Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. ― Jermon Bushrod sat in his locker Tuesday, a day after exit interviews were finished, and was hit with a question he likely knew was coming but still wasn't happy about answering.

Where would the Saints be without quarterback Drew Brees, receiver Marques Colston and left guard Carl Nicks, all unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins?

'Truthfully I don't really know where we'd be without them because we're not there yet,' said Bushrod, who signed a two-year deal in August when training camp began. 'I just know the time we've spent together has been tremendous. I've loved every minute of playing with all of them. And honestly, I hope all three of them come back because they're key people to this organization, to this team and to this locker room.'

It's assumed that Brees will return coach Sean Payton said stunned wouldn't be the word if the quarterback doesn't return.

However, Colston and Nicks, two cogs in the Saints' record-breaking offense this past season, could potentially leave New Orleans for greener (meaning more money) pastures.

For Bushrod, losing Nicks would mean losing one of his best friends on the team

For receiver Lance Moore, who re-upped with the Saints on a four-year contract in July, both coming back would be great. But he understands where they're coming from.

'This year will be interesting because we have so many guys that are integral parts of what we do on offense,' Moore said. 'It'll be interesting. Our general manager Mickey Loomis and everybody up there are smart and they know what they're doing. Hopefully they'll be able to get it done.'

Colston ended the season with 80 catches for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. His 14.3 yard-per-catch average was best among those with 50 or more catches. Since 2006, when he was drafted, the only year he didn't hit 1,000 yards receiving was 2008, when he missed five games due to injury.

Nicks earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl berth this season and was a first team All Pro for the first time in his career. He's largely regarded as one of the top interior linemen in the NFL.

But the Saints already have Jahri Evans, their right guard, tied up with the richest contract in the league, which could prove to be a wall in re-signing Nicks.

Other unrestricted free agents include receiver Robert Meachem, cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Also, defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers, Jeff Charleston and Turk McBride; safety Jonathan Amaya; linebacker Ramon Humber; kicker John Kasay; and offensive lineman Pat McQuistan.

Receiver Adrian Arrington is a restricted free agent, as is quarterback Chase Daniel, while long-snapper Justin Drescher and center Brian de la Puente are exclusive rights free agents.

For Dunbar, there's a lot in play in his decision-making. While the Saints signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2008, he has earned his way into playing time under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

But Williams' contract expired and he agreed to the same job in St. Louis.

Still, his time in New Orleans and those in the locker room could sway him into re-signing with the Saints if they still want him.

'I've only been in the league for four years and this is the only place I've been,' Dunbar said. 'It's tough to think about me not being here. I'm comfortable. I like the coaches. I like the players. I like the scheme. But I understand it's a business and you do what you have to do and I understand that.'

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