It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the New Orleans Saints did not have Larry Warford in their long-term plans when they drafted Michigan offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. With the Saints offensive line seemingly already in tact, Warford became the odd man out when Sean Payton explained they did not spend early draft capital on Ruiz to be a bench player.
But now that Warford has been released - seemingly because the Saints couldn’t find a trade partner for him who was willing to absorb his current salary - it has brought a few questions in the minds of Saints fans: Why would the Saints release a 28-year-old guard coming off a Pro Bowl year? And why would the Saints instead choose to re-sign guard Andrus Peat this offseason to a five-year, $57.5 million dollar extension?
The answer to both questions is actually the same thing: the Saints value versatility on the offensive line.
One of the reasons the Saints drafted Cesar Ruiz is due to his versatility - he could line up at either center or guard in the NFL. Erik McCoy, the Saints first selection in last year’s draft, could do the same in a pinch.
Andrus Peat, only 26 years old, is both the starting guard on the left side of the offensive line, but is also the primary backup at left tackle for the oft-injured Terron Armstead. Armstead has yet to play a full 16-game season in his seven years with the Saints, missing a total of 27 games over the last six years. When Armstead inevitably is forced to miss time again in 2020, it is Andrus Peat who slides over on the line to fill in.
In a scenario where Peat is playing tackle for Armstead, the Saints have two primary backup offensive linemen - Will Clapp and Nick Easton, both of whom can play either guard position as well as center. Clapp also has experience lining up as an eligible tight end in jumbo packages.
In case you’re not paying attention, that means the Saints have two of the best tackles in football in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, a Pro Bowl caliber guard in Andrus Peat who can play tackle or guard, and then four players that could play center or guard in Clapp, Easton, Erik McCoy, and Cesar Ruiz.
This versatility helps Sean Payton and the Saints deal with injuries as they pop up during the season. But it’s becoming a growing trend for the Saints front office, not just on the offensive line. The Saints second selection in this year’s draft, Zack Baun, could play as an edge rusher or outside linebacker. Their next pick, Adam Trautman, is a tight end who can run routes like a wide receiver. Their final pick, Tommy Stevens, played quarterback, running back, and wide receiver at Penn State.
Keep going back further, though. We’ve already talked about last year’s first pick, Erik McCoy, but even their second selection, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, could play slot corner or safety. Or look at players they’ve added this offseason, like Ty Mongtomery, who has played both wide receiver and running back at the NFL level.
This is a team that values versatility in playing roles. Sure, you should try your best to excel at one thing if you can, but if you want to stick around on the New Orleans Saints, you should try to be exceptional at two.
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