Though a dynamic threat, Darren Sproles
' all-purpose yards sank in the past two years. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore combined for 185 receptions and more than 2,800 all-purpose yards last season for the New Orleans Saints. Now, all three could be on the trade block. (UPDATE: Moore said goodbye to New Orleans on Twitter Friday, suggesting he's been cut.)
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Saints are "shopping" Thomas and Moore and "even could be open to trading" Sproles. The main motivation here comes from the salary cap: Combined, that trio could save the Saints $7 million next season by being either traded or released.
The most valuable, financially and within the framework of the Saints' roster, is Sproles. He will carry a cap number of $4.25 million into 2014, which is his final season under contract -- just $750K of that total would settle as dead money on the Saints' books should he be moved prior to next season.
Though he remains a unique talent out of the backfield, Sproles is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. His 1,273 all-purpose yards fell 304 shy of his 2012 total (1,577) and were less than half of what he accumulated during an incredible 2011 campaign (2,696).
If the Saints are not convinced they could keep him beyond this season (or believe they can acquire an adequate replacement through the draft in, say, DeAnthony Thomas), moving him might be an option.
Pierre Thomas could drive some interest as well. Also headed into the last season of his current contract, Thomas totaled 549 yards rushing and another 513 receiving during an impressive dual-threat season. Despite the presences of Sproles, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, Thomas emerged as the No. 1 running back for the Saints.
Moore's 2013 performance was far less impressive. He dipped down to just 37 receptions, his lowest total since an injury-plagued, 14-catch showing in 2009. Where he does still stand out for the Saints is in the experience department. Aside from the veteran Marques Colston and Moore, the Saints feature a bevy of young receivers including 2013 draft pick Kenny Stills and 2012 fourth-rounder Nick Toon.
Recent updates had the Saints less than $10 million clear of the 2014 cap, and that's before they slapped the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham. A long battle may ensue over Graham's status -- is he a tight end or a wide receiver in tag terms? -- but the end result will be similar: several millions devoted to Graham for the upcoming season.
All that means the Saints have minimal wiggle room at the moment. Thomas actually has no remaining guaranteed money on his contract, which is why he was viewed as a possible cut anyway. Simply sending him to the curb, though, would substantially downplay his impact on the team last year and his value within the NFL. Given his 2013 output, the Saints ought to be able to score at least a low draft pick for him.
The market might be higher for Sproles, should New Orleans stumble across a team hoping to upgrade its versatility out of the backfield. Even at 30 years of age, Sproles remains as much of a RB receiving threat as just about any player in the league.
That the Saints are even considering these moves highlights the difficulty front offices face in keeping teams together under the salary cap -- especially when that team includes high-priced talents like Graham and Drew Brees.
New Orleans probably would prefer to carry Thomas, Sproles and Moore on its roster into the 2014 season. Will that be possible?
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