The cuts keep coming in New Orleans.
It came to light earlier last week that the New Orleans Saints were actively shopping running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles as well as wide receiver Lance Moore. On Friday, the Saints announced Moore and Sproles had been cut after no potential trade partners surfaced.
This news comes about a month after the Saints decided to part ways with veteran defensive players Will Smith, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper. All of these moves were made to give the Saints some cap room relief. Mostly this is a move to find the necessary cap room to sign franchise tagged tight end Jimmy Graham to a long-term deal.
The news of these releases did not sit well with Graham who sent out a tweet saying:
The biggest question surrounding these moves: Is Jimmy Graham worth all these moves? While Graham is without question the second-biggest part of this offense, all three of these players have had a large part in the Saints offense as well.
Moore has had six or more touchdowns in four of the past five seasons (excluding the 2009 season when he was injured). In the three years Sproles has been with the team, he has totaled 22 touchdowns and registered 70 or more receptions each year. Thomas, being the primary running back for the team, has amassed at least 800 yards in six of his eight seasons in the league. The only exceptions were his rookie year and in 2010 when he was injured.
The loss of Moore is lessened by the emergence of Kenny Stills last year who had 640 yards on just 20 receptions and five touchdowns. Still, this leaves the Saints thin at the position, especially after Marques Colston seemingly lost a step last year. The Saints will most likely look to retool in the draft given the depth at the receiver position.
Sproles would arguably be the biggest loss of the group. He was a prized free-agent pickup in 2010 and immediately made his impact felt, setting the record for all-purpose yards in a season. He has been an extremely versatile weapon for Drew Brees, making his presence most felt in the passing game where he is a matchup nightmare.
If both Sproles and Thomas are released, that leaves the brunt of the duty to former first-round pick Mark Ingram. If New Orleans feels he cannot take the full load, they could dip into the draft to find some help.
Graham is a freak of a player and can carry this offense. He is one of Drew Brees' most trusted targets. The biggest concern comes with the possibility of injury. Last year, New England looked lost without Rob Gronkowski because they had little depth at the other receiver positions. If Graham goes down with injury, the entire offense could really feel the impact of these cuts.
As for Moore and Sproles, they should have little trouble finding contracts with another team. Kevin Patra on NFL.com expects the Detroit Lions to be a potential landing spot for Moore. He mentioned that, "Former New Orleans quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi took over as offensive coordinator in Detroit and admitted he's running the Saints' base offense." He could also land with a receiver-needy team like Indianapolis or the New York Jets. He would benefit most from a more vertical offense like he ran in New Orleans.
Sproles probably has the best chance to land a job somewhere else as he is a very versatile player who, despite being 30 years old, has very fresh legs due to his limited use. There are a number of teams that could use a could change-of-pace back like Sproles. Tennessee or New England could be in the market depending on the futures of Chris Johnson and Stevan Ridley, respectively.
The future of the Saints is not quite as certain. Obviously it remains to be seen what the impact of all these moves, and any possible future moves, will be. One thing is certain: A team that already had a number of holes to fill now has even more spots to fill.
With all these holes now popping up, they have to either rely on untested players to fill the roles of the departed stars or they have to rely on rookies. Either way, if there is just one chink in the armor, the Saints could easily be passed by the rest of the division and wind up at the bottom.