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Pro Bowl guard Evans receives seven-year, $57M deal to stay a Saint

Once a fourth-round draft pick out of Division II Bloomsburg, Jahri Evans is now the highest-paid interior lineman in the NFL.

Evans, both an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler last season, agreed Wednesday on a seven-year contract worth roughly $57 million with the New Orleans Saints, a league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.

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A person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press that it was for $56.7 million, with $19 million guaranteed. Evans' Philadelphia-based agent, Jerrold Colton, confirmed the deal was the richest ever given to a guard.

Evans was a restricted free agent, meaning the Saints owned his rights after a deadline passed for him to sign offer sheets from other teams. However, Evans stayed away from New Orleans' first voluntary offseason workouts while Colton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis worked on a long-term deal.

Loomis announced the length of the deal Wednesday, and coach Sean Payton said the guard had earned it.

"It's important to recognize, with what we do offensively, and the quarterback stepping up in the pocket, to have that size and talent inside the pocket I think is huge for Drew Brees, and I think Drew would say the same thing," Payton said. "He's played since his rookie season at an extremely high level, and what we've been able to accomplish as a team, offensively, his impact inside of the pocket, what he does, reflects a deal like that."

Last season, the Saints allowed 20 sacks -- fourth-fewest in the NFL -- en route to their first Super Bowl championship.

The Saints also led the league in offense for the third time in the last four seasons. Evans, 26, was part of Payton's first draft class in 2006 and has started all 64 regular-season games since, as well as all five of New Orleans' playoff games during that period.

Payton also stressed that 6-foot-4, 318-pound Evans played a leading role in a running game that produced 2,106 yards with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush sharing the bulk of the carries.

Run-blocking was Evans' forte at Bloomsburg, which went undefeated in 2005, when he was the left tackle and helped starting running back Jamar Brittingham rush for 2,260 yards and 32 touchdowns. While scouts were impressed by Evans' ability to flatten defensive ends and keep tucking downfield to make another block, it was difficult to know how well he'd do against tougher competition.

Evans, a Philadelphia native, had received interest from several Division I schools after his junior year of high school, but an injury sustained during a pickup basketball game forced him to miss his entire senior season, and he wound up with just a partial scholarship to Bloomsburg.

When Evans entered the NFL draft, the Saints believed he was worth a fourth-round pick, and he needed just a few weeks of training camp to prove that his D-II success indeed would translate to the pros. He started right away, and by his fourth season, he was an All-Pro, a Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

"What he's able to do in the running game, the passing game, it's much deserved on his part, and I think it's exciting for us as a club," Payton said of Evans' new deal. "When you have a young, talented player the way Jahri's been, it's a credit to his work ethic, how he's produced and how consistent he's been. He's been a big part of our success as a team."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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