As of 3 p.m. CT on Saturday afternoon, the New Orleans Saints and their 31 NFL counterparts had to trim their rosters down from as many as 75 players to 53. The Saints made 22 official roster moves, waiving 16 players and terminating the contracts of 6 others as they joined the rest of the league in making the always-difficult final cuts.
Headlining the group of departures is veteran cornerback and future Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey. Bailey, who signed a two-year deal with the Saints in April, was competing to start opposite Keenan Lewis, but battled a nagging ankle injury throughout camp. He made his lone appearance of the preseason in the team's 23-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts last weekend, but left the game after reaggravating the ailment. Bailey's lack of special teams duty may have ultimately factored in to the team's decision to keep the younger Brian Dixon, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Northwest Missouri State.
Other notable players on the outs include veteran receiver Robert Meachem, OLB Keyunta Dawson and OL Marcel Jones. In addition, the Saints have parted ways with not one, but both kickers, as Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke have been let go. The two were competing for the job throughout the summer, and it is now possible that the team looks outside the organization for its next kicker. One of the two could also be brought back, as the team currently sits at 53 players but has yet to use its injured/designated for return option.
Fullback Erik Lorig remains rostered, though he could be a candidate for the short term injury tag, if not season-ending injured reserve. Rookie LB Khairi Fortt and reserve S Marcus Ball are still on the roster, though those two players could also be in contention for the short-term IR designation, which can only be administered to one player. The tag allows the player to return to the active roster as early as week 6.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Saints have made the following moves to meet the 53-man roster limit:
C Matt Armstrong, CB Derrius Brooks, WR Brandon Coleman, ILB Todd Davis, K Derek Dimke, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Charles Hawkins, TE Nic Jacobs, G Marcel Jones, WR Seantavious Jones, T Tavon Rooks, RB Derrick Strozier, NT Lawrence Virgil, CB Trevin Wade, S Pierre Warren, T/G Jason Weaver
CB Champ Bailey, OLB Keyunta Dawson, K Shayne Graham, FB Greg Jones, WR Robert Meachem, T Thomas Welch. Champ Bailey saw a training camp injury damage his chances of sticking with the Saints.
Beginning Sunday, the Saints and all other NFL franchises can begin assembling their 10-man practice squads. Many of these players, provided they pass through waivers unclaimed, will be eligible candidates for the practice squad. The Saints will hope that players such as Coleman, Jacobs, Brooks, Hawkins, Strozier, Marcel Jones and Pierre Warren will make it unclaimed. The league recently decided to expand the total number of practice squad spots from 8 to 10.
Here is the New Orleans Saints' current 53-man roster as things stand:
Thomas Morstead - P
Justin Drescher- LS
Andy Tanner - WR
Ty Nsekhe - OL
Ty Zimmerman - S
A.J. Davis - CB
Obviously, there is still more movement on the horizon, as the team must bring in a kicker and make at least one more additional corresponding move to accomodate such a transaction. Several quality kickers have been let go, including Ryan Succop, Alex Henery, Connor Barth and Jay Feely.
It was surprising to see Meachem let go, given his presence as a veteran and established perimeter blocker. It is possible that Meachem could be brought back after week 1, when his salary is no longer guaranteed. Given the fact that Kenny Stills has been battling a quad injury that has his week 1 status in question, it seemed likely for the Saints to head into the year with 6 receivers. However, they have, instead, opted to carry extra depth at the linebacker and defensive line positions. Robert Meachem was somewhat of a surprise cut by the Saints.
Dawson was another veteran we had expected to ease his way onto the final roster, though the team loves what it has in younger players like Edebali, Knox and Powell.
Kelemete has made the team over Marcel Jones, and both played well when called upon in the absence of Pro Bowl tandem Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in camp practices and preseason games.
Perhaps, Champ Bailey could remain in the team's plans down the road if injury or other circumstances that would hasten the need for an extra corner arise. A 12-time Pro Bowler, Bailey may find other suitors as he re-enters the open market, though his health may be the biggest question mark.
The team has elected to keep 3 quarterbacks. Luke McCown appears to have solidified himself as Drew Brees' top backup, and it is unlikely that the Saints would want to expose Ryan Griffin to the waiver wire.
Warren, another undrafted free agent, was somewhat of a surprise cut in his own right. The rookie had shined throughout practices and preseason matchups, and may have found his way onto the final squad had Ball's late-camp injury proven to be more significant. He is a surefire practice squad candidate, assuming no other team puts in a claim.
We will be sure to keep you updated as the team continues to shape its roster, with week 1 preparations for the Atlanta Falcons about to get underway full steam.