A.J. Klein latest in Saints' middle linebacker carousel

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' most subtle move on a frantic first day of free agency was signing linebacker A.J. Klein away from the rival Carolina Panthers.

ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that Klein will play middle linebacker -- and Caplan's reported salary details ($15 million over three years) suggest the Saints view him as a starter. That would make five starting middle linebackers in four years for New Orleans.

Terms: Three years, $15 million, with about $10 million in guarantees and a fourth year that will automatically void, according to Caplan.

ESPN 150 ranking: Unranked

Grade: C-plus I want to like this move: a reasonable amount of money on a young linebacker with upside who has been itching for his chance to start after being stuck behind superstars Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Plus, the division-rival Saints know Klein as well as anyone. But I'm surprised he cost $5 million per year. For comparison, last year's under-the-radar starting middle linebacker, Craig Robertson, signed an incentive-laden deal that was worth between $1.7 million and $3.2 million per year.

What it means: Money aside, Klein adds quality depth to a position that needs it. I listed linebacker as the third "must" for the Saints this offseason, behind an edge rusher and a cornerback. The Saints have been clamoring for a dependable "quarterback" for their defense in recent years. They've switched from Curtis Lofton to Stephone Anthony to James Laurinaitis to Robertson in the role over the past two-plus years. Assuming that the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Klein is able to lock down that role, Robertson can move to outside linebacker and rotate with veteran Dannell Ellerbe. Stephone Anthony, Nate Stupar and possibly Michael Mauti can work their way into the rotation. The Saints also have a visit scheduled with one of the other top free-agent inside linebackers on the market, Manti Te'o.

What's the risk? Klein is obviously still a bit of an unknown. Although he has filled in admirably for the NFC South's best defense while starting 23 games over his four-year career, he has never held a full-time gig. During the final game of last season, the Panthers actually moved younger backup Michael Mayo ahead of Klein in the pecking order while looking ahead to the future. Still, the deal could easily wind up being a bargain if opportunity is the only thing that has been holding Klein back. He has a good mix of physicality and athleticism, with 146 career tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception.