Saints sign ex-Cardinals edge rusher Alex Okafor

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The New Orleans Saints announced today that they have signed unrestricted free agent defensive end Alex Okafor to a one-year contract. The announcement was made by Saints’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Okafor (pronounced OH-kuh-for), a four-year NFL veteran, entered the league as a fourth round draft pick (103rd overall) of the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 out of Texas. He has appeared in 42 contests with 25 starts for the Cardinals, posting career totals of 100 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 sacks, one interception, five passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three special teams stops and one coverage fumble recovery.

A 6-4, 260-pound native of Pflugerville, Texas, Okafor played in 15 games in 2016 and recorded 16 tackles (10 solo), 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two special teams stops and one coverage fumble recovery. In 2014, he enjoyed the most productive season of his career when he played in 13 games with 12 starts and posted 45 tackles (28 solo), eight sacks, one interception and three passes defensed.

As a four-year letterman at Texas (2009-12), Okafor played in 52 career games for the Longhorns with 33 starts and finished his college career with 150 tackles, 23 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four passes defensed and a blocked kick. As a senior in 2012, Okafor was a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection as a senior when he started 12 of 13 games and led the conference and finished tied for ninth in the nation with 12.5 sacks, including 4.5 in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State, ranking second in the league with 16.5 tackles for loss and forcing four fumbles. Okafor was one of just four FBS performers to record at least four forced fumbles and 12 sacks.

New Orleans Saints Defensive End Alex Okafor
Conference Call with Local Media 
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Can you tell us about your visit the past two days and why New Orleans was an attractive destination for you?
“The visit has gone well. They flew me in yesterday afternoon. I had dinner with Coach Dennis Allen and the new (defensive line) coach Ryan (Nielsen) and came up here the next day (and) had breakfast with a couple of guys and they kind of showed me around the facility. I met the Owner, GM Mickey (Loomis) and talked to Sean Payton on the phone. I’m excited, I signed the papers and (I’m) ready to get this thing moving. As far as what I saw with the Saints and the opportunity for me, first of all when you have Drew Brees and Coach Payton you know you are close and you always have a shot at it every year and obviously they are making defense a big priority this offseason and there is an opportunity at the opposite DE away from Cam (Jordan) and I know I can be that guy. I saw that there was the opportunity and I pounced on it. I think the Saints are so close to being contenders this year and for me to be able to come in and contribute right away and make something special happen here, I couldn’t turn that down.”
How much recruiting did Kenny Vaccaro do to get you here?
“Right when I became a free agent he obviously told me that they needed some help along the d-line and it was always in the back of my mind, but obviously both teams have to be on the same page and what not. I didn’t get too excited about the opportunity (before mutual interest), but then once the talks started heating up and it became apparent we could make this thing real I was all in. I was like let’s make this thing happen and I talked to my agent and I talked to KV (Vaccaro) and said let’s make this thing happen, let’s make this thing go and things started heating up and we made it happen. I’m excited, I think I’m in the perfect spot. I’m ready to go.”
Why have you and Kenny stayed so close?
“We are just best friends. We’ve been through so much at Texas (together). We were both captains on the team our senior year and we just kind of experienced the whole process together and stayed close and that’s my guy and I’m looking forward to going out there and competing with him again. I think we bring the best out of each other.”
Do you plan to play defensive end here?
“Yes, they are bringing me in as a defensive end. At Texas I actually had my hand in the dirt all four years. (I) Got drafted by Arizona and for the next four (years) made that transition into (an) outside linebacker, but also every team in this league has to have a spread out front and I’m very familiar with that as well. They brought me in as a DE and to compete for a spot opposite of Cam (Jordan) obviously. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
When you look at your time in Arizona, did injuries hold you back a little bit?
“Yes, they definitely played a part. They definitely slowed down my career a little bit. I have no regrets in Arizona. The organization treated me right and (I had) nothing but great times out there. I am ready to take that next step and get back to the player that I know I can be.”
Why did you have so much success in 2014 but not measure up to that numberswise to that the last couple of years?
“I was healthy in 2014. In those couple of years, I caught a couple of bad breaks injuries-wise that definitely slowed down my production. I feel great now and I am ready to get after it.”
What is it like playing with a torn bicep?
“With a torn bicep it can’t get any worse. Once it is torn, you can’t make it any worse. It is just a matter of your pain tolerance and how comfortable you are going out there. After a couple of weeks I was good enough to start practicing with a brace on it and I didn’t miss any time. I got right after it and throughout the season it got better and better and better. I feel great now.”
What is the status of your bicep?
“I did not get surgery. Once you tear it, you can either elect to get surgery then you will be out for the whole year or you play through it and it will heal on its own. I chose the second option and playing through it. It scars up and the pain slowly deludes. You do not really lose any strength from it. It’s more just dealing with the pain tolerance initially because it’s fresh tissue that was torn.”
Have you talked to Cam Jordan at all yet?
“Yes, I actually linked up with him one time this offseason before I was even signed here. Him, I talked to Mark Ingram, and the guys have been vouching for me to come here for a while now. Once we realized that both teams were on the same page, I was like I have to get out there.”
What lies ahead? Are you headed out of town and are coming back?
“I’m going to finish my offseason training. I am out in California right now actually working out with (Kenny Vaccaro). Once I finish that up, I’ll get out here maybe around two weeks before OTAs start just so I can get familiar with the area, find some housing and get ready for OTAs full speed.”
How did that feel to have multiple players recruiting you here?
“It always feels good to be wanted, especially from those caliber of players. It makes me feel good and I am excited to go out there and compete with them, more than anything. I have an opportunity and now I just have to put my best foot forward and do anything I can to contribute out here.”
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Justin Macione

Justin Macione

Communications Manager. New Orleans Saints

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