Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Ranking Saints needs: No. 11 Running back
By Mike Triplett
A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team's need for upgrades or replacements.
Current depth chart:
Darren Sproles. Age 30, signed through. 2014 salary and bonuses: $3.5 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $4.25 million.
Pierre Thomas. Age 29, signed through 2014. 2014 salary and bonuses: $2.9 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $2.9 million.
Mark Ingram. Age 24, signed through 2014, with team option for 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $1.39 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $2.36 million.
Khiry Robinson. Age 24, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $495,333.
Travaris Cadet. Turns 25 on Saturday, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $570,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $571,668.
The Saints' run game was hit or miss in 2013 (what's new?). But their depth certainly wasn't the problem. If they could get the blocking and play design down consistently, I think they have more than enough talent to be a successful rushing team. … In fact, the bigger issue the Saints will face this offseason is whether it makes fiscal sense to keep all five of the guys they already have.
Nobody in this group is making outrageous money, so there are no obvious salary-cap casualties. Sproles is the most expensive, and he had a relatively-quiet year with 824 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. But I think he's safe because he causes such unique matchup problems as a receiver out of the backfield.
I'd hate to think that Thomas is a potential cap casualty since he arguably just had his best season as a do-everything runner/receiver/pass-protector. Thomas ran for 549 yards, caught a career-high 77 passes for 513 yards and scored five touchdowns. But the Saints need to pinch every penny this offseason, and they could save $2.9 million by releasing Thomas, so it's an option they have to consider.
That would mean turning the reins over to less-proven backs Ingram and Robinson. And Ingram, especially, has been hot and cold during his three-year career. But both young backs were outstanding in the playoffs while Thomas was out with a chest injury -- and there's no reason to doubt their abilities to build off that success.
Perhaps another trade is a possibility -- like when the Saints traded away Chris Ivory last year to relieve their congestion in the backfield. … And knowing the Saints, they'll unearth some other hidden star running back from some Division II school that signs as an undrafted free agent again this summer.