Restricted free agents Bushrod, Thomas, Ayodele re-sign with Saints

METAIRIE, La. -- Jermon Bushrod is returning to New Orleans, where the man known as "Big Neck" by his Saints teammates could find stiff competition to keep the starting left tackle job.

Bushrod joined fellow restricted free agents David Thomas and Remi Ayodele in deciding Tuesday to sign tender offers from the Saints. Bushrod and Ayodele were starters and Thomas a regular contributor as New Orleans won its first Super Bowl championship last season.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis confirmed that Thomas signed his tender offer. The Saints had offered Thomas about $1.18 million and Ayodele about $1.1 million. Jordan Woy, an agent for Thomas and Ayodele, said both players intended to sign their tenders this week.

Bushrod's agent, Rich Rosa, said his client was set to sign a tender offer of about $1.7 million Tuesday.

"It's a great opportunity for him," Rosa said. "He played at a very high level last year, and he's very happy, obviously, that he'll have a Super Bowl ring on his finger."

Bushrod's decision means the Saints have retained two of their three left tackles from last season, with Zach Strief, a versatile player who also fills in a blocking tight end, signing Monday.

Jammal Brown, who missed all of last season because of a hip injury, remains a restricted free agent. The 2005 first-round draft pick received a $3.6 million tender from the Saints.

Brown's agent, Ben Dogra, didn't say Tuesday whether his client would sign the tender, but restricted free agents have a Thursday deadline to sign offer sheets from other teams.

Bushrod, a 2007 fourth-round pick by the Saints, didn't play a regular-season snap on the offensive line during his first two seasons. He was thrust into the starting lineup after Brown's injury and started 15 games during the regular season, when the Saints allowed just 20 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Rosa said Bushrod wasn't concerned about the prospect of having to compete for his job in training camp should Brown come back.

"His goal is to continue to play at that high level and let the chips fall as they may," Rosa said.

Meanwhile, Ayodele's return means the Saints have retained a player who started 13 regular-season games and two playoff games. He had 1.5 sacks, and he recovered a fumble for a touchdown on a sack and strip of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Thomas was acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots before the 2009 regular season and wound up having by far the best season in his four-year NFL career. He caught 35 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown during the regular season and had four receptions for 41 yards in the playoffs. He started eight games, also filling in as a fullback when needed.

"David came to our team last season and proved invaluable, both as a receiver from the tight end spot and also with his versatility and ability to fill in at fullback when we needed him to do that," Loomis said. "He's a very talented young player, and we look forward to more highly productive seasons to come from him."

Last week, the Saints signed veteran free-agent defensive end Alex Brown -- a move meant to fill the void left by the release of Charles Grant -- but the team wasn't done hosting other players at the position. Loomis said the Saints this week were hosting eight-year veteran end Jimmy Wilkerson, who spent the past two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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