The New Orleans Saints released starting right guard Larry Warford on Friday, bringing his 3-Yr tenure with the team to an end. The move does not surprise most, but the Saints now look to replace a three-year starter on one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. As we all know, professional football is a business though, and one where hard decisions have to be made. Here are the principal reasons the Saints moved on from their Pro Bowl offensive lineman.
Warford went to the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons with the Saints but we saw a significant drop-off in his performance in 2019. Warford was repeatedly beaten in pass protection, especially by more athletic defensive linemen. That was on display in the biggest game of the 2019 season for the Saints, a first-round playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings sacked quarterback Drew Brees three times and knocked him down several more in the game. Many of those were from inside pressure, including one that forced a key second half fumble when the Saints were in scoring position during the second half. The entire New Orleans offensive line played poorly, but the interior spots were particularly atrocious.
Warford’s pass blocking deteriorated down the stretch of the year but his run blocking remained stellar at the point of attack. One area he struggled with however was getting outside when asked to pull around the edge or getting to the spot in a timely manner on screen passes, an enormous part of the Saints offense. Warford has never been a top of the line athlete, but his weight and conditioning were both issues with the coaching staff last year.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton singled out the interior offensive line as an area that he expected improvement from at the end of last season. New Orleans addressed that when they spent their 1st round draft choice, 24th overall, on Michigan center Cesar Ruiz. The 20-Yr old Ruiz was one of the top interior linemen available and is a terrific technician who adds athleticism and versatility to the offensive line. Either Ruiz or last year’s 2nd round pick Erik McCoy will slide into Warford’s right guard spot with the other to man the center position.
Either McCoy or Ruiz presents an athletic upgrade over Warford at guard, and will allow the New Orleans offense to take better advantage of the gamebreaking abilities of running back Alvin Kamara over the right side. With the recent re-signing of 26-Yr old left guard Andrus Peat, all three of the Saints interior starters are under the age of 27 and under contract through the 2022 season.
Warford, who turns 29 in June, was entering the last year of his contract and was to count $12.875 million dollars against the Saints salary cap in 2020, one of the highest salaries on the team. His release creates $5.125 million in dead cap money this season, but will open up $7.75 million dollars of cap space. That extra money may allow the Saints to bring in another free agent, like an extra pass rusher or additional depth at cornerback or receiver.
Larry Warford was a vital contributor to the Saints offensive success over the last three seasons and has already attracted some interest on the free agent market. New Orleans made the tough decision to move on from him, but in the process not only opened up salary cap space but also got younger and more athletic along their offensive line.