.


The New Orleans Saints, who’ll bring Thomas in for a visit this week, look like a perfect fit for Thomas after the Dolphins cut him last week.


Thomas also is scheduled to visit Dallas next week, and likely would prefer a return to his home state for the final year or two of his decorated career. The Cowboys looked like a Super Bowl team last season with a much better defense (No. 9 in total defense in ‘07) than the Saints, who finished 26th, four spots behind the Dolphins.


But the Saints really could use Thomas, despite questions about his age and injury. New Orleans had Mark Simoneau in the middle the past two seasons. Simoneau, a free agent, averaged only 4.5 tackles in 32 games in 2006-07.


New Orleans also plays a 4-3 defense, which might better suit Thomas at this point in his career because he won’t have to take on blockers as often as in a 3-4 and can flow to the ball.


Dallas plays a 3-4 and seeks fast, athletic LBs for the inside. Bradie James led the team with 101 tackles, while Akin Ayodele had only 57, but the team liked the way he played in the season’s second half, said one NFL insider.


Thomas said last week he doesn’t understand why everyone makes such a big deal about the scheme, noting the Dolphins played a lot of 3-4 the past four seasons, including Pro Bowl years for Thomas in 2005 and 2006.


“I don’t know what people watch,” Thomas said on Friday. “That’s what we played the last four years and I played best of my career. I don’t care if a 4-3 or 3-4, it’s football.”


But Thomas, who’ll be 35 next season, isn’t the same player he was even a couple of years ago. Coming off head and neck injuries, he doesn’t need to be in a scheme where he’s running into 300-plus pound guards on a lot of snaps.


As for other suitors, the names of several top-shelf teams - the Colts, Patriots, Chargers and Jaguars - have come up.


Other than the Jags, none seems to have a need for Thomas or has the history that points toward signing him. But the Colts also might be pop up on the radar.


# Colts

Starting MLB Gary Brackett turns 28 in May, is a team captain and led the team in tackles last season. Plus, the Colts haven’t been a team that’s done much with older players or spent a lot of money at LB.


Still, one longtime NFL observer didn’t dismiss them. “That’s an interesting one there,” he said.


# Jaguars

MLB Mike Peterson, one of the NFL’s best run-stoppers in his prime, will be 32 next season and played in only 15 games the past two seasons because of injury. Worries about his health might open the door for Thomas.


# Patriots

Both Junior Seau, 38, and Tedy Bruschi, 34, might retire. But the Patriots like big, physical ILBs in the 3-4 and are looking to get younger at LB - the one position that needs to be addressed on the AFC champs.


# Chargers

ILBs Stephen Cooper (108 stops) and Matt Wilheim (97) finished 1-2 in tackles. Cooper will be 29 next season and Wilheim 26. The Chargers also shy away from signing older players, the NFL observer noted.


The other 11 NFL teams that finished with .500 records or better also are in good shape in the middle/inside.


Thomas said he knows he’d only be a short-term answer and wants to go to a team that he needs more than it needs him.


That sounds like New Orleans. The Saints finished 8-8 in ‘07 and were one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments last season.


But they are a season removed from the NFC Championship game and were many people’s pre-season pick to make the Super Bowl. They also have QB Drew Brees leading one of the NFL’s best offenses, so Thomas and the defense wouldn’t have to carry the team like in Miami.

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