The NFL on ESPN tweeted on Tuesday that the Saints were planning to trade Sproles to another team and the 30-year-old veteran was just as surprised as anyone to hear the news:
WOW! "@ESPNNFL: THIS JUST IN: Saints now plan to trade RB Darren Sproles due to heavy interest. He will not be released.— Darren Sproles (@DarrenSproles) March 11, 2014
The stuff u find out on twitter— Darren Sproles (@DarrenSproles) March 11, 2014
According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Sproles wants to be released rather than traded:
I want to get released. I don't want to be traded. I don't know where they would send me because I have no control over it, and I want to be able to pick. The good thing is none of the teams I'm told they're talking to are terrible. It's more than two. I feel I should have more of an idea later on today.
While Saints fans may be upset to see him leave, Sproles is smart to want to be released rather than dealt away.
During his three seasons with the Saints, Sproles was a productive and versatile back, recording 3,048 total yards and 21 total touchdowns. However, as you can see from the table below, his production has slipped every year he's spent in New Orleans.
Pro Football Reference
This is due to the Saints' crowded backfield, with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson all seeing action in 2013.
Sproles may bring a different set of skills than those three backs, but with other weapons like Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and now Kenny Stills in New Orleans, Sproles is becoming more expendable.
The good news for Sproles is that regardless of where he goes, he will likely be used often and still be a productive player. However, by being released instead of traded, Sproles is in control of more things.
According to Spotrac.com, Sproles is on the final year of his contract and set to make $3.4 million while counting for $4.25 million against the salary cap.
If he's released, the Saints will save $3.5 million, losing just $750,000 in dead cap space. Meanwhile, Sproles could become a free agent and sign a new, likely longer deal instead of having to wait to see if whichever team trades for him will give him an extension.
The biggest advantage for Sproles will be the fact that he'll be able to choose his team as a free agent and potentially cause a bidding war between two or three organizations.
With eight seasons under his belt, this is his last chance to get a big deal and teams like the New England Patriots or Washington Redskins could use his versatility in both the running and passing game.
What should the Saints do with Sproles?
However, there's no guarantee that Sproles gets a big deal. The running back position is gradually becoming less important in the NFL, with teams preferring to take RBs late in the NFL draft rather than dishing out big bucks on veterans.
Still, Sproles is used more often in the passing game than in the running game. With his top-end speed and elusiveness, teams would love to add him and gain a versatile weapon.
The Saints have the incentive to trade Sproles to not only save that $750,000 in cap space, but also get either some new faces or draft picks in a deal. That could make things difficult for Sproles, but if the team grants his wish to be released, the 30-year-old will be in much better shape.