When Andrus Peat broke his forearm against the Falcons, the insertion of Will Clapp did little to stabilize the Saints’ offensive line. The run game remained completely dormant and the Saints finished with a meager 52 rushing yards.
The offensive line’s protection of Brees was by far the worst all year. After only giving up seven sacks all year, they allowed Brees to be sacked a career high six times. By the end of the game, Saints fans wondered how a talented and deep team like the Saints could lay such an egg, at home, coming off a bye week, against a team that had only won a single game.
Most of the articles I read about Peat’s injury stated that either Will Clapp or Patrick Omameh would fill in at right guard. This scared me a lot.
I like Will Clapp fine, but he hadn’t played more than a rotational role this season, and from what little I saw of Omameh, the prospect of either starting at guard the rest of the season did not seem promising for the Saints’ offense.
I wondered why almost no one mentioned Nick Easton as a possibility. Originally signed as a free agent from the Vikings to replace center Max Unger, Easton lost the starting center job during training camp to rookie second round draft pick Erik McCoy. Before starting against the Buccaneers, Easton had been a healthy inactive for five of the first eight games this season.
He played a few special teams snaps in weeks one, three, and four, but for the most part, Easton wasn’t suited up for the bulk of the season. This is also why Clapp had to briefly fill in for McCoy against the Cardinals. Perhaps the Saints coaches should have taken the hint then that they may want to carry more active offensive linemen into each game in case of injury.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and at least now that Easton is starting, he is showing that he’s capable of making his salary a worthwhile investment. This past offseason, Easton signed a four year contract worth $22.5 Million, however, the way it is structured, the contract is really a one year deal worth $4 Million guaranteed.
Up until last week’s win against the Buccaneers, Easton’s contract was looking like a total waste of both salary cap and roster space since he wasn’t even active for most of the season. All he did was prove his doubters wrong by earning the highest grade of any players on the Saints offense, including Michael Thomas and Drew Brees.
Sure, Easton is benefitting from a double team in the shot below, but his steady play helped lead to several big plays including this one.
Didn't mention this earlier in the week, but the #Saints offensive line really came to play against the Bucs. Let's not forget it was Nick Easton's first start.— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) November 19, 2019
Look at the clean pocket on a crucial third down. BTW this play resulted in a 41-yard reception from Michael Thomas pic.twitter.com/w4t3nTg2OS
The Athletic’s Deuce Windham charted and graded every single snap Easton took. Windham graded Easton with 31 neutral reps, 25 positive reps/wins, eight bad reps/losses, zero sacks, two pressures allowed, and zero penalties.
After the Saints racked up a dozen penalties for 90 yards and gave up six sacks against the Falcons a week before, Easton’s zero sacks or penalties may have been the most important part of his performance.
Just as the Saints needed to weather the storm during Brees’ six week injury, they will have to weather a similar storm with Peat out another six weeks. Fortunately, the Saints’ impressive roster depth spans all the way to their offensive line.
For the remainder of this season, Easton has a newly redeemed opportunity to earn every cent of that $4 Million 2019 salary. If he can keep playing like he did last Sunday against the Buccaneers, he could play his way into seeing some of the rest of that remaining $18.5 Million all the way through 2022.
With Andrus Peat set to become a potentially too-expensive-to-retain free agent this offseason, wouldn’t it be great if the Saints already had an excellent replacement on their current roster?
Easton is currently making more than Peat ($2,848,374) this season, so he might as well earn it. As much as I love Peat and truly hope the Saints can resign him, the resetting of the guard salary market by the Jaguar’s Andrew Norwell for over $13 Million per year might make retaining the former Stanford standout too difficult to finagle.
Let’s remember the Saints’ list of free agents in 2020 is long and includes many players deserving another payday.
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA’s): Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, David Onyemata, Vonn Bell, Andrus Peat, A.J. Klein, and Zach Line
Notable Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s): Taysom Hill, Justin Hardee, Dan Arnold, and Austin Carr
The next six weeks could indeed alter both Easton’s career and how the Saints decide to shape their roster going forward.