April 25, 2003

Whitehead re-signs, not expected to impact draft strategy

Willie Whitehead has re-signed with the Saints, but don't expect the Saints' draft plans to change that much.

While they don't have a need for a backup DE any longer, the pressing need for defensive tackle remains. The Saints are expected to give either Norman Hand or Grady Jackson the boot, maybe even both of them, but only if the team finds someone better who can do the job.

That someone better would probably only come in the first round of tomorrow's draft. Whitehead doesn't seem to be in the plans to start full time at defensive tackle, but may continue to rotate in and out of the game with Charles Grant and the DT starters.

Whitehead joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent in the Mike Ditka era, fought and scrapped his way onto the final roster, and eventually earned himself the role as chief utility man across the front. CBS Sportsline's Jay Glazer reports that Whitehead chose the Saint's deal over an offer from San Francisco.

Big enough to play at defensive tackle and quick enough to start 10 games at defensive end this past season, Whitehead is a critical cog in the Saints' line rotation. He returns to the Saints from the open waters of free agency with a three-year deal, details pending. Whitehead is also a major part of the Saints off the field, and helped defensive line coach Sam Clancy scout prospects on the sidelines of the Senior Bowl earlier in the offseason.

An unrestricted free agent, he was also pursued by Denver and most seriously San Francisco.

The Auburn product had 34 tackles, a forced fumble and three sacks in 2002, all while sharing time with rookie Charles Grant, who is expected to start at left defensive end this season. As a rookie in 1999, Whitehead had seven sacks on three starts, playing in all 16 games.

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