The New Orleans Saints suddenly find themselves in the market for a pass-catching running back.
The Saints have decided to cut Darren Sproles, the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, just one day after rumors circulated that Sproles might be on the trade block along with Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas. Moore tweeted a farewell to Saints fans earlier Friday, with his own release imminent.
Sproles averaged 77.3 receptions over his three seasons with the Saints. The one-time Charger also rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored a total of 21 touchdowns in that span. Along the way, he became a terrific safety valve in the passing game for Drew Brees and remained a handful for opposing defenses.
Teammate Jimmy Graham, in the midst of his own contract standoff with the Saints over a pending franchise tag, did not hide his disappointment upon news of Sproles' expected release:
Wow unbelievable. Shocked and disappointed on everything that's gone on this offseason.
— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) March 8, 2014
The Saints will save $3.5 million on next year's cap by sending Sproles packing. They may also be able to find an adequate replacement in the upcoming draft, which is rife with versatile weapons at both wide receiver and running back. Both Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Kent State's Dri Archer, for example, could fit the bill as a substitute for Sproles.
Even considering those factors plus Sproles' nonexistence in the run game, the Saints' decision comes as a bit of a surprise. His fate may have been tied to that of Thomas, who now may be too irreplaceable to lose, despite the cap savings of nearly $3 million he could bring. Thomas was a reliable receiver out of the backfield last season and led the Saints in rushing -- that dual-threat ability might have been what propelled him ahead of the one-dimensional Sproles on the pecking order.
Sproles once was a feared kick and punt returner, too. But he had seen his duties there dwindle in recent seasons, from 40 attempts on kickoffs in 2011 to a combined 30 over the past two seasons. There should be a decent market out there for Sproles' abilities, despite the fact that he will turn 31 before Week 1 of the 2014 season. One option could be Minnesota, which now employs as its offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- Sproles' former head coach in San Diego. The Vikings need another option behind Adrian Peterson on the depth chart and Sproles definitely could fit as a third-down back.