NEW ORLEANS – The natives are happy.
The New Orleans Saints have historically not drafted players from LSU, which is just 87 miles away in Baton Rouge and is the No. 3 college in the nation in NFL draft picks since 2000 with 143 behind No. 1 Ohio State (157) and No. 2 Alabama (144).
Yet, the Saints have not drafted an LSU player since 2018 when they took guard William Clapp in the seventh round. He was the first from LSU since the Saints took defensive tackle Al Woods in 2010 in the fourth round. New Orleans has selected just 10 LSU players in all since it began drafting in 1967.
But the Saints just acquired two perennial Pro Bowl, former LSU players through free agency in the last two weeks in safety Tyrann Mathieu (three Pro Bowls) from Kansas City and wide receiver Jarvis Landry (five Pro Bowls) from Cleveland.
Landry, who led LSU’s receiving attack with teammate and still close friend Odell Beckham Jr. from 2011-13, signed a one-year deal on Sunday, according to the Saints. It is worth approximately $6 million, according to sources.
“It’s a special time,” Landry said on a Saints’ Zoom teleconference on Sunday afternoon. “As a kid growing up (in Lutcher, 50 miles from New Orleans), being from Louisiana, you always want to play for you hometown team.”
He said “Who Dat,” on his Twitter last week.
And the fans love it.
It’s almost like new Saints’ head coach Dennis Allen has already twice beaten the hated Atlanta Falcons, who open the 2022 season against the Saints at Atlanta on Sept. 11. News of Landry’s addition broke last week.
“My whole neighborhood I think has sent me a text in some form or fashion,” Allen said with a laugh Saturday after a rookie mini-camp workout.
As LSU fans are wont to do, they thought there was some type of Saintly conspiracy against LSU, which has put its share of baggage-heavy players into the NFL, such as Mathieu himself, Derrius Guice, Arden Key and Tharold Simon, to name a few. Under former coach Sean Payton, the Saints became known for avoiding players with character issues in the draft. They also became known for excellent drafts.
“That’s not the big contributing factor as to wy we bring these players in,” Allen said of the particular school of a player. “We feel like they (Mathieu and Landry) can help us win and help us grow our locker room. That’s what it really boils down to.”
Mathieu, who was kicked off the LSU team as a junior before the 2012 season after several positive marijuana tests before an arrest for possession of it, has been as impressive off the field as on it in his NFL career. That has included a Super Bowl title in the 2019 season and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2020 season.
Landry, who was teammates with Mathieu in 2011 when the Tigers went 13-0 and won the SEC before a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the national title game, had a minor scrape with the law while at LSU from 2011-13. And he was investigated for domestic violence in 2017 with the Miami Dolphins, but he was not charged.
“We feel like they can help us win and have some good leadership values for our team,” Allen said.
They also fill holes. The Saints lost both starting safeties from last season as Malcolm Jenkins retired and Marcus Williams became a Baltimore Raven via free agency.
“Certainly, he’s here because he’s a really good football player,” Allen, who was the Saints’ defensive coordinator from 2015-21, said of Mathieu. “He’s a playmaker. We feel like he’s still got a lot of good football left in him.”
Mathieu has 26 career interceptions, 10 sacks, six fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles. He was picked with the 69th pick overall in 2013 in the third round by Arizona. The Saints took safety Kenny Vaccaro of Texas in the first round that year with the 14th pick over Mathieu and LSU safety Eric Reid, who went as the 18th pick to San Francisco.
New Orleans, which did not have a second round pick in 2013, picked in the third round six spots after Mathieu was taken and took Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead. He became a three-time Pro Bowl player with the Saints before being signed by Miami after last season.
Vaccaro and Reid have each been out of the NFL since 2020 and 2019, respectively. Mathieu will enter his 10th season in 2022 on a three-year, $33 million contract.
“We feel like he has some of the leadership qualities that maybe we lose out on when we lose a guy like Malcolm Jenkins,” Allen said. “So it was important to be able to get a guy like that.”
Meanwhile, New Orleans has been looking for consistent second and third options at wide receiver to go with primary receiver Michael Thomas for the last several years.
Thomas, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, has the most receptions in NFL history through his first five seasons (2016-20) with 510 and was the NFL offensive player of the year in 2019. He led the league in receptions in 2018 and ’19.
