Betts joined his new teammates for a two-hour practice at the Superdome but didn't wear shoulder pads and was held out of team drills as he continues to work his way back from surgery last fall to repair torn left knee ligaments. Coach Sean Payton said Betts will not play against the Houston Texans on Saturday night in the Superdome.
"He is coming off an injury, so we need to monitor and be smart about how we practice him, especially in the first couple of weeks back with his ACL," Payton said. "His experience was something that we valued and his workout was good."
New Orleans worked out Betts on Aug. 3 but did not sign him. The team's interest intensified when third-string back Lynell Hamilton suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice against New England on Aug. 11. Hamilton cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve Monday.
"They basically wanted to see how my knee would hold up during the workouts, planting and cutting," Betts said. "I'm assuming they like what they saw. I was able to get in and out of my cuts. They said, 'You look pretty good,' so they decided to bring me on."
Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are firmly entrenched as the Saints' top two halfbacks, but the team carried four last season. Hamilton, who played primarily on special teams, was in position to become the third back after Mike Bell signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in the offseason.
"Those guys are established," Betts said. "They've been here. They helped this team win [the Super Bowl] last year. I'm just trying to fit in wherever I can. I like to consider myself a between-the-tackles runner. Hopefully once the coaches see what I can do, they'll use me to my strengths."
Betts, a nine-year veteran who turns 31 on Aug. 27, joins second-year player P.J. Hill and rookie free agent Chris Ivory in the race to back up Bush and Thomas. He will earn $755,000 in salary this season and can earn an additional $250,000 in incentives.
A second-round draft choice in 2002, the 5-foot-11, 224-pound Betts had spent his entire career with Washington before being released March 4. In eight seasons he rushed for 3,176 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 165 passes for 1,505 yards and three touchdowns. His best season came in 2006, when he accounted for 1,599 all-purpose yards and scored five touchdowns.
"He is a veteran player, a good all-around football player," Payton said. "He is someone who we think has pretty good balance and understands protections well."
To make room on the roster for Betts, New Orleans released free-agent wide receiver Larry Beavers, who returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown during a 27-24 loss to the Patriots last Thursday.