Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Big Uneasy Naeole Glad to Escape Troubled New Orleans Team

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Big Uneasy Naeole Glad to Escape Troubled New Orleans Team

Article excerpt

Byline: Bart Hubbuch, Times-Union sports writer

He was raised in Hawaii, but Chris Naeole will tell you he already considers Jacksonville paradise.

Why? Because it's not New Orleans.

The Jaguars' most expensive free-agent signee this offseason has no gripe with The Big Easy itself, but the hometown NFL team is a different story. Naeole was a Saint for five seasons, and he's not so sure he could have made it through a sixth.

"What's the allure of coming here? It's a young team and a chance to get away from New Orleans," Naeole said yesterday as the Jaguars began a three-day minicamp at Alltel Stadium. "It's a chance for a fresh start."

Naeole, who is expected to start at offensive right guard after signing a three-year, $3.225 million contract with the Jaguars three weeks ago, wasn't the only player looking to escape the Saints' madhouse this offseason.

New Orleans was a team in disarray in 2001, losing its final four games by a combined 108 points amid rumors of locker-room turmoil. Team management responded by purging the roster this winter, with several of the Saints' biggest names among the first to go.

Running back Ricky Williams and offensive tackle Willie Roaf were just a few of the familiar faces jettisoned along with Naeole, who was allowed to leave despite missing just one game the past four seasons combined.

Naeole couldn't be more relieved at the change of scenery, no matter how unceremonious his departure.

"I wouldn't doubt if the rumors are still floating around there," he said. "That just tore the team apart. With the way everything went down in New Orleans, I'm looking forward to starting over again at someplace new."

Asked how a team as talented as the Saints could self-destruct so spectacularly, Naeole said: "I wish I knew."

The Jaguars certainly aren't puzzled about Naeole, whom they valued highly enough to give an $800,000 signing bonus at the same time they were cutting several other veterans for salary-cap reasons. Naeole was the most expensive free-agent acquisition by Jacksonville in two years.

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin immediately plugged the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Naeole at right guard, a move that allows the club to switch veteran Zach Wiegert to left guard or left tackle. …

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