Landry could be that second or third option in short to intermediate routes along with Thomas as both are physical, while Chris Olave – the 11th pick of the 2022 draft out of Ohio State by the Saints – is a much-needed deep threat for the Saints.
“We all have different type skill sets,” Landry said Sunday. “Me and Mike are more similar. But at the end of the day, we all are a problem. We all pose a different type of threat.”
Landry is coming off his worst season as a pro as his receptions dropped to 52 last year for 570 yards, but he missed five games with a knee sprain.
Before that, Landry had six seasons of 81 catches or more from 2014 through 2019, including 112 in 2017 at Miami to lead the NFL. He was traded to Cleveland for a fourth and seventh round pick before the 2018 season and signed a five-year, $75.5 million contract. He led Cleveland with 81 catches in 2018 and caught 84 in 2019 on his way to his fifth straight Pro Bowl.
“Obviously, he’s been a really good player in our league,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that we feel like can move the chains. We felt like wide receiver was a position that we could look to add to, and fortunately for us, we had some means of doing that through the draft and free agency.”
The Saints passed on Landry in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft to take cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste of Nebraska with the 58th overall pick. Jean-Baptiste is known as the worst selection ever by former coach Sean Payton. In five seasons with six teams, Jean-Baptiste barely played or was even activated, and left the NFL after the 2018 season with one tackle as his only statistic.
Landry went as pick No. 63 overall in the second round in 2014 to Miami. He caught 84 passes to set a Dolphins’ rookie record and returned punts and kickoffs for 1,158 yards that year. In 2015, Landry became the first Dolphin to catch 100 or more passes for 1,000 or more yards as he finished fourth in the NFL with 110 receptions for 1,157 yards. His 194 catches in 2014-15 set the NFL record for most receptions in the first two seasons by a player. That stood until the Saints’ Thomas broke it in 2017 with 196.
The Saints already had a wide receiver in the 2014 draft, though, before the second round as they took the higher graded and faster Brandin Cooks of Oregon State with the 20th pick of the first round.
Cooks played three seasons in New Orleans before New England traded their first pick of the ’17 draft and a third round pick to the Saints for Cooks and a fourth round pick. After one season in New England, Cooks played for the Los Angeles Rams from 2016-19 with a Super Bowl in the 2018 season before being traded to Houston, where he remains. Cooks has 573 career catches for 7,917 yards and 48 touchdowns to 688 catches for 7,598 yards and 37 touchdowns by Landry.
Cooks has made no Pro Bowls to Landry’s five.
“He’s a player from a character standpoint and from a leadership standpoint that I think we can use,” Allen said of Landry.
“It was more about fit,” Landry said. “It was about location. Those became the priorities for me,” Landry said. “To have the opportunity to play on this level, at this stage, here in New Orleans is something that’s very special to him (Mathieu) and to me.”
Olave can’t wait to learn from Landry and Thomas.
“Jarvis, he’s a legend here and finally playing for New Orleans,” Olave said Saturday. “I can’t wait for him to showcase his talent out here and have fun.”
Olave caught 65 passes for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns last season for Ohio State, which is tied for first with Nebraska and USC in producing Saints draft picks with 17. Thomas, a second round pick by the Saints in 2016, is also from Ohio State.
“Learning from him (Landry) and Michael Thomas as a rookie is going to be huge for me,” Olave said. “Seeing their mindset before every play and attacking every day is going to help me a lot.”
And there is Beckham, who was the 12th pick of the 2014 draft by the New York Giants out of LSU – eight picks before the Saints took Cooks.
Beckham is presently a free agent after playing half a season with the Los Angeles Rams last year after being released by Cleveland, where he was teammates with Landry. Beckham caught 27 passes for 305 yards with the Rams, including nine for 113 yards in the Rams’ 20-17 win over San Francisco to reach the Super Bowl. He caught a 17-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl before injuring his knee and missing the rest of the game that the Rams won, 23-20, over Cincinnati and former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow – the first pick of the 2020 draft.
Could Beckham be the next former Tiger not drafted by New Orleans to end up as a Saint?
“Who knows? Maybe this leads to more here in New Orleans,” Landry said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, and that’s what I’m counting on.”