Veteran defensive end Paul Kruger was signed by the New Orleans Saints just a couple of days after he was released by the Cleveland Browns. The Saints signed Kruger because of a clear lack of depth at the defensive end spot with Hau'oli Kikaha injured and out for the season, with the only backups being Kasim Edebali and Darryl Tapp. It proved to be smart and useful, because Obum Gwacham was also lost for the season at the end of September.
Outside of depth, Kruger also seemed to be a higher quality starter than most of the players on the roster. So, the signing obviously made sense for a pass-rush needy team like the Saints.
What we got in 2016
Kruger had been showing signs of slowing down the last couple of years, but it was hard to expect he would be as bad as he was in 2016. In 2015, Kruger had 33 hurries on the quarterback, tied for 4th-best in the league. In 2016, it was a complete drop-off for the veteran, as he had just seven total hurries. Naturally, it’s a really low number that perfectly demonstrates the huge drop he had in production throughout the season, despite only having one sack less than for the Browns last year.
When it came to run defense, Kruger finished about average compared to the rest of the league. He finished the season with five tackles for loss, which is a little above average, but he routinely got moved around by the offensive line and didn't have the skills to make a big impact.
If we take a look at his grade from Pro Football Focus (67.2), we see that Kruger didn't play well in 2016 and that he struggled in both areas of the defense. However, it was more noticeable in pass defense, which had been his specialty for the last several seasons.
So, what does this mean going forward?
Kruger has been a fine player for a long time, but it looks like those days are over. Kruger only has 3.5 sacks over the last two years, and he took a massive step down in 2016.
The Saints need a good pass rush to turn around the defense, and Kruger isn’t the answer. Therefore, the Saints should look elsewhere and try to find a high-quality replacement. Kikaha coming back will help, but they just might need a bit more pass rushing ability from the defensive end spot opposite of Cameron Jordan. The Saints could find that in free agency with several big names potentially hitting the market, but also can look in the draft where defensive end seems to be one of the strongest positions groups.
No matter what happens, Kruger shouldn't be a starter for the New Orleans Saints in 2017.