New Orleans signed four free agents who are projected starters, including weak side linebacker David Hawthorne, who had 115 tackles for Seattle last year. 

OG Ben Grubbs: Signed on March 15 from Baltimore, Grubbs was brought in as a replacement for Carl Nicks, who left for Tampa Bay on March 14. Nicks, an All-Pro selection in 2011, was the No. 1 guard available in free agency, while Grubbs was No. 2.

Is Grubbs (6-feet-3) as good as Nicks (6-5, 343), widely considered the best guard in the NFL? Probably not, but he filled what could have been a huge hole. Less massive than Nicks, he prides himself on his versatility and technique. He could become a perennial Pro Bowl participant after making the AFC roster for the first time in his fifth NFL season despite missing six games with a turf-toe injury.

MLB Curtis Lofton: Signed on March 25 from Atlanta, Lofton was brought in as a potential replacement for Jonathan Vilma, who was facing a likely suspension for his role in the bounty scandal and was coming of knee problems that limited his effectiveness in 2011. In early May, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ruled that Vilma would miss the entire season, although Vilma is hoping for a temporary restraining order in federal court that will allow him to play.

Lofton (6-0, 241) started all but one game in four years with the Falcons and made a career-high 147 tackles last season. He defended the run and the pass well, finishing with seven deflections and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He fits perfectly in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme and is a clear upgrade considering the deteriorating health of Vilma (three knee surgeries since last November).

DT Brodrick Bunkley: Signed on March 21 from Denver, Bunkley was brought in to shore up one of the Saints’ weakest positions. The quartet of Sedrick Ellis, Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers and Tom Johnson had 1.5 sacks while opponents averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Rogers and Franklin are gone. Bunkley is working with Ellis on the first unit.

It is too early to tell whether or not Bunkley (6-feet-3, 306 pounds) is the run-stuffer the Saints want. He has been quiet in the first two weeks of training camp after enjoying a bounce-back year in Denver, making 43 tackles. Philadelphia benched him in 2010, following three seasons as a full-time starter. He has not forced a fumble, recovered a fumble or had a sack since 2009.

Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on twitter@CBSSportsNFLNO.