Darren Sproles: Analyzing Top Fits for Recently Cut Saints RB
The winds of change are blowing through the Big Easy.
Stuck in one of the more precarious cap situations in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints have made a handful of veteran cuts. On Friday, the deepest cut of all came.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, the Saints are planning to release 30-year-old running back Darren Sproles, who played the last three years in New Orleans.
Given that Sproles topped 800 total yards and 70 receptions in each of his three seasons with the Saints, there will be plenty of interest in Sproles as a third-down back.
Toss in that Sproles' 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011 were an NFL record, that interest will likely also be widespread.
With that in mind, here's a look at some teams that make a lot of sense as suitors for Sproles.
From a strictly football standpoint, Darren Sproles makes a lot of sense for the Tennessee Titans.
As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk reports, the general consensus is that the Titans will part ways with running back Chris Johnson in the offseason, rather than pay Johnson's $8 million salary.
Shonn Greene remains in Nashville to handle the early-down work, but Greene's career high in catches is 30. A third-down back he isn't.
The Titans would be well-served to take some of the cap savings from letting Johnson go and make a run at Sproles, even if running back is a priority in the draft.
The biggest sticking point? Money, as the Titans are presently only about $9 million under the 2014 salary cap, according to Spotrac.
Last year, the defending AFC South champion Atlanta Falcons added running back Steven Jackson in free agency, confident he was the final piece in a Super Bowl puzzle.
Instead, Jackson was one of several Falcons who spent much of the year hurt, the Falcons finished the season dead last in the NFL in rushing and Atlanta free-fell to 4-12.
Jackson will be back in 2014, but last year served as a stern reminder that Jackson's 2,553 career carries are tops among active running backs.
In Sproles the Falcons would acquire a productive running back capable not only of taking some pressure off Jackson, but also providing a badly needed upgrade in the return game.
Sproles, on the other hand, would get the chance to show the Saints they made a mistake twice each season.
New York Giants
It wasn't that long ago that the New York Giants had one of the deepest backfields in the NFL.
Wilson's neck injury leaves his status moving forward very much in doubt, and Brown's a free agent.
In other words, a New York ground game that ranked 29th in the NFL last year badly needs a shot in the arm.
Sproles can't carry the run game on his own, but he'd be a welcome addition, either as a complement to Brown or perhaps as part of a rotation with a rookie.
The Indianapolis Colts weren't supposed to be in this position.
When the Colts traded a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns last year for running back Trent Richardson, that was supposed to solve their backfield problems for the foreseeable future.
Instead, Richardson averaged fewer than three yards a carry for his new team, and the same old question mark at running back remains.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Donald Brown, who was much more effective than Richardson on a per-touch basis in 2013, is himself a free agent this year.
Granted, the Colts have the cap space ($38.1 million per Spotrac) to re-up Brown if they choose.
Or, general manager Ryan Grigson—who has shown he isn't afraid to rock the boat—may decide to pair Richardson with Sproles, who could do some serious damage catching short passes in Pep Hamilton's offense.
Green Bay Packers
Admittedly, this one is something of a long shot.
It's not for a need of cap space. According to Spotrac, the Green Bay Packers are just fine in that regard, with just over $35 million to spend.
However, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was the pioneer of a growing philosophy in the NFL: spend very judiciously in free agency.
With that said, were the money right, the thought of Sproles on the Green Bay offense is almost frightening, and the 10th-year veteran would be a great complement for youngster Eddie Lacy.
Just last year the Packers realized the running back position does in fact exist. Maybe this year they'll start throwing to them and everything.