NEW ORLEANS — Veteran NFL linebacker James Laurinaitis is taking his release by the Rams this offseason as a personal affront. Doing so, he figures, can only help his career, as well as his new club, the New Orleans Saints.
"This year, there's obviously extra motivation," Laurinaitis said in a conference call Thursday. "Nobody likes to be fired and that's essentially what it is — you got fired."
Laurinaitis played seven seasons for the St. Louis Rams. He expected to be part of the NFL's return to Los Angeles, with the Rams moving back this year to the city they called home before moving to St. Louis about two decades ago.
Laurinaitis even conducted a couple of interviews with Los Angeles media, only to be "shocked" when he was informed he would not be playing in Los Angeles next fall.
For the first time since the Rams made him a second-round draft choice in 2009, the former Ohio State standout was a free agent. Laurinaitis said half a dozen teams inquired about signing him. But Laurinaitis had specific ideas about the type of team that interested him most.
"I wanted to go to an organization I feel really is a playoff contender," Laurinaitis said. "I wanted to be part of something with an offense and a quarterback that was established, and the Saints were the first team to call."
Apparently, his new team didn't have to have a great reputation for defense. The Saints have ranked second-to-last in yards allowed in each of the last two seasons, and ranked dead last four seasons ago. The fact that New Orleans has finished 7-9 in three of the last four seasons — making the playoffs only in 2013 during that span — didn't bother Laurinaitis, either.
"When you have a coach like Sean Payton and when you have a quarterback like Drew Brees, you really have a chance," Laurinaitis said. "The complexity of the offense, really the game planning that (Payton) does is super impressive."
To Laurinaitis, the Saints' problems stemmed more from a combination of inexperience and communication breakdowns than talent. The Saints figured Laurinaitis — who has been the "quarterback" of the defense from his middle linebacker position throughout his career — could help address their recent defense weaknesses.
"Their vision for me was they really wanted someone to come in that had leadership and really had the football intelligence to help some of the young players," Laurinaitis said, adding that he has already been in touch with the coaching staff and some defensive teammates, and is eager to learn defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's system.
"I'm excited to get inside his head and be an extension of him on the football field," Laurinaitis said.
Playing through an elbow injurie that limited his weight training, Laurinaitis was in on 109 tackles last season, which tied his career low. He also had a sack, a safety and an interception.
Now, he said, "Everything looks good and clean," and he has been able to conduct his regular workouts since February.
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