If the New Orleans Saints are going to clear some breathing room between themselves and the salary cap, they may need to part with key pieces. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Thursday that the team may be willing to trade Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore and/or Darren Sproles in order to clear space or reshape the roster in ways they won't be able to do on the free agent market. Assuming Jimmy Graham remains tagged as a tight end and not as a wide receiver, the Saints have $1,567,990 in cap space.
SB Nation NFL
SB Nation NFL
All three players have been mentioned as trade pieces in the past. It's easy to see how they fit the profile of trade bait. Within an egalitarian Saints offense, all three players were productive but non-focal players who could play bigger roles elsewhere, and all three would save the Saints a significant amount of cash.
Thomas was the most productive of the three players, racking up 1,062 total yards across 147 carries (3.7 YPC) and 77 receptions (6.7 YPR). He is arguably the most expendable, however. The Saints have depth at running back among Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Sproles, all of who were more productive on a per-carry basis than Thomas. Ingram, who would presumably become the team's leading ball carrier, averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 78 carries during an injury-hampered season. Thomas is currently set to count for $2.9 million against the 2014 salary cap.
Sproles would clear the most salary cap space upon trade or release. He is currently set to cost the Saints $3.5 million against the 2014 salary cap. He may be the least likely to get traded due to his unique skillset, however. Sproles is arguably one of the best third-down backs in football, and the Saints don't have a clear replacement if he leaves the team.
That said, if the Saints are splitting hairs to make space under the cap, especially if they are worried that Graham will be reclassified as a wide receiver and tack on an additional $5 million to the payroll, Sproles would give the team the most relief. He had just 53 carries last season in a limited backfield role, and still didn't have as many receptions as Thomas (71 to 77) although he was more productive (604 yards to 513). Deciding who to keep between Thomas and Sproles will be a difficult debate in the Saints' front office.
The debate to keep Lance Moore may be much shorter. Once a target vacuum, Moore's role as a slot receiver has gradually been outsourced by committee to Graham, Sproles and Marques Colston. His advancing age, diminutive size and vanishing role -- his 37 receptions for 457 yards were four-year lows -- make him the Saints' weakest piece of trade bait among the three players reportedly on the block. By getting rid of his contract, the Saints can save just over $2.5 million in cap space. They still owe Moore more than $5 million of his prorated signing bonus for the next two years of his contract.
How antsy the Saints get to pull a deal will depend on what happens with Graham. The franchise-tagged tight end would love to be reclassified as a wide receiver, which would earn him $5.28 million more next season, or be re-signed to a long-term contract. SB Nation's Mark Sandritter explained Graham's situation in loving detail here. In short, the result of Graham's grievance will have a far-reaching impact on the Saints' roster, including the potential fates of Thomas, Moore and Sproles.