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Was bringing Andrus Peat back right for the Saints? Breaking down the (re)signing

Bringing back Peat isn’t going over well with many Saints fans, but is their frustration just?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

“Name seven left guards better than him (Andrus Peat)”

Well, can you? That’s what offensive line specialist Duke Manyweather asked me after the Saints brought back Peat on a 5 year deal. This is the difficult question teams, analytics sites and even fans find themselves asking every offseason.

Ok, well this question is specifically about Peat, but speaking generally, to truly answer these types of questions you would need to have evaluated every player at that position in detail.

Analytics sites like Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Sports Radar, etc. attempt to do this for various reasons. Every team has a pro scouting department for this purpose as well. Fans have to rely on whatever information they can find, because the average individual doesn’t have the time nor desire to watch every starting player at a position to come to their own conclusions. I mean, who would want to do that? awkwardly looks around the post.

Let’s begin with how much it cost New Orleans to bring the 6’7, 315lb mauler back to the Big Easy for five more seasons. In theory, at 26 years old Peat is entering his prime and a five year contract should carry him through towards the end of it. At an average of $11,500,000 a year Peat currently has the 6th highest average yearly salary at his position. However, it’s important to note that this average is less than other guards like Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney who signed franchise tags at $14,781,000 a piece. That means they will each take up 7.46% of their respective team’s cap space according to Spotrac. Peat is only taking up 5.8% of the Saints’.

Furthermore, Peat was guaranteed $33,000,000 of his $57,500,000 contract which once again sounds like a lot, but we should compare it to his peers. That guarantee means 57.39% of his contract is locked in, but Graham Glasgow (signed by the Denver Broncos at an average of $11,000,000 per year) had 59.09% of his contract guaranteed. Ereck Flowers signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier in the free agency period for less yearly average ($10,000,000) but is guaranteed 66.50% of his salary.

While we still don’t know exactly how Peat’s cap number falls out year by year, if we compare the contract to other guard contracts being signed this year the Saints seemed to have gotten a pretty good deal. It’s easy to throw out the argument “they’re paying him at the top of his position”, but with the constant rise of the salary cap every season the market will continually be reset. A longer contract also stretches out not only the cap hits, but helps you avoid guaranteeing more money than you’d like.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When Andrew Norwell signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 for $66,500,000 over 5 years ($13,300,00 average, almost $2,000,000 more per year than Peat) he was coming off an All-Pro season with the Carolina Panthers. Norwell hasn’t returned to that level of play over the past two seasons (for various reasons) yet he is still being paid at a “Zack Martin” type level. Using Martin as an example as one of the universally agreed best players at the position, Peat is not being paid at that level.

Let’s take it a step further. Peat is only being paid an $250,000 and $500,000 more per year than Trai Turner and Gabe Jackson, respectively, who signed their contracts back in 2017. New Orleans paid fair market value for a “good” guard, but that brings up the next point. Was Peat a “good” guard?

It’s at this point of the article that a collective shouting of “hell no!” can be heard throughout Louisiana and southern Mississippi as Saints fans scream in unison. Is that opinion justified? (Obviously not all fans disagree with the signing, but it does seem to be the consensus amongst the majority.)

Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 69th overall guard (out of 80) in 2019. They went as far as to say in one of their social media posts that “It’s tough to spin this in any way positively for the Saints”. But, the nature of these grades and analytics is that they’re subjective. Pro Football Reference gave Peat an “AV” of 7 in 2019 and 11 in 2018. Norwell, who we discussed above, scored a 3 and 6. Glasgow, one of the other big interior offensive line signings this offseason received AV grades of 6 and 7 over the past two seasons.

Zack Martin of the Cowboys for reference is graded as “elite” by everyone, PFF gives him an 88.1 grade (elite) while PFR gives him an AV of 15 in 2019. He’s a perennial Pro-Bowler and All-Pro. The point I’m making is, it’s easy to spot the best of the best, and maybe even the worst of the worst, but the players somewhere in between make things a bit more hazy.

Not even analytics sites can agree on where to place Peat. The truth is, it is one of the most difficult positions to grade. Trench warfare is incredibly nuanced and technical. It’s far more than the “big mauler” bear fights it’s often regarded as. Which brings me back to Duke’s original question “name seven left guards better than Andrus Peat”, and maybe just as importantly, “name seven left guards that are both available and better than Andrus Peat.”

“Look at your backups and how they performed when he was out, and That’s really what it boils down to. Saints offensive line has been a top OL in the league the last three seasons. You take Peat away, that shakes things up, look at when the Cowboys lost Leary at left guard.” Duke stated before adding, “People have no idea what quality starting OL are and good starting OL play (looks like). People think everyone should be Terron Armstead or Ryan Ramczyk, (or in the case of guards) Quenton Nelson and Zack Martin. Those guys are the starting standard. Those guys are special.”

