Howard is guaranteed the $7.8 million

Updated: March 8, 2005, 3:19 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

For the second consecutive offseason, New Orleans defensive lineman Darren Howard will sign the one-year qualifying offer for a "franchise" player, ESPN.com has learned.

Darren Howard
Defensive End
New Orleans Saints
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Ast Solo FF Sack Int
46 38 8 4 11 0

But while the move will guarantee the $7.8 million which accompanies the "franchise" designation for the five-year veteran, and means the club cannot rescind the marker, it doesn't ensure that Howard will be back with the Saints in 2005.

Despite the significance the "franchise" designation implies, Saints officials are open to trading Howard if someone meets their asking price. It is believed that New Orleans is seeking a second-round draft choice. League sources said there have been discussions with at least one NFC franchise.

Agent Gary Wichard apprised New Orleans officials on Tuesday that he is filing the paperwork to accept the qualifying offer. Howard did the same thing last year, hoping to subsequently sign a long-term contract, but that never developed. In a surprising move, but one aimed at assuring that Howard didn't defect in unrestricted free agency, with New Orleans getting nothing in return, the Saints employed the "franchise" marker again two weeks ago.

There have once again been no negotiations, though, on a long-term contract.

The New Orleans financial situation does not dictate a trade of Howard, but moving him to another team would create substantial salary cap room and provide the team further flexibility in pursuing other players. Plus, the Saints already have two standout young defensive ends, both former first-round picks, in Charles Grant and Will Smith.

Howard, 28, should be attractive to teams seeking an accomplished two-way defender. Last year, the Saints often moved Howard to tackle in "nickel" situations and, despite little previous experience there, he was a force on the pass rush, tying his career best with 11 sacks. He also had 46 tackles, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, in only 12 starts.

A second-round pick in the 2000 draft, the former Kansas State standout has posted 229 tackles, 41 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, six recoveries and two interceptions, appearing in 69 games and starting all but one of them.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

ALSO SEE