Saints bring back trio in tender deals

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

Bushrod joined fellow restricted free agents David Thomas and Remi Ayodele in deciding on Tuesday to sign tender offers from the Saints. Bushrod and Ayodele were starters and Thomas a regular contributor as New Orleans won its first 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, agent for Thomas and Ayodele, said both 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 on 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 on Monday.

Jammal Brown, who missed all of last season with hip injury, remains a restricted free agent. The former 2005 first-round draft choice has been offered a $3.6 million tender from New Orleans for 2010.

His agent, Ben Dogra in St. Louis, did not say on Tuesday whether Brown would sign his tender, but restricted free agents have a Thursday deadline to sign offer sheets from other teams.

Bushrod, a 6-foot-4, 325-pound 2007 fourth-round draft choice out of Towson, did not 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.

He started 15 games during the regular season, when the Saints allowed only 20 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL.

Rosa said Bushrod was not concerned about the prospect of having to compete once again 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 that started 13 regular-season games and two playoff games. He had 1.5 sacks and recovered a fumble for a touchdown on a sack and strip of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Thomas was acquired in a trade with New England before the 2009 regular season and wound up having by far the best season in his four-year NFL career. The 26-year-old former Texas Longhorn caught 35 passes for 356 yards and a 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 club was not 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 Tampa Bay.