Sproles, 30, has been one of the Saints' most dynamic offensive weapons the past three years. His release would come as an even bigger surprise than the recent decisions to part ways with receiver Lance Moore and defensive veterans Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer.
However, Sproles' production started to dip last year, and the Saints might be banking on a steeper decline in the near future. Sproles was due to receive $3.5 million in salary and bonuses this year, the last of his contract -- all of which can be saved against the salary cap.
Sproles alluded to a potential departure from New Orleans on Twitter.
Thank you New Orleans for your support over the past 3 years! I will always be forever grateful. #WhoDat
- Darren Sproles (@DarrenSproles) March 8, 2014
The Saints are an estimated $2 million to $4 million under the salary cap after releasing Moore on Friday. They also have been shopping running back Pierre Thomas as possible trade bait, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Sproles set the NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season with 2,696 in 2011, when he first joined the Saints as a free agent from the San Diego Chargers. During his three years in New Orleans, he has amassed 1,067 rushing yards, 1,981 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.
However, Sproles played in only about 33 percent of the Saints' offensive snaps during the 15 games in which he was active last year. And his numbers in 2013 (220 rushing yards, 71 receptions for 604 yards, four total touchdowns) were slightly down from past years.
Sproles, one of the most dynamic all-purpose men in league history, began his career with the Chargers in 2005. The 5-foot-6, 190-pounder has 15,492 all-purpose yards in his career -- and the most in the NFL since 2007 (13,806).
Sproles' teammate Jimmy Graham wrote on Twitter that he was "disappointed" with the team's decision.
Wow unbelievable. Shocked and disappointed on everything that's gone on this offseason.
- Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) March 8, 2014
Graham's new contract is a big part of the Saints' current salary-cap quandary. The Saints placed the franchise tag on Graham last week, which came with a cap hit of $7.05 million. Graham is also believed to be to seeking well over $10 million per year in a long-term contract.