Saints choose Thomas over Sproles

And now for some more good news for New Orleans Saints fans: One day after signing one of the biggest names on the free-agent market in safety Jairus Byrd, the Saints announced that they are re-committing to one of their most popular veterans -- running back Pierre Thomas.

The Saints ultimately chose to keep Thomas over fellow veteran Darren Sproles – agreeing to a two-year contract extension with Thomas on Wednesday.

Although the Saints were shopping both players as possible trade bait last week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, it makes sense that the Saints only wanted to let one of them go.

Thomas, 29, now remains as the Saints’ best receiver and best pass protector in a still-deep backfield that also includes promising young runners Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.

I was admittedly more keen on the idea of keeping Sproles, since he’s such a unique weapon. But I’ve always been high on Thomas’ abilities as a do-everything back, and I’ve written often about him being one of the most underrated backs in the NFL.

Plus, Thomas is a year younger than Sproles, has put a little less tread on his tires over the years, and should come at a cheaper price tag.

And Thomas is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. He ran for 549 yards last season and caught a career-high 77 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns. He appeared in every regular-season game, playing exactly 50 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps, before suffering a chest injury that sidelined him for the playoffs.

Thomas was due $2.9 million in the final year of his contract this season. The details of his new deal haven’t been released yet, but it’s likely that the Saints structured it in a way that will slightly lower his 2014 cap number.

Trading Sproles and reworking Thomas’ deal should give the Saints enough space to fit Byrd under the salary cap (assuming the Saints back-loaded Byrd's monster six-year, $54 million contract). But New Orleans will still need to carve out some more space to sign other players.

The Saints could manage that by restructuring current contracts or possibly releasing one or two more players.

This has been a tough offseason for the Saints’ fans and the organization alike, with the team parting ways with several longtime veterans. But these two latest moves should put a little extra spring in everyone’s step around New Orleans.