Former WIU, two-time Super Bowl champion Khalen Saunders signs with Saints

Former WIU and Kansas City defensive tackle Khalen Saunders signed with the New Orleans Saints...
Former WIU and Kansas City defensive tackle Khalen Saunders signed with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday(AP)
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 9:13 AM CDT
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QUINCY (WGEM) - You can’t keep them all.

Former Western Illinois University and two-time Super Bowl champion Khalen Saunders is leaving the Kansas City Chiefs for a free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the St. Louis native agreed to a three-year deal worth $14.5 million on Wednesday, the first official day of NFL free agency.

Saunders, who played at WIU from 2014-18, has been with the Chiefs for the past four seasons, winning two Super Bowl championships and playing in a third.

In a message to Chiefs fans, Saunders wrote on his @khalenNOTkaylen Twitter account:

”The saying is ‘it is a business’ but not for me. For the last four years, I’ve built bonds and met friends that I claim as family. I’ve met mentors and role models, and people who will forever hold a place in my heart.

“To Mr. Hunt, Mr Veatch, Coach Reid and Coach Spags, I’m truly grateful that you took a chance on this FCS kid and turned him into a two-time world champion.

“To my former teammates, it’s been a pleasure. Some of the most phenomenal and stand-up men I’ve ever met.

“And to the Kingdom, thank you for showing me what ‘football culture is supposed to look like in a city. The Red and Gold will always be two colors woven into my DNA.”

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes saluted the former third-round pick on Twitter after news of his signing became public.

”Congrats big dawg! @khalenNOTkaylen. Going to miss locker room basketball tho!”

Saunders, 26, was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of WIU. Due to injuries, Saunders had a slow start to his career before having a breakout season for Kansas City in 2022.

The 6-foot, 324-pound Saunders appeared in 16 games for the Chiefs this last season, compiling 48 tackles (22 solo) and 3.5 sacks. Saunders also registered a sack in the club’s 38-35 Super Bowl LVII victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

SaintsWire, a Web site devoted to covering the team said of Saunders:

“He played a bit part for the Chiefs through his first three years, posting career-highs in defensive snaps (511), quarterback pressures (18), tackles (30), and PFF defensive stops (22) last season. He’s a steady player who offers more against the run than against the pass, so it’s odd to see that Kansas City played him on so many passing downs last year. The Saints can dictate that better by adding more depth to the line and carefully rotating him on and off the field. But Saunders is a great athlete for his size and he should do a lot to help the New Orleans defense win at the line of scrimmage. He makes a lot of hustle plays and was surprisingly effective corralling mobile quarterbacks looking to make a play outside the pocket.”

Saunders had just one NCAA Div. I offer coming out of Parkway Central High School in St. Louis before signing with WIU. But he earned All-MVFC honors three times, including first-team recognition in 2017 and 2018.

When Saunders arrived at WIU in 2014, he possessed an unusual skill set.

Despite weighing 295 pounds, he also played running back in high school. So during his career at WIU, he rushed for a touchdown and also caught a TD pass.

The Big Easy is a long way from Macomb.

Saunders got his rings in Kansas City, now he gets his money in New Orleans.

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