Now an emerging star at left guard, Nicks decided that his allegiance should remain with coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and the team that gave him his first shot in the NFL, at least for one more season.
Nicks, who has thrived in a starting role for most of his first three pro seasons, arrived at Saints headquarters on Monday, four days into training camp, and signed a restricted free-agent tender worth about $2.61 million for this season.
"They took a chance," Nicks recalled in reference to his 2008 arrest for failing to leave the scene of a party police broke up while he was at Nebraska. "I had a lot of questions coming out of college and Payton drafted me, Mickey drafted me, so my loyalty stands with these guys first and foremost."
Nicks' signing was one of a couple of transactions the Saints made, including the re-signing of free agent reserve tackle Zach Strief and the signing of free-agent linebacker Clint Ingram, who was with the Saints in 2010 but never played because of his slow recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee. Later Monday night, the Saints added Cecil Newton, a former reserve center for Jacksonville who is Cam Newton's brother.
The 6-foot-5, 343-pound Nicks, whose ability on the field was highly rated but who fell to the fifth-round of the 2008 draft because of his arrest, started 13 games as a rookie and has remained the starting left guard ever since.
Nicks did not report when training camp opened last week because he wanted to see if he would receive a better offer from another club, which the Saints then would have been forced to match to retain him. He has since decided the chances of that were slim because the tender offer the Saints made to him was high enough to require any other team that signed him to compensate New Orleans with a first-round draft pick.
"At the end of the day, I wanted to come back anyway. I know the system. I got [quarterback] Drew [Brees], a great offensive line, great bunch of guys," Nicks said. "I wanted to prove my worth and maybe next year we can talk long-term.
"It's just a relief being back in the system, being back in locker room even. I missed my guys," Nicks continued. "We hang out all the time -- offseason, during the season, after practice, after games -- so I didn't want to lose that."
His teammates were pleased to see him as well.
"He's probably the most physical guard in the league," right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. "You combine that with [right guard] Jahri [Evans], who is also arguably also the most physical guard in the league, it's a nice one-two punch to have. That's where the strength of our line starts, with our guards."
Nicks' arrival on Monday means free-agent center Jonathan Goodwin is the only 2010 starter on the offensive line not yet back with New Orleans.
"Jonathan Goodwin is a big part of that offensive line. He pretty much holds us together," Nicks said. "It would be nice to have him back, but the way this business goes, you never know."
Ingram did not practice on Monday but should be able to take the field after the Saints take Tuesday off.
Payton said the Saints monitored Ingram even after giving up on his ability to get healthy for last season.
"He is going to be healthier than he was a year ago," Payton said. "He is still someone who is young. When he was healthy, he played very well. [He is] another player that we feel is a year removed from the injury and the surgery and we feel that will benefit him specifically, a lot."
Ingram, 28, has played four seasons in the NFL, all with Jacksonville from 2006-09. He started 46 games during that span, with 159 tackles, 5½ sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
The Saints also were awaiting the arrival of defensive end Turk McBride, a free agent defensive end whom the Saints acquired on Sunday night.
Payton called McBride, who had five sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 15 games with Detroit last season, a "high-energy player [who] is disruptive, plays with great effort, and probably had one of his better seasons last year with regards to production."
The Saints were still trying to sign their top overall draft pick, defensive end Cam Jordan, who was taken 24th overall out of California.
A person familiar with the negotiations told the Associated Press the delay resulted from questions over whether Jordan should receive three or four years of guaranteed salary.
The person, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because negotiations were ongoing, said the overall amount of money probably would be in the range of $7.7 million for four seasons, based on $7.64 million for four years that 25th pick James Carpenter received from Seattle.
Carpenter only got the first three years guaranteed. However, of the players picked ahead of Jordan who have agreed to contracts so far, all have received four-year guarantees. And several picks in the range of 17 through 23 had not been signed yet, leaving uncertainty over what the standard length of guaranteed salaries would be for players drafted in that range.
Players sitting out with injuries included: LT Charles Brown (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (foot), CB Tracy Porter (knee), DE Greg Romeus (knee), and G Carl Johnson (hamstring), CB Josh Gatlin (thumb and knee), LB Jerimiha Hunter (heel), and WR Michael Galatas (hamstring). ... The day off on Tuesday represents a schedule change. The original camp schedule had Wednesday listed as a day off, but Payton decided to move it up one day because the team remains thin at some positions, meaning some players are involved in 75 percent to 80 percent of the snaps in practice. Payton said practice will now resume on Wednesday. ... Payton also decided to do away with a scheduled scrimmage on Saturday and replace it with a regular practice, in large part because players who signed as free agents after the lockout ended will have only just begun practicing. ... When asked about the possibility of a contract extension, Brees, who is in the last year of a six-year deal, was not revealing much. Brees has the same agent as Peyton Manning, who recently agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract that in essence sets the standard for elite quarterbacks. "When the time comes, it'll come," Brees said of a possible extension with New Orleans. "We've all talked. So I think we have a plan -- but that's our plan."