Saints Training Camp: Veterans on the Bubble
The New Orleans Saints are preparing to enter training camp for their 54th NFL season. The elimination of offseason workouts and cancellation of preseason games because of the Covid-19 pandemic will make roster decisions more difficult for coaches throughout the league. The NFL has not yet announced whether the rosters or practice squads for the 2020 season will be expanded, but there are always surprise veteran cuts throughout the league every preseason. That will also be the case in New Orleans, who has one of the league's deepest rosters. With fierce competition at every position expected, a few Saints veterans could be left out once roster decisions are made.
PATRICK ROBINSON (CB)
The 32-Yr old Robinson is the most overpriced and vulnerable member of an otherwise strong New Orleans defense. He accounted for over $5.3 million of cap space in 2020, despite playing in just 16% of the defensive snaps. When Robinson was on the field, he often looked out of position and was targeted by opposing quarterbacks with frequent success. Recall it was Robinson who gave up the deep completion to Vikings WR Adam Thielen to set up Minnesota's game-winning touchdown in last January's 1st round playoff loss.
Second-year S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is the team's top coverage option in the slot, and the Saints have one of the league's best CB tandems in Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. Veteran P.J. Williams gives New Orleans additional options at the position, while CB Justin Hardee is a key special teams contributor.
The Saints restructured Robinson's contract this offseason to lessen his cap hit to $3.35 million in 2020, but he would still create $2.5M in dead cap space if released. New Orleans added two UDFA rookie CBs in Keith Washington and Tino Ellis, along with XFL interception leader Deatrick Nichols to provide competition at this offseason. Robinson's 10-Yr NFL experience still gives him the edge for a roster spot with no preseason games. However, if one of the young additions outplay him in practice, Robinson could find himself looking for a different team.
MARIO EDWARDS JR. (DE/DT)
The 26-Yr old Edwards had 3 sacks, 4 QB pressures, 3 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in fifteen games in his first season with New Orleans. In the last year of a deal, he will count $3.24M against the team's salary cap this season but would only create $895,000 in dead cap space if released.
Edwards provides valuable versatility and can play either outside or inside, but the New Orleans defensive line is perhaps the deepest in the NFL. The Saints also added Margus Hunt and UDFA rookie Malcolm Roach to the competition this offseason, and both are players who can also play multiple line positions.
NICK EASTON (G/C)
New Orleans signed Easton to a hefty four-year contract in 2019 after the retirement of C Max Unger. He was beaten out by rookie 2nd round pick Erik McCoy for the job and was inactive for six of the Saints' first nine games. Easton stepped in for injured LG Andrus Peat for six games at midseason and played well for a line that allowed just six sacks and averaged 110 yards rushing.
The 28-Yr old Easton will count $5.8M against the Saints salary cap in 2020, but his release causes only $1.5M in dead cap. While Easton's a proven backup, cheaper and more versatile options like T/G James Hurst, T/G Patrick Omameh, or undrafted rookie Calvin Throckmorton could overtake him the depth chart.
TRE'QUAN SMITH (WR)
The 24-Yr old Smith has been a disappointment since New Orleans drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft. In 26 games, he has 46 receptions for 661 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith has teased coaches and fans with game-breaking potential but disappears for long stretches and hasn't been a consistent producer. He has not had a single reception in eight of those 26 contests and has just one catch in six others.
Despite the inconsistencies, the 6’2” 210-Lb Smith has good size and speed for the position. His physical attributes, experience in the Saints offense, a team-friendly contract (less than $1M against the cap this year), and little proven experience at the WR position makes him a highly unlikely release candidate. They have pushed Smith down the depth chart with the signing of productive veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders, however, and he could face a battle for the Number 3 spot. All-Pro KR Deonte Harris may see a bigger role in the New Orleans offense in 2020, and the team will have several first and 2nd-year undrafted receivers also vying for spots. Smith's roster spot is likely safe for the 2020 season.
Every area on the Saints roster highlights how difficult and highly competitive this training camp will be for the players. The elimination of this year's preseason may make personnel decisions more difficult for coaches, but even established Saints veterans must continue to play at a top-level in practice to keep their jobs with this Super Bowl contender.