Manyweather is the mastermind (pun intended) behind the annual OL Masterminds Summit. He’s highly respected around the NFL and collegiate football as one of the top evaluators and trainers for offensive lineman. Armstead is coming off his healthiest, and most productive, season after working with Manyweather.

Throughout this conversation I was thinking of other positions and how this correlated to them. It’s easy to spot the Brees and Bradys. Everyone can agree in their primes they excel at almost all things. But, what about those quarterbacks in the next tiers? The Matthew Staffords, Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins of the world are still good players. Are they at tier 1? No, but you’d rather have them than Mitchell Trubisky. Sure Peat isn’t Martin or Armstead, but that’s ok.

Then again, me calling Peat the Matt Ryan of the left guard world might not be winning over Saints readers. Though to be fair I did try to warn potential readers that this was going to be an upcoming big signing to the annoyance of my Twitter followers.

Even in my own charting (example here) I find disagreements with some analytics site’s grading of individual player performances. Such as Peat in this case. I reached out to another offensive line evaluator in Brandon Thorn who I worked with while I was a student at the Scouting Academy and who now writes for The Athletic’s Denver affiliate.

Here is what Thorn sees from a scout’s perspective with Peat, “Has elite size, length, play strength, and power. Peat’s a very good run-blocker who can generate rare movement at the point of attack plus line up & fit on linebackers at the second level off combo blocks. A solid pass-blocker that recognizes games quickly, is very active & aware when uncovered, and provides excellent help to the left tackle and center. Has excellent anchoring ability. I think he is a top 8 LG.”

None of this is meant to dump on a particular analytics group to say “hey don’t listen to those guys”, but to provide more voices to the conversation. Two of the top evaluators of the position see him as a top guy, but why are fans so hard on Peat? It’s simple: His mistakes are generally very obvious and, as it generally happens when you’re a fan of one team, people aren’t able to see the play of the rest of the individuals at Peat’s position. Guys like Duke and Brandon do see those players, and work with many of those players, every year.

Searching “Peat and Warford” can lead you down a pretty funny rabbit trail as you read Saints’ fans reactions to the fact that New Orleans had a higher end season grade on Peat than Warford, and were happier with his play by comparison as Kat Terrell reported.

Personally, I can only compare Peat to his immediate peers. Players like Nick Easton, Erik McCoy, Larry Warford and the occasional glimpse of opposing lineman the Saints encounter during the season. I don’t begin my look at possible free agents until after the season ends. All of that to say that there is wisdom in listening to those who focus on the position, whether they be analytics based or scouting based, year round.

Another point of contention for many fans is the injuries that Peat has sustained, but Duke made a good point to me during our conversation that those were injuries he simply couldn’t really avoid. Duke went as far as to list them out during our talk, “Here is the thing, it’s not a matter of him staying healthy himself, look at his injuries he’s had... has nothing to do with him. (They’re) all blunt force. Broken ankle while engaged and driving, pile rolls up on him. Broken hand, gets sandwiched between helmets. Broken arm, running back comes through and puts his helmet right in his forearm as he is engaged. He can’t control those things.”

And he’s right, it’s not like Peat had poor conditioning that led to him being injury prone. Football is simply a contact sport and parts of Peat were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s also easy to put a big 6’7 frame in places it might not want to be at times either. One of those problems with being a walking giant. I cannot relate.

So if you’re New Orleans looking over recent offensive line play around the league, including your own, the tough question really was “name seven left guards better than Andrus Peat”. Keep in mind that Drew Brees hasn’t been sacked 30 times or more since 2015 (Peat’s rookie year). Over the past five seasons (73 games) Brees has been sacked 107 times. Between 2010-2014 (the five year period prior to this one, 80 games) Brees was sacked 141 times.

Obviously Peat alone didn’t cause this reduction in sacks, but it’s also not a coincidence that he’s been part of arguably the best offensive line in football. Even if you’re a Peat detractor, is being the worst part of the best group in football really that much of an issue?

The Saints didn’t think so. By the contract we’ve seen they didn’t pay above market value. According to two very respect evaluators of the position he’s in the top ten at his spot. Several teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, were interested in signing the big guard. He always wanted to make an agreement with the Saints, however, and said he wants to play his entire career in New Orleans. You gotta love that type of loyalty from a player to the team that drafted him.

Ever year a common mantra is “In Loomis We Trust”. If that’s going to be one of the offseason calling cards then maybe everyone should stick with it through even bringing back Peat.

I still can’t name seven left guards better than Peat. The Saints couldn’t either apparently. Can you?