As far as cleaning out their roster, the Saints have been one of the more active teams in the NFL this off-season.
This mass exodus began with cutting Jabari Greer, Will Smith, and Roman Harper all in the same day. The team also notified veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma that he isn't in their future plans anymore. All of these moves were largely expected, but it was still something that we haven't really seen the Saints do before.
All was quiet for a few weeks, but just a week prior to free agency, the Saints announced that they were shopping wide receiver Lance Moore and running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. Lance Moore was no surprise, but I for one was caught off guard by Pierre and Sproles being attached to this report. It didn't take long for the Saints to give up on Moore, as he was released into the NFL's large pool of free agents. Following this was a tweet by Malcolm Jenkins that suggested Pierre Thomas was about to find a new home as well, and a report stating Darren Sproles would not return to the team in 2014. Would the team lose three of it's key offensive weapons for absolutely nothing?
A Byrd in Hand
The New Orleans Saints surprisingly sign former Bills safety Jairus Byrd to a 6-year deal on the first day of NFL free agency.
As coined famously by Lee Corso, "Not so fast!" The Saints pulled the ol' switch-a-roo, extending Pierre Thomas to a more cap-friendly contract and putting Darren Sproles on the trading block. The lead team in the Sproles Sweepstakes changed out quite a few times from Minnesota, to Baltimore, to Washington, but he finally found a new home with the Eagles in exchange for a fifth round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. This also gave the Saints $3.5 million in cap relief.
While the release of Lance Moore doesn't have much to do with the Saints' future on offense, getting rid of Darren Sproles poses a big, mysterious question. Do the Saints plan on implementing a more traditional, power-styled offense? While it may seem like a silly question at first, it actually makes sense if you look a little deeper.
Towards the end of the season in 2013 the Saints relied heavily on the one-two-punch of Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson at running back and surprisingly (or not?) found a good bit of success. A big part of this expanded role between the two backs was due to the injury of Pierre Thomas, but the other was because once their unstoppable passing attack began struggling, they didn't have anywhere else to turn. Jimmy Graham had a hell of a start to the 2013 season, averaging 93.25 yards and over a touchdown (1.25) per game. However, the final 10 games of the season (including the playoffs) saw a steep decline: only 52.1 yards per and less than one touchdown (0.6) per game. Darren Sproles never seemed to be a consistent mismatch throughout the entire 2013 season from the beginning; he actually had one more touch in 2013 than he did in 2012 and saw 87 less yards between rushing and receiving and four less total touchdowns.
So Sproles' departure leaves the Saints with a three man rotation at running back with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Khiry Robinson. The oldest of the three, Pierre Thomas, is 29 years old but he has only seen 1,119 touches between receiving and rushing in his seven-year career. Marshawn Lynch, who has played in the league for eight years (only ten more games than Pierre), has almost doubled the number of Thomas with 2,084 total touches. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson have had 411 and 76 touches respectively.
I'm not saying the Saints are going to (or need to) turn into the 49ers or the Seahawks with a run-first offense because future Hall of Famer Drew Brees is still at the helm. But it is valid to say that the Saints might be heading towards a more balanced offense. Given how the Saints finished the season running the ball more, I think Payton and Co. has finally realized that they have a few capable running backs on the roster; running backs that still have a lot of tread left on the tires.
It's time to let these guys loose and see what they have been holding back.