As tomorrow's 3 p.m. CT deadline to make final cuts looms, all NFL teams are preparing to perform their last chops and changes in regards to the makeup of their regular season rosters. Like all of their 31 NFL counterparts, the New Orleans Saints will have some difficult decisions to make in the next 24 hours, with some cuts possibly being announced as soon as today.
The team waived 11 players earlier this week in order to meet the 75-man deadline, and must now part ways with 22 more.
The good news is that the league recently decided to expand the number of practice squad players from 8 to 10, meaning the Saints can either stash an extra 2 of the cuts they hold in high regard that happen to pass through waivers unclaimed, or they can pounce on players waived by other teams.
Here is a position-by-position look at how we predict the Saints' final 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad will look by tomorrow afternoon:
Our take: Veteran McCown, re-signed by New Orleans in March, seems to have won the battle to back up Brees for the second year in a row. In one of the Saints' top camp battles of the offseason, McCown was competing with Griffin, who spent time on both the practice squad and active roster in 2013. Griffin is still held in high regard by team brass, though he may not have done enough to unseat McCown. Griffin played well in spurts during preseason, but the team likes what it has seen from McCown, who also served as a holder throughout the 4-game slate. Some teams reportedly considered signing Griffin off the team's practice squad a season ago, which prompted New Orleans to promote him to the active roster later in the year. This may give them second thoughts about waiving him in an attempt to place him back on the practice squad. The Saints could easily keep 3 quarterbacks right off the bat, but question marks at other positions, such as the injury to WR Kenny Stills, may make this one of the more difficult decisions. However, when the smoke clears, we still think the team remains high enough on Griffin to keep him on the roster for now.
Our take: Johnson beats out veteran Greg Jones, who was signed three weeks ago after Erik Lorig went down with a leg injury. Lorig was signed with an eye on assuming the position which was vacated after the team elected not to tender then-restricted free agent Jed Collins, who ultimately signed with Detroit. Johnson has been solid in the preseason, and has been in the system dating back to last season. Johnson is a capable blocker, and has displayed a reliable pair of hands to serve as a safety valve for Brees in the passing game. Look for Lorig to land on injured reserve. Jones would make a good, proven alternative, but the Saints like what they have in the younger Johnson.
Running Backs (4)
Our take: Thomas, Ingram and Robinson will form an effective three-pronged attack out of the Saints' backfield. Look for Thomas to continue to thrive in the screen game and on passing downs with an added impact on the ground. Ingram will be a change-of-pace while also displaying capability to handle a more fetaured role. The Saints will hope to see Robinson pick up where he left off at the end of 2014, and the former undrafted free agent, should continue to have his number called exclusively in short-yardage situations. Cadet will make most of his impact on special teams, but is a favorite of the coaching staff, and could be an injury away from a bigger role in the offense.
Wide Receivers (6)
Our take: Here's where it really gets difficult to justify carrying three quarterbacks. The injury to Stills is not thought to be serious enough to warrant using the injured/designated for return tag, an outlet which can only be applied to one player on the roster. This may force the team to carry an extra receiver, though there are other positions on the roster which may need an extra body due to depth and injury reasons. In addition to Stills, Marques Colston and rookie Brandin Cooks are locks, while Joe Morgan has seemingly cemented his place on the back of a strong finish to the preseason campaign. Nick Toon has not had a great showing in the preseason games, but has been consistent at practice, and the coaches still like his potential. Meachem was the team's best blocker on the perimeter a year ago, and the veteran seems poised for another go-around in black and gold. The Saints have typically carried 5 pure wide receivers (not counting special teamers such as Courtney Roby) on their roster throughout the Sean payton era, though Stills' injury could free up a temporary spot for a player like Toon or Meachem.
Tight Ends (3)
Our take: Perhaps, the easiest decision(s) to make. Graham, fresh off a long-term contract which brought a lengthy franchise tag saga to an end in July, is primed for another dominant season as Brees' go-to man. Watson is still a serviceable and experienced bookend when the team operates out of two-tight end sets. Hill is a young player to watch with a ton of upside. Look for undrafted free agent Nic Jacobs to land on the practice squad.
