The massive contract that tight end Jimmy Graham has not yet agreed to has led to some significant changes, including the release of the most veteran player on the roster and the acrimonious trading of a fan favorite.
And if we are to take his social media account at face value, the moves have come to the apparently oblivious Graham’s surprise.
Wide receiver Lance Moore, who was the last guy on the team to wear a Saints jersey while Jim Haslett was head coach, was released. Moore had been a major part of the team’s offense as a receiver and punt returner though his production dropped off this past season. The 5’9” wide receiver had caught 10 touchdowns in 2008 and 8 touchdowns in 2010 and 2011 though only hauled in 2 touchdowns in 2013. Moore was due to make almost $4 million.
Running back Darren Sproles’s succession of Reggie Bush as the team’s speedy running back was seamless. In fact, many fans felt that finally got in Sproles what they thought they were going to get with the oft-injured and difficult to deal with Bush. Sproles’s 603 yards on the ground in his first season with the Saints (2011) was more than any of Bush’s seasonal totals in his five years in New Orleans. And Sproles’s 600+ receiving yards in each of his three seasons with the Saints was greater than all but Bush’s rookie year total. Sproles was due to earn $3.4 million in base salary in 2014.
Both Moore and Sproles had signature moments with the Black and Gold.
Moore made a critical catch for a two-point conversion in the Super Bowl while it was Sproles who hauled in the record-setting pass that allowed his former San Diego Charger teammate to break Dan Marino’s season passing record in 2011. Sproles also set the record for all-purpose yards in a season that same year.
Sproles had lost a step in his game in the past two seasons. His rushing yards fell off dramatically since 2011 as have his punt and kick return averages. Joining the exodus was the man who was considered the smartest player on the defense.
Though not a Johnathan Sullivan or Shawn Knight, free safety Malcolm Jenkins (drafted as a cornerback) proved to be a disappointing pick if only for the future pro bowlers the team passed over: linebackers Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, wide receiver Percy Harvin and….a free safety from Oregon named Jairus Byrd.
The first defensive back selected in the draft, the “the” Ohio State product never played up to the high expectations, in no way filling the cleats of the player he succeeded as free safety in 2010.
In five seasons with the Black and Gold, Jenkins snagged six interceptions. In 2011 neither Jenkins nor the team’s starting strong safety grabbed a pick. In contrast, free safety Darren Sharper had nine interceptions in 2009 alone. The unrestricted free agent will join up with Sproles after coming to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Speaking of Roman Harper, the man who vexed more Saints fans than opposing offenses with his pass coverage, has signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Though many of the players let go helped win the franchise’s first Super Bowl, their lack of consistency since the 2009 season has kept the team from winning another championship.
The Saints were not going to bring to New Orleans a second Lombardi Trophy with Moore, Jenkins and Harper on the roster. And while I believe Sproles has at least one or two solid seasons left in him, it was time for the Saints to start developing the replacement talent, particularly with the return game.
There’s no question that Sproles is worth more than a 5th round draft pick, though that’s better than what the Saints got when they shipped Reggie Bush to Miami in 2011 (a special teams player that was later cut and a swap of 6th draft picks for the second overall selection in the 2006 draft). However every team knew that the salary-heavy Saints were not in much negotiating position as Sproles’s salary had to get moved from the books either by trade or cut.
After making a big splash by signing free safety Jairus Byrd to a loaded six year deal, bringing in a run blocking fullback (Erik Lorig) and retaining running back Pierre Thomas and tackle Zach Strief, the big task left for the Saints front office is to ink Graham to a long-term contract that doesn’t break the team bank or failing that trade the all-pro tight end to another team for premium draft picks, selections that could come in handy to address outstanding o-line, wide receiver and cornerback needs.