Saints' burning questions: Marques Colston

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have several major roster decisions to make before the start of the new league year and free-agent signing period March 10. For starters, they must trim somewhere between $20 and $30 million in salary-cap space (most of which will be accomplished by converting roster bonuses into signing bonuses).

Over the next week or so, I’ll break down 10 of the most burning questions the Saints have to answer:

The question: Should the Saints keep Marques Colston?

Colston, 31, is due $7 million in salary and bonuses (plus another $7.8 million in 2016). He’s the all-time leading receiver in franchise history with 666 catches, 9,239 yards and 68 touchdowns since 2006. And coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees continued to praise him and show trust in him in big moments last year. But Colston’s production has steadily dropped off over the past two seasons.

Colston’s 2014 totals of 59 catches, 902 yards and five touchdowns all set or matched career lows in a healthy season. He also struggled with dropped passes, lamenting that he felt like part of the problem at times instead of part of the solution.

The answer: This is a tough one because the Saints could theoretically move forward with a young core of receivers (Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Jalen Saunders, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman -- flanked by tight end Jimmy Graham, who is essentially the team’s No. 1 receiver). And they could add a veteran receiver much cheaper if they feel it’s necessary.

But as we saw last year with the Saints’ defense, it’s not so easy to replace veteran leaders, especially ones who have earned the level of respect in the locker room and the level of trust on the field that Colston has.

Plus, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder does still bring value to the Saints’ versatile offense because of the mismatch issues he creates with his size and catching radius. Unlike a lot of the veteran leaders the Saints released last year (Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Lance Moore), Colston’s role hasn’t diminished significantly yet. He led the Saints receivers in snaps played last year by more than 200.

My best guess is the Saints will find a way to work out a pay cut with Colston to keep him in New Orleans for a 10th season -- as long as it comes at a significantly reduced rate. They’ve done similar things in the past with cherished leaders such as Deuce McAllister, Vilma, Smith and Harper, among others.

I’m not sure if that magic number is $2 million or $4 million. Colston’s market value is clouded because things such as trust and respect enter the mix. But as the Saints proved last year, they won’t keep him based solely on sentimentality.