The New Orleans Saints released running back Darren Sproles on Friday. That's huge news, given what Sproles has been able to do in his three seasons with the team. It's also some of the most unexpected news of the offseason; the running back market in free agency is suddenly all that more appealing.
In those three seasons with the Saints, Sproles provided a new dimension that made New Orleans' offense simply ridiculous. Drew Brees is already one of the best quarterbacks in the league, so giving him a fast, shifty guy out of the backfield with reliable hands was almost unfair.
He had at least 70 receptions in each of his three seasons in New Orleans. He was never a huge factor running the football, but as a returner and a receiver, he changed games and flat-out won many of them outright. In three seasons, he put up over 1,000 rushing yards, almost 2,000 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns on offense. He can add almost 700 punt return yards, a punt return touchdown and over 1,700 kick return yards to that those totals, as well.
The Saints were reportedly interested in trading Sproles, but either they found no takers or Sproles requested to be released. Whatever the case, the Saints saved $3.5 million in cap space by cutting him before the 2014 season, which would have been the final season of a four-year, $14 million contract signed in 2011. It sounds as though the move was made entirely for cap reasons.
Canal Street Chronicles thinks he might have stuck around if not for the cap hit and discuss why he might have been released early:
Sproles still has enough production that he probably wouldn't be on the chopping block were it not for the salary cap hit. But the Saints seem to be cleaning house to pay star TE Jimmy Graham, and focusing on developing younger talent.
Is the decision to release these fan favorites earlier than necessary a decision made out of some sense of loyalty... that they might have a head start in the upcoming free agency period? Only the Saints can answer that, though it wouldn't be unreasonable for upset fans to try and find that silver lining.
Here's what else you might have missed from Friday in the NFL:
The Saints released more than Sproles on Friday, as wide receiver Lance Moore tweeted his goodbyes early in the morning. That was just a day after suggesting that he had heard nothing regarding a potential release or trade. Moore was due $3.8 million next season, with a roster bonus of $500,000 on March 25. He didn't get as much playing time as past seasons in 2013, and also dealt with injuries off and on, missing three games. He played fewer than 50 percent of the offensive snaps this past season.
It sounds as though Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe will actually hit the open market. The sides are reportedly far apart on a new contract, and Monroe will want to test the market to see what kind of interest he can drum up. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the open market seems to favor Monroe a good deal. Monroe isn't one of the top tackles in the NFL, but he's a starting-caliber tackle with a lot of football ahead of him. He'd likely make a lot more than Baltimore can pay or would be willing to pay.
The Green Bay