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What Should the Saints Do With Jahri Evans?

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The New Orleans Saints are having what could be mildly described as a tumultuous offseason, with big trades and cuts galore. Another big decision is how the team will deal with one of its longest-tenured pillars: right guard Jahri Evans.

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Some would say that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have already gone too far this offseason. The Saints traded their Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, in the very prime of his career, for an oft-injured although talented center in Max Unger and a first round pick. They followed that up by trading wide receiver Kenny Stills who, apart from rookie wideout Brandin Cooks, was one of the team's rare bright spots in an otherwise lackluster 2014 season. For Stills, they got another oft-injured player in linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third round pick from the Miami Dolphins.

Those are just two of the many moves New Orleans has made so far and with the 2015 season not starting until September, you can bet that there are more transactions to come out of the brain trust at 5800 Airline Drive in Metairie.

One of those transactions will almost certainly involve Pro Bowl right guard Jahri Evans. There have been numerous reports about Evans, some stating that the Saints were shopping him around, others that they were going to outright cut him. Given that New Orleans was able to trade left guard Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs for a fifth round pick (by the way, how did they manage to get a draft pick out of Grubbs?) some are now assuming that Evans might be in for a contract restructuring.

Well, let's take a quick look at some of Evans' numbers on and off the field at this juncture in his Saints career.

1) Jahri Evans' Off-the-field Numbers

-          Base salary for 2015: $6,800,000

(This is the money guaranteed to Evans in 2015)

-          Cap Number for 2015: $11,000,000

(This is how much Evans counts in the team's total salary cap, aka his "cap hit")

-          Dead Money for 2015 (prior to June 1st): $5,000,000

(This is the money the team would have to pay Evans should they trade or cut him before June 1st)

-          Dead Money for 2015 (after June 1st): $3,500,000

(This is the money the team would have to pay Evans should they designate him as a June 1st cut. Note that the dead money would still be $5,000,000 if Evans is traded, even after June 1st).

Summary

Jahri Evans' $11,000,000 cap number ranks second on the New Orleans Saints roster only to Drew Brees' frightening $26,400,000 (hey, it's a quarterback league!) This high a number for a somewhat declining right guard (injuries or not) leads me to think that New Orleans will not opt for the status quo when it comes to Evans' contract.

Should the Saints trade Evans, they'll still have to pay him $5,000,000, while saving $6,000,000 in salary cap money. If the team however cuts him prior to the NFL's June 1st cuts date, it would amount to the same thing, with no real financial benefit, whereas in a trade they could potentially get "something" back as was the case for left guard Ben Grubbs.

On the other hand, should the Saints designate Evans as one of its two allowed "June 1st cuts" and release the veteran after that date, the team would reduce the dead money owed to the right guard by $1,500,000 thus saving $7,500,000 in cap money instead of $6,000,000 which isn't insignificant. If you would like to take a look for yourselves, these numbers are compiled here at overthecap.com.

2) Jahri Evans' On-the-field Numbers

Although they have their flaws, I am a proponent of Pro Football Focus methods when it comes to approximating individual NFL players' level of play. Here's a quick look at Evans' number in 2014 and an overall look at the trend in his play the past 6 years.

-          2014 (These numbers include 78 NFL guards with a min. of 297 snaps)

-          Overall: -6.5 (46th)

-          Pass Protection: -17.7 (77th)

-          Run Blocking: +9.6 (11th)

-          Snaps: 1158 (1st)

Summary

2014 was rough year for Evans when it came to what the Saints do most, which is passing the ball. Evans to his credit however, played the run extremely well and despite reports on a wrist injury, he played the most snaps of all 78 guards included in the PFF ranking, showing that he is still tough and durable.

2009-2014 Overall PFF Ranking (NFL Guards)

-          2009: +42.0 (1st)

-          2010: +6.3 (30th)

-          2011: +17.2 (9th)

-          2012: +18.9 (8th)

-          2013: +11.1 (17th)

-          2014: -6.5 (46th)

Summary

Evans has had a stellar career in New Orleans, and in the past six seasons, only in 2014 did he have a negative PFF grade. Last year's precipitous decline could simply suggest that his bad play was indeed due to injuries, since it has all the looks of an anomaly.

On the other hand, one could think that Evans who turns 32 in August, is now entering the twilight of his career and will never regain the form of his past years. Or worse, he could actually go further down in productivity from here.

So Um, What Are You Saying?

The Saints have four options right now when it comes to Jahri Evans: they could either trade him, cut him now (which wouldn't make a whole lot of sense unless they immediately need the cap space to sign more free agents), designate him as one of their two June 1st cuts in order to lower the dead money attached to his contract and recoup more cap money, or restructure said contract.

New Orleans has to weigh several things here: the first being whether they can afford to lose both of their guards and completely retool their offensive line, a unit that is vital to Sean Payton's offense and to the health and success of quarterback Drew Brees. Secondly, if they want to keep their longtime right guard, New Orleans has to decide whether they are willing to add more weight onto their future salary cap by restructuring Evans.

My opinion is that losing Evans this offseason would fit right into the mantra that it's "better to let go of a player a year too early than a year too late." Although history doesn't show that he is as high a liability as he was in 2014, Evans is definitely on the downside of a great career and unless he is willing to take a fairly significant pay cut, the Saints should either keep trying to find a trade partner for him or cut him post June 1st.

With more draft picks (nine) than they've had in over 10 years, New Orleans could find its right/left guard of the future in the draft, be it early or even in later round as they once did Evans himself (4th round pick in the 2006 NFL draft). With Tim Lelito capable of manning one of the guard positions, tackles Terron Armstead, Zach Strief and newly-acquired center Max Unger, the Saints could still have a fairly productive offensive line to lead them to a successful 2015 NFL campaign and even beyond. With the draft around the corner, if Evans hasn't been involved in a transaction by then, the Saints' selections could give us an early indication of their thinking regarding their Pro Bowl right guard.

What say you Saints fans?