Are Saints paving path for Tomlinson?

INDIANAPOLIS — The Super Bowl champion Saints could be creating a vacancy for RB LaDainian Tomlinson by apparently allowing Mike Bell to become a free agent. Bell was not one of the 13 restricted free agents they tendered on Thursday. Neither was Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans, but he will be back on the team, either through a long-term deal or by placing a restricted free agent tender on him by next Thursday’s deadline.

New Orleans could try to lock up Bell by then but that seems unlikely since his role diminished as the season wore on. By letting Bell walk the Saints might acquiesce to quarterback Drew Brees’ wishes to bring in Tomlinson, who was released by the Chargers on Monday. Brees, who carries substantial swagger, mentioned on his Twitter page this week that he wouldn’t mind being reunited with his former San Diego teammate.

“I would love to get LT in the black and gold,” Brees tweeted on Tuesday. “Crazier things have happened.”

On Thursday, Brees seemed to be backing off a bit. “Appreciate everyone’s input on LT,” he tweeted. “First off, I love who we have … Pierre, Reg, Bell, Train … might be the best stable of backs in the NFL. LT and I go way back … we’ve been thru a lot together … I just want the best for him … he will land on his feet, trust me.”

The Saints likely won’t rush to nab Tomlinson at the start of free agency on March 5, but it seems reasonable they would explore the possibility of signing him. New Orleans did its due diligence on veteran Edgerrin James last offseason before opting for Bell, but the Saints have an open mind when it comes checking out veteran running backs.

Tomlinson would be a role player should he end up with the Saints. New Orleans used three running backs –- sometimes four -– last season, with Pierre Thomas being the main starter, Reggie Bush being the top backup, and Bell or Lynell Hamilton as the third tailback. And the Saints plan on bringing Bush back, as my colleague Jason La Canfora reported on Thursday.

Evans, meanwhile, is the Saints’ best lineman and one of three Pro Bowlers from the front five. If a long-term deal isn’t reached, New Orleans likely would place a first- and third-round restricted free agent tender on him, meaning that would be the compensation they would receive from another team that tried to sign him. That high tender has proven a worthy deterrent when placed on players.

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