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The Saints Mistake in Guaranteeing Keenan Lewis’ Contract

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Did the Saints get duped by Lewis? Is there more to the story of his release?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After playing out his rookie contract for the Pittsburgh Steelers, NFL cornerback Keenan Lewis signed with his hometown team, the New Orleans Saints, before the 2013 season. The pairing began almost like a fairytale. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan helped lead the Saints defense to one of the greatest performance turnarounds in NFL history. Perhaps no one on the 2013 Saints defense had a greater impact than Lewis, who enjoyed a fantastic first year in the black and gold.

Lewis’ second season with the Saints in 2014, though not quite as stellar, was still productive. Lewis again played in all 16 games and helped anchor the Saints’ secondary. The good times for the O. Perry Walker graduate came to a screeching halt in 2015, however. Dealing with multiple injuries affecting his knee and hip, Lewis played in only 6 games and logged a measly 2 passes defended before being placed season ending injured reserve in late November.

Before the start of the 2015 season, Lewis himself may have set the stage for his release a year later. After the Saints parted ways with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Ben Grubbs, Kenny Stills, and Curtis Lofton, Lewis took to twitter to voice his growing frustration over how he perceived Saints players were being treated. At the time, he felt the Saints owed him not more money, but simply more guaranteed money in his 5-year, $25 million contract.

Born and raised on the West Bank, Lewis grew up cheering for the Saints. And after making the dream of playing for them came true, he wanted to one day retire as a Saint. Rarely do the Saints decision makers acquiesce to lines drawn in the sand, but after Lewis’ public airing of his grievances, he received a restructured deal that guaranteed more than $10 million in cash over the next three years.

The Saints bet that Lewis would stay as productive and reliable as his stat sheets from the 2013 and 2014 seasons reflected. At the time, it seemed like an easy bet. Lewis had played in every game since signing with the Saints two years earlier, and had even gutted through a grotesque knee injury. He showed his toughness and commitment to the team then, so I was not surprised when the Saints rewarded him by guaranteeing more of his contract money.

After watching highlights from the Saints last game of the 2014 season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there was no reason to believe Lewis ended the season any more injured than he would begin the following season. I wonder if he incurred an injury over the offseason, or if the hip labrum issues were simply from degeneration over time. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Lewis knew his health was fading during the offseason prior to the 2015 season.

Perhaps he knew his hip and sports hernia issues would linger, so he bluffed, posting his frustrations on Twitter. Perhaps he cashed in his past reputation in order to secure his future. If this hypothesis is true, then Lewis played a shrewd hand against the Saints front office. If the Saints feel like they were duped, maybe that along with Dennis Allen’s apparent dislike for the aging cornerback, played a larger part in his later release.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Lewis aired the details of his more than seven-year mini-rivalry with defensive coordinator Allen. The two have never gotten along since meeting while Lewis tried out for the Saints as a rookie. When Rob Ryan was fired, and Allen promoted, the stage was set for Lewis to disappoint. Maybe Lewis knew Allen wouldn’t give him an opportunity to succeed so his reaction was to ask for more guaranteed money, knowing full well he might be shown the door sooner than later.

No matter what Lewis knew or didn’t know about his injury, the writing on the wall was clear to those who read into the nuances of player and coach personnel interaction. He certainly was right in asking for more guaranteed money, but the Saints were certainly wrong in giving it.