METAIRIE, La. -- It makes perfect sense for the New Orleans Saints to be shopping running back Pierre Thomas and receiver Lance Moore as possible trade bait, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. I’m not as keen on the idea of trading running back Darren Sproles -- but I at least understand the logic behind considering all of those options.
The idea of trading any of those players must be more palatable to the Saints than the idea of releasing them outright. They’ve been so valuable to New Orleans’ offense for so many years, and all of them still have value going forward.
But the Saints have to make some tough choices because of their salary-cap situation. And Thomas and Moore, especially, have become part-time players whose salaries no longer match the way they’re being used in New Orleans’ offense. That’s why I’ve repeatedly identified them as possible salary-cap casualties or pay-cut candidates throughout this offseason.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think Thomas and Moore could be worth their salaries ($2.9 million and $3.8 million, respectively) if they were featured in more full-time roles. But that is just not how the Saints opted to use them last season as younger players emerged at their positions.
Thomas, 29, played exactly 50 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps last year in the regular season -- and that was before backups Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson stepped up and played their best football in the playoffs. The Saints have an embarrassment of riches at a position that they don’t feature that often in their pass-heavy offense.
Moore, 30, was relegated to the Saints’ third receiver role behind rookie Kenny Stills last season after Moore returned from a hand injury in October. That was a head-scratcher to me. I think Moore was underutilized last season compared to his past production. But if that’s the role the Saints project him in again in 2014, I could see why they might consider making a move.
Sproles, 30, also played in only about 33 percent of the Saints’ snaps during the 15 games in which he was active. And his numbers were slightly down from years past (220 rushing yards , 71 receptions for 604 yards, four total touchdowns.) But I still think his skill set as a dynamic runner/receiver is so unique that he would be much tougher to replace.
As to whether other teams will bite, that is even tougher to predict. The free-agent market for running backs this year seems pretty thin, but the market (and the draft class) for receivers seems pretty deep.
The Saints are estimated to be slightly under the salary cap. And they should be able to carve out millions more in space by restructuring some current contracts. So they don’t have to cut anybody before the start of free agency on Tuesday. But they will probably have to release at least one more player or work out one or two pay cuts if they want to fill needs elsewhere on the roster.