Well, I'll believe this when I see it. After all, this whole sequence of events is simply unheard of. The Saints took a supremely talented player who had previously failed to live up to his billing, put him in their defunct defense, watched him defy the odds and actually flourish, AND they are going to be able to keep him around for the foreseeable future?!? That's not how things are supposed to work in New Orleans. Outperforming your contract and then (presumably) taking a relatively reasonable amount to stay around to prove it wasn't a fluke? Call me skeptical, but that's just not something that I - or any Saints fan - am used to.
Obviously it's tough to grade this potential deal without knowing how much it's worth, but the way Nick Fairley was able to shine in the middle of what has historically been a dud of a d-line is not to be ignored. With the end opposite Cameron Jordan sure to be made a priority this offseason, even a slight drop off from what was a semi-unexpected resurgence should pay dividends in putting quarterbacks on their rear ends. Simply put, this contract is going to elicit the PTSD that Saints fans have incurred from watching Mickey Loomis' make it rain dead money the last few offseasons. That doesn't mean it's not less than he probably could have gotten elsewhere, and it definitely doesn't mean that it's a bad investment in a guy whose proven successful at a position that makes the job of others around it that much easier.
I won't lie to you and tell you I knew who A.J. Klein was before he became a Saint earlier today. Everything I read says that he is not only faster than Luke Kuechly, but was a more than adequate replacement for him when he went down for the season. Speed and reliability are two things that would be welcomed to a unit that has been slowly killing the spirit of its' fans for the past decade, but I'm not going to pick apart the game tape and try to interpret how much validity that opinion holds. I will, however, trust that the guy who worked next to him did....
Interview with Thomas Davis:
On linebacker A.J. Klein filling-in for Kuechly well in the past: “I think, across the board, we’ve done a good job of next-man-up. A.J. is a guy we have a lot of faith in. He comes in and he plays extremely well, and we don’t expect that to be any different this weekend.”
On if there is much “fall-off” from Kuechly to Klein: “Watch the games. A.J. comes in and he does a great job, so we’re excited to have him in.”
On what he saw in Klein’s performance last season filling in for Kuechly: “His ability to come in and lead the defense from a play-calling standpoint. He doesn’t lack any confidence from that standpoint. When he came in last year, he did a great job, and we expect him to do the same thing this year.”
On how many teams he thinks Klein could play for: “32. I honestly think he could be a starter on any team in this league.”
Now, that may have been a vote of confidence in someone who was then his teammate - instead of a new addition to a division rival - but it's a pretty goddamn complimentary one. If A.J. Klein is able to not look out of a place as a starting linebacker then this was a great move for the Saints. Perhaps more importantly, it was likely a frugal move that provides a lot of upside in the middle of a unit that's all-too-used to being the downside. A 25 year old with potential is a hell of a lot more promising than the aging stopgaps they have tried use to plug the running lanes in the past. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis know they need a competent defense NOW, and it's refreshing to see them throw money at it in a way that doesn't resemble Floyd Mayweather's trips to the strip club.