April 3, 2012

Third New Linebacker: ex-Seahawk Hawthorne Signs

A day after the Saints lost LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar via free agency, they signed their third free agent linebacker of the offseason, former Seahawk David Hawthorne.

At 6'0, 246, Hawthorne is an excellent run defender and has over 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons for the Seahawks. An undrafted free agent out of TCU, Hawthorne was a home-grown talent for Seattle much like Dunbar.

Taking the starting middle linebacker job in 2009 and never letting go, Hawthorne also played at both outside linebacker positions.  Hawthorne has tremendous side and power in the run game and should fit at strongside linebacker, with Curtis Lofton (and Jonathan Vilma?) at middle linebacker.

Hawthorne has seven interceptions in three years, a solid number considering his reputation as a run-game defender, and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in December after returning a lazy Vince Young interception 77 yards for a coffin-nailing touchdown.  Hawthorne picked off QB Drew Brees in the end zone during the Saints' victory in November 2010, and notched nine tackles and a pass breakup against the Saints in the playoffs later that season.

A knee injury forced him out of the opener and limited him all season long.  Still, he notched 115 tackles, leading the Seattle defense for the third straight season, as well as two sacks, three interceptions, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery.  He was the highest-rated linebacker for the Seahawks each of the past three seasons.

Hawthorne kept searching despite Seattle's standing two-year contract offer, and was on a flight to visit Detroit when the Lions signed Stephen Tulloch to a massive new contract.  A tepid market for linebackers this year allowed the Saints to make a typical 2012 contract for them - backloaded and five years long.

Hawthorne wrote on twitter Tuesday: "I am officially a part of the Who Dat Nation! Its been a long process but I kno God has me in the place he feels i need to be!"

Hawthorne's arrival, like the arrivals of Chris Chamberlain and Curtis Lofton before him, begs the question of when/if the Saints will part with Jonathan Vilma, who if cut would clear $3.6 million in cap space.  Weakside starter Scott Shanle can also be thrown in that bucket. Shanle is due $1.75 million in bonuses and salary in 2012, the last of his current contract.

But should Vilma and Shanle be suspended for the seasons, their entire salary cap hit would be avoided until 2013.

Meanwhile, the Saints' procedural appeals to their bounty suspensions will be heard on Thursday, as the Saints plead their last against the commissioner's evidence and punishment.  It is not expected that the expedited appeals will result in reductions of any of the fines, suspensions or forfeited draft picks levied against the franchise.

It is also safe to assume that numerous Saint defenders will receive suspensions, possibly season-long, especially if the players, like Sean Payton, were determined to have lied to the league during the bounty investigations.

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