Offensive Line (8)
Our take: These are spots where some tough decisions will have to be made, as some of the team's reserves such as Jones and Senio Kelemete performed well while the likes of Pro Bowlers Grubbs and Evans nursed minor injuries throughout camp and preseason. Armstead staying healthy and continuing to blossom at the left tackle spot is a giant key for the Saints' desired success in 2014. Strief will return at right tackle, while Goodwin seems to be in the lead at center over the younger Lelito. Harris and Jones provide versatility to compensate in the event of an injury. The Saints took a flyer on Kansas State's Tavon Rooks in the draft, and he is a player likely ticketed for a practice squad spot.
Defensive Line (7)
Our take: This will be another interesting group to watch by tomorrow afternoon, as the team has options at these positions. They could choose to keep players like Brandon Deaderick and Glenn Foster around. Deaderick has been worked in with the first-team defense at times in camp, while Foster has been a regular standout in practices. The Saints could use some extra insurance with Jenkins coming off pectoral surgery, and bunkley having missed time last year. Saints' DE Cameron Jordan.
Our take: The OLB spots were crowded with talent throughout the offseason. A good problem to have, though Haralson, Dawson and Galette all seemed like locks from the get-go. Edebali, an undrafted free agent signing out of Boston College, has been this summer's camp success story. Look for Edebali to edge out fellow rookie Ronald Powell, who could benefit from a year on the practice squad given his injury history, provided he clears waivers. Payton alluded to the fact that Powell is still "learning" recently, perhaps a sign the team feels it can get more out of Edebali this season. Knox is another player the team is very high on, and could seek out a role in year 2 of Rob Ryan's defense. As for rookie Khairi Fortt, look for him to be a candidate for the Saints' designated to return label. Fortt, like Powell, has an injury history, so the Saints could also elect to stash him on IR and use that tag for a player like Lorig, or even Stills, if his injury is causing greater concern than we are led to believe.
Our take: The top-4 is a no brainer, especially taking into consideration the fact that both Robinson and future Hall-of-Famer Bailey are now healthy. Robinson has been one of the most improved players in camp, and is in the mix to start outside opposite Lewis, though Bailey should see plenty of snaps. White will play his usual role in nickel and dime packages, while rooke Jean-Baptiste looks to develop in his first professional season. Jean-Baptiste struggled at times in preseason game action, but also displayed glimpses of the skill set that attracted the Saints into using a 2nd round draft pick on the former Nebraska man. Brian Dixon, Trevin Wade and Derrius Brooks will all be candidates for the practice squad. Champ Bailey is hoping to be part of a Super Bowl run in New Orleans.
Our take: Vaccaro, Byrd and Bush are no brainers, while Sunseri and Warren, both rookies, have shined throughout camp. Marcus Ball would likely grab the last spot over the undrafted Warren, but the former CFL standout has been battling an injury during the latter stages of preseason, and could either land on the practice squad or injured reserve. Another difficult decision to make, though Warren's success, much like Edebali, has been fun to watch unfold.
Our take: Who would have thought that the kicking competition would end up being one of the most scintillating to follow throughout the summer? Kicker has been a somewhat precarious position during the Sean Payton era following John Carney's retirement. The likes of Olindo Mare, Billy Cundiff, Martin Gramatica and Garrett Hartley have been in the role and, outside of the inconsistent-at-best Hartley, the team has not quite found a truly reliable option. Graham replaced Hartley at the end of last season, and was neck-and-neck with Derek Dimke throughout the offseason. Look for Payton to go with the proven product in veteran Graham. Dimke is younger and has a stronger leg, but has never kicked in high-pressured situations like Graham. This could still go either way, though Graham's track record and veteran status likely always gave him the slightest of edges. The snapper named Justin and the coolest punter ever were always locks.
Practice Squad (10)
Our take: Obviously, some, if not most of these spots will be contingent on players such as Powell, Ball and Kelemete clearing waivers. There will be tough decisions to make here, even with the additional 2 spots at play. The likes of Charles Hawkins, Trevin Wade, Brian Dixon and Lawrence Virgil should also be in the mix for these spots.
Injured/Designated for return
As we mentioned above, this is a tag that could also be applied to players like Lorig, Stills, Powell or Marcus Ball. Fortt was being cross-trained at both inside and outside 'backer in Ryan's defense before suffering an injury during the team's second preseason game against the Titans. Given his injury history, he could also be a candidate for IR, though his most recent injury is believed to be minor in nature. If he is able to return, Fortt could be worked into a role, while carving out a niche on special teams. The Saints have enough capable bodies at the safety position which leads us to believe they would rather use this tag on Fortt as opposed to Ball.