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Versatility (and LB Coach Mike Nolan) is Reason Why Saints Traded for Linebacker Kiko Alonso

The middle or “Mike” linebacker position. The “weakside” or “Will” linebacker position. The strong-side or “Sam” linebacker position.

Some NFL players are talented enough to capably fill all three roles within a typical 4-3 defensive scheme, and it’s that versatility to do all three; which is the main reason why the New Orleans Saints earlier today made a trade with the Miami Dolphins for veteran linebacker and former University of Oregon defensive star Kiko Alonso.

As first reported originally by Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network and later confirmed by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the Saints sent 2nd year reserve outside linebacker and special teams stand-out Vince Biegel to Miami in exchange for the 29-year old Alonso.

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Alonso was originally a 2nd round draft choice (46th overall) of the Buffalo Bills in the 2013 NFL Draft, and played for the Bills for his first two NFL seasons. He was then subsequently traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2015 NFL off-season;, where he played in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ for one year before being he was traded yet again in the 2016 NFL off-season, to the Dolphins.

But part of the reason why Alonso bounced around from Buffalo to Philadelphia before ultimately ending up in South Florida with the Dolphins. was because he suffered back-to-back knee injuries with both teams, and thus he was considered injury-prone or “damaged goods” to most NFL front-office personnel League-wide.

However, to his credit: Alonso was then able to play injury-free for the majority of his time in Miami and started 46 out of a possible 48 games, which allowed him to display his non-stop, aggressive motor and superb “sideline-to-sideline” tackling fundamentals — as well as the capability to fill those three specific linebacker roles in the Dolphins’ 4-3 defensive scheme similar to that ran by the Saints and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

In his past 3 seasons with the Dolphins from 2016 thru 2018, the 6-foot-3. 239 pound Alonso was among the NFL defensive leaders in tackles (115 in 2016 and once again in 2017); before he posted another 125 tackles last season. He also had three interceptions and three forced fumbles, along with 6 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, in the 2018 NFL season. 

Now about to play in his 6th NFL season overall (he sat out most of 2014). Alonso has tallied a grand total of 10 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles (he recovered all seven of them), and 3 sacks so far up to this point, in his still-evolving professional career.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The Newton, Massachusetts native is currently in the 3rd year of his contract extension that he originally signed back in March of 2017, and was set to earn a base salary of just under $6.5 million over each of the last two years of his current deal.

But as noted by Pelissero: Alonso agreed to an adjusted contract that fully guarantees him $5 million with no offsets by next week; with $4 million paid by the Saints and $1 million by the Dolphins. The final year of his contract will still remain the same, with a $6.4 million base salary in 2020.

So what does all of this mean for the Saints defense and specifically their linebacking corps in general?

The organization (as usual) has been very tight-lipped about divulging injuries, but this move clearly was made because of the speculation that either (or both) starting weakside / “Will” linebacker Alex Anzalone and versatile back-up Craig Robertson are still hurting from injures sustained during Training Camp or in the recently-completed Pre-Season; which could put their respective playing availability for next Monday Night’s 2019 NFL regular season opener against the Houston Texans, in doubt.

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

However, that’s not the only reason from those in the know. 

The Saints quite simply are “all in” on making a run at the Super Bowl; and clearly they saw something in Alonso last week in their final Pre-Season game at the Superdome against Alonso and the visiting Dolphins (who eventually won by a score of 16-13 in a contest featuring mostly rookies and veteran back-ups) that they liked, among them his athleticism and high motor that clearly demonstrate his passion for the game.

Alonso’s acquisition certainly strengthens the linebacking corps both talent-wise and obviously depth-wise; and while it’s a bit early to guess, it’s more than likely that he’ll fill in at the “Will” spot, with Demario Davis remaining at the “Mike” position.

Wth regard to those Who Dat fans that are concerned with Alonso’s notable injury history, keep in mind that he finally appears to be healthy and more importantly: mature as a man.

Photo courtesy of the Portland News

Some folks will recall in college at Oregon that the former 2012 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP got suspended for a DUI (2010) and then a year later (in May of 2011) got arrested again for burglary, criminal trespassing and mischief.

(He allegedly was drunk and it was rumored that he thought he had entered his own apartment, but it obviously wasn’t; and after the woman pressed charges, he pleaded guilty and served 2 years probation). So any lingering questions about his character are no longer a concern. in that sense.

Now — is Alonso going to be the next Rickey Jackson?

Don’t hold your breath.

But what he will bring is all of those things mentioned above. and then some. His game has evolved over the years and he;s become a solid NFL linebacker, and perhaps most important of all: can play ALL 3 LB POSITIONS in Allen’s 4-3 scheme. One other thing to keep in mind: Saints linebacker coach Mike Nolan, who undoubtedly had some input into this decision.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Nolan places a VERY high-value on players in his position group with the ability to fill multiple roles. which all of the other three  (Davis, Anzalone and Robertson) can do as well; and why they are all so valuable.

That’s actually something (the ability of players at all positions to fill multiple roles) that the entire Saints coaching staff as a whole (and especially head coach Sean Payton), clearly place an emphasis on.

As my good friend Mike Detillier of WWL Radio New Orleans noted: Nolan in particular loves having that trait at his disposal, because it allows him and Allen to utilize different looks and coverages within their scheme, to confuse opposing QB’s / offenses.

And they’re betting on Alonso doing just that, and for a bargain price as an added bonus.

After all, if he can stay healthy, Alonso’s presence gives the Black and Gold another “chess piece”, that they hope can finally help them achieve their ultimate goal — the one that they hope to reach, come next February….

Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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