METAIRIE, La. — There isn’t one day that Carl Nicks doesn’t look at his decision to leave the New Orleans Saints for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency this offseason and smile.
In fact, he referred to his situation in the bay area as “lollipops and rainbows.”
While there isn’t necessarily any animosity from him towards the Saints organization, he didn’t exactly leave the franchise that drafted him in the fifth round in 2008 with mutual respect.
“Everybody thinks it was the money,” Nicks said Wednesday. “But it really wasn’t. The challenge here is to be something that the Saints didn’t look at me as; a premier player that could be a leader.”
And yet, he left after signing a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $31 million guaranteed. The contract was the biggest for a guard in NFL history.
When the Saints played hard-ball with Nicks once the lockout broke in July 2011, the physically dominant interior lineman knew his time was all but up in the Crescent City.
“I figured if you didn’t want to talk to me then, in my fourth and final year, it wasn’t going to happen in the offseason,” Nicks said. “So, I figured I better ball out, because I have to put my resume out there.”
Nicks said he certainly understood that quarterback Drew Brees was the team’s biggest priority. But he also felt like he deserved a bit of the cash money as well.
“Honestly I’ve always grown up and been in the college and NFL and know the good players get paid accordingly,” he said. “I felt like I was a good player and it happened accordingly.”
Nevertheless, Nicks continues to keep in touch with some of his former teammates – left tackle Jermon Bushrod even “thanked god for the iPhone” for allowing group texts – and maintains respect from those players.
Throughout the Saints locker room, those who played alongside Nicks described him as a physically dominant player, one who uses his 6-foot-5, 349-pound frame in ways that few others in the NFL can.
In New Orleans, Nicks earned two Pro Bowl nods and was an Associated Press first-team All-Pro in 2011. He helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, his first full year starting for the team.
“Carl Nicks is a really good player and an intense player,” said Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer, who coached Nicks for four years on the offensive line. “To work with him each day, you really got to know who he was. He really wanted to be a good football player. When you knew that and you put it all together, you could really enjoy Carl.”
Through five games of the 2012 season, ProFootballFocus.com has Nicks as the 12th-best guard in the NFL, six spots ahead of his replacement Ben Grubbs. He has given up five quarterback hits, the most for anyone ranked in the top 25, and one quarterback hurry. In the past two games, however, Nicks has cleaned up his game and come through with his two highest grades of the season according to the site.
Nicks always seemed to be involved in the marquee moments the past four years, maybe none more so than on the night Brees broke Dan Marino’s record for single-season passing yards. The athletic lineman turned and grasped the quarterback, lifting him up on his shoulder like a sack of rice.
It’s something Brees said he’ll always remember.
“He picked me up pretty easily, I’ll say that, too,” Brees said. “It’s not that you miss those moments, they’re frozen in time, you know, so you appreciate them.”
On Sunday, Nicks will go from friend to foe, however. The Bucs (2-3) host the Saints (1-4) at noon in a pivotal game for both.
While Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas will be happy to see Nicks, he’s hoping he doesn’t have to shed him too many times during the game.
“Hopefully there don’t have to be too many times where he has to engage with me and I have to engage with him because there’s not too many I’m going to win with that big guy,” Casillas said.
Nicks, for one, is looking forward to Sunday’s matchup against his former team.
“Why’s that?” he said. “For a whole bunch of reasons, but mainly so I can play the guys and play the team that let me go I guess.”