METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Drew Brees has a history with free agent Darren Sproles and did not hesitate to exploit it when it became clear that Reggie Bush wasn't going to be back with the Saints in 2011.
"I pulled out all the stops," Brees said of his effort to attract Sproles, the blazing fast, 5-foot-6 running back and return man who agreed to a four-year, $14 million deal with New Orleans on Thursday night.
Brees was San Diego's quarterback in 2005, when Sproles was drafted by the Charges and had the first of his five seasons with more than 1,000 kickoff return yards. The Saints quarterback also maintains an offseason residence in San Diego and trained with Sproles earlier this year.
"I have his number," Brees said, grinning, as he described a series of calls and texts in which his message to Sproles was: "We need you baby. Come join us. You'll fit in great. Win a championship. Let's break some records. Let's do something special. Let's go."
Sproles planned to travel to New Orleans soon to sign his new contract, but would not be permitted to practice until sometime next week because of restrictions on free agents practicing before the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement has been ratified.
Brees called the addition of Sproles, "awesome," and said Sproles' speed and versatility in the running, passing and return games would "absolutely" allow the Saints to run many of the same plays originally designed for Bush.
"When you look at those guys' skill sets, they're very similar in a lot of ways," Brees said. "As I look at our offense and the way we would plug them in, we'd plug him in the exact same way we would have Reggie and be able to do even more things with him.
"I'm very familiar with him as a person, his work ethic and the drive and competitiveness that he has," Brees continued. "He's going to fit in great with this team and this locker room and this offensive system. He's a guy who has exceptional skills in a lot of different ways and we're going to be able to use him in a lot of different ways."
Sproles will join a backfield that already includes Pierre Thomas, rookie Mark Ingram and short-yardage back Lynell Hamilton. Sproles, however, is different from the other three in that he relies primarily on his speed, agility and versatility in the passing game, whereas the others can run with tackle-breaking power and balance.
"He's going to bring a lot to the table for this team," Thomas said. "He also can help me show the ropes to these younger guys. I've seen a lot of his work; he's a great running back, a very fast guy, very low to the ground. ... He's going to be a great addition to our backfield."
For Brees, the Saints ability to attract a player like Sproles within a day of trading Bush was about more than filling a void. It was about the Saints' increasing ability to project an image that attracts good players.
That wasn't the case, as Brees pointed out, just after Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans was devastated and the Saints were piling up losses.
"What we've built here with our team, our organization is a culture guys want to be a part of," Brees said, offering credit to head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis for leading the way. "Put it this way. Back in '06, we were in a situation where you had to overpay or you really had to figure out creative ways to get guys here, because this place didn't have the best reputation. Guys weren't jumping to come to a city that had been under water for the last six months.
"I look at what we've been able to accomplish as a team and just the type of guys that we've brought in here and this family atmosphere that we've built. I think guys take notice of that around the league and guys want to be a part of that."