New Saints FB Erik Lorig won’t carry the load, but he can show off some skills

The next time New Orleans Saints fullback Erik Lorig rushes the football will be the first time he performs that function after four NFL seasons.

And yet despite that glaring statistic — zero carries in 56 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Lorig possesses the versatility that Saints coach Sean Payton sought when filling the void created by the departure of fullback Jed Collins in free agency to the Detroit Lions.

Lorig caught Payton’s eye while he viewed cut-ups of Buccaneers game tape during the weeks leading up to free agency. In Payton’s estimation, Lorig played a significant role in the Buccaneers’ ability to run and pass, especially during the second half of a season that culminated with the dismissal of coach Greg Schiano and General Manager Mark Dominik.

Exit Collins and enter Lorig, who signed a four-year, $4.8 million contract that included a $1 million signing bonus. Counting his base salary of $750,000 and $50,000 workout bonus, the 27-year-old stands to pocket $1.8 million this season.

That’s a strong financial commitment paid to a player at a position that seldom gets a touch in the Saints prolific, pass-oriented offense.

By comparison, Collins, a productive role player in the Saints offense and on special teams from 2011-13, inked a one-year, $710,000 contract with the Lions that calls for a base salary of $645,000 and a $65,000 signing bonus.

Though Lorig graded out as the NFL’s 19th-best fullback by Pro Football Focus last season, he is regarded as a decent receiver out of the backfield and at tight end. In four seasons, he has 30 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s big (6-foot-4 and 250 pounds), he’s physical and he can catch the football,’’ Payton said after Thursday’s organized team activities. “He’s an interesting player when you look at his size and some of the production he had last year ... and he’s young.’’

Regarded as an outstanding tight end/linebacker prospect coming out of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, California, Lorig switched to defensive end at Stanford after his redshirt freshman season. He entered his senior season on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, presented to the top defensive end in the nation, but a strained groin ended his season after five games.

Tampa Bay selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and converted him to fullback to take advantage of his athleticism. His most productive season came in 2012, when he caught 12 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown.

“I don’t want to say there was a ‘wish’ list, but it was, ‘Let’s pay attention and see if we can get him on a visit,’ ” Payton said. “He and I share the same agent (Don Yee), which was just coincidence. It was interesting how the process worked out.’’

For Lorig, it was an easy decision, in part perhaps because of the payout.

“This was the right place,’’ said Lorig, who excels on special teams. “All of the elements considered, this was the best situation and I was very excited to come here.

“The Saints are a winning program, a winning team, and this is an organization that has been winning for a while. It’s great to be in this kind of situation, this platform of high-performance football.’’