July 28, 2011

Free agent OLB's Shanle, Dunbar Agree to Return

Rebuffing contract offers from St. Louis, his original NFL team, Saints starting outside linebacker Scott Shanle agreed to terms on a new two year contract.

Shanle, 31, has started at both outside linebacker positions in his five year tenure with the Saints.  Arriving in 2006 along with Scott Fujita, Shanle has been a steady starter ever since, starting 73 of a possible 80 regular season games.

Seen as a solid veteran leadership presence, Shanle's return is a sigh of relief for linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

A mass exodus of depth and a remaining core of inexperienced youth is all that remains of the Saints' linebacker corps heading into free agency.  Jonathan Casillas and rookie Martez Wilson are candidates to start opposite Shanle at whichever outside position Shanle will play in 2011.

Sean Payton matter-of-factly broke the news of Shanle's return in a Thursday afternoon press conference, when he included Shanle in a list of Saint free agents who had agreed to re-sign with the team as soon as contracts could be finalized Friday afternoon.

Jonathan Vilma, captain of the Saints defense and a stalwart at middle linebacker, broke the news in that same press conference that the Saints had re-signed linebacker and special teams ace Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The return of Dunbar is a surprise, as he was eligible for a restricted free agent tender offer but did not receive one.  Without a qualifying offer, Dunbar became an unrestricted free agent instead.

Dunbar's return is also critical, giving the Saints a key contributor on their special teams units and experience in Gregg Williams' defensive system.  Dunbar's contributions on defense have been limited,   Dunbar was lost in 2009 to a hamstring injury and did not play in the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV run.

This past season, Dunbar replaced the injured Casillas and started eight games, but then lost the starting job to veteran Danny Clark.  With Clark out against Seattle in the playoffs, Dunbar did not start but did tie for the team lead with seven total tackles.

Also joining the linebacker crew is free agent Will Herring from Seattle, who will sign on Friday and begin working out with the team on August 4, when the league year technically starts.

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