The initial purge of players has come and gone in New Orleans, and it appears the Saints are not done yet. With the tough decision to release Lance Moore being taken on Friday, the team is also believed to be shopping Running Backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, as they look to create further cap space ahead of free agency.
Following Moore's release, the Saints cleared a further $2.5 million in cap room, but will have to eat just as much in "dead" money. However, with several key players such as Zach Strief, Brian de la Puente, Parys Harralson and Malcolm Jenkins set to hit the open market next week, New Orleans is still looking to acquire further wiggle room under the cap. Before releasing him, the Saints were said to be exploring trade options for Moore. Now, veteran rushers Thomas and Sproles may be next on the block.
Thomas, an important figure in the Saints offense in recent seasons, has a reasonable $2.9 million salary due to him in 2014. But with Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson waiting in the wings, coupled with Thomas's durability issues and age, the team could explore moving on without the former undrafted product out of Illinois. Thomas is one of the more unheralded players in the league, and is one of many undrafted diamonds in the rough to make his way onto the Saints' active roster during the Sean Payton era. Getting Thomas's salary off the books would give slightly more flexibility to the Saints' finances, and every little bit will surely help as the team looks to tie up its own free agents while also trying to come to an agreement with franchise player Jimmy Graham.Pierre Thomas...on the trade block?
Sproles has played an important role as well during his years as a Saint. After beginning his career in San Diego, Sproles joined New Orleans ahead of the 2011 season, reuniting with former Chargers teammate Drew Brees. Sproles is scheduled to earn around $3.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2014. He had an indifferent season with the Saints in 2013, battling injuries and at times getting lost in the Saints' backfield shuffle.
Sproles is most effective in space, operating in a similar role to what Reggie Bush played in Payton's offense while also contributing in the return game. He is entering the final year of his contract, and could attract interest from a contending team in need of a change-of-pace back. As he earns the most money out of all his backfield mates in New Orleans, it is looking more likely that Sproles may be on the outs as a Saint. Coming off a disappointing season by his standards, Sproles's roster spot seemed safe before the harsh reality of the Saints' financial situation began to unfold.
Having already chopped their way under the cap, the Saints are preparing for what is likely to be a quiet free agency in terms of bringing in new faces to New Orleans. The team's priorities will be to retain as many of their own restricted and unrestricted free agents as possible, while finding a way to settle what could be a lengthy negotiating process with Jimmy Graham. Unfortunately, players such as Sproles and Thomas, who have played such key parts in the team's recent success, may have to go in order to help aid the club's financial structure. Unable to find any takers for Moore on the trade market, the Saints will explore all options before making what could be their next tough decisions of the 2014 offseason.