Starting OLB Keith Mitchell, who has started 59 games over the past four years for the Saints, is not expected to return to the team this season.
Mitchell has reportedly been told not to report to the Saints' offseason conditioning program. He is expected to be traded or released. The team could wait until after June 1 to release Mitchell, so his cap impact will be split over this season and the next.
The Saints have had no luck in trading Mitchell.
The former undrafted rookie free agent out of Texas A&M also reportedly asked for his release or trade from the team after this past season ended.
Mitchell was benched in the Saints' season finale against the 49ers. Rookie Sedrick Hodge, a 3rd round draft pick in 2001, started in his place. Hodge and veteran Darrin Smith are currently slated as the Saints' starters at outside linebacker. The Saints are also expected to draft a linebacker, possibly in the first round.
Mitchell, 6'2, 245, flourished in 2000 as the buck linebacker in the Saints' scheme. In certain defensive formations under former Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook, the Saints use three down linemen and an outside linebacker lining up as defensive end. Mitchell had 6.5 sacks, an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown on his way to his first Pro Bowl birth.
In 2001, middle linebacker Charlie Clemons took over as the Saints' rush end linebacker, producing a team-leading 13.5 sacks and an interception. Mitchell had two sacks in 2001.