METAIRIE, La. – Carl Nicks figured he was on his way out of New Orleans before last season even ended, which only added to the All-Pro left guard's motivation.
"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, referring to a lack of contract talks with New Orleans during the 2011 season, his last before free agency. "So, I figured I better ball out, because I have to put my resume out there."
Nicks said he misses his former Saints teammates, who he'll face on Sunday in Tampa Bay. Still, he is happier with the Buccaneers, even joking in his typically goofy, free-speaking manner that his new workplace is all "lollipops and rainbows."
One big reason is because the Buccaneers gave him a five-year, $47 million free-agent contract, he acknowledged this week.
"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."
But there was more to it than that, he insisted.
"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."
Nicks did not necessarily see it as a sign of disrespect that the Saints did not see him in such a role. New Orleans already had players like fellow All-Pro Jahri Evans on the offensive line, and quarterback Drew Brees' contract holdout only complicated matters
"I knew Drew had to get his money first and that's how it should have been," Nicks said. "He's a franchise quarterback and he's much more in the community. He needed to get dealt with first and I totally understand that."
Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer, also the offensive line coach, said in losing the 6-foot-5, 349-pound Nicks, the Saints lost a blocker is simply "overpowering."
"He is a matchup win on almost everyone," Kromer said. "That's what makes him different."
Kromer said the Saints did as well as they could filling the void with Ben Grubbs, a former Pro Bowl guard at Baltimore. Kromer said Grubbs continues to be an elite NFL guard, and yet something has been amiss in the Saints' running game early this season. New Orleans is averaging 75.2 yards on the ground, which ranks 30th.
The Saints made Nicks their fifth-round draft choice in 2008, taking a calculated risk on a player whose draft status dropped because of off-the-field disciplinary problems. The move paid huge dividends as Nicks became a starter during his rookie season and held the spot full-time going into 2009, when New Orleans won its only Super Bowl.
Nicks also was part of last season's Saints offense that broke a slew of records, and memorable lifted Brees on his shoulder when the Saints quarterback broke Dan Marino's 1984 single-season record of 5,084 yards passing in a season.
"He picked me up pretty easily, I'll say that, too," Brees said.
Nicks said the Saints finally made him a competitive offer during free agency. He did not remember it precisely but said the annual average pay was more than Evans' seven-year, $56.7 million deal. By then, however, it was too late, Nicks said.
"Who knows what would have happened if they had offered me that deal ... before free agency started?" Nicks said.
Instead, he's protecting Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman this season, and run-blocking for LaGarrette Blount and Doug Martin.
"Carl has been a great addition. He is a physically dominating player," first-year Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano said. "He has been a great guy to have in the organization. He has been a leader on the offensive line. He has really been a positive addition."
Notes: Saints TE Jimmy Graham (right ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. "You always want to have your best players so we hope we're going to have him," Kromer said. "If we don't, then we just have to adjust accordingly. ... "Jimmy is mentally ready and he is a very tough guy. Pain doesn't affect him." ... LB David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and LB Scott Shanle (illness) did not practice.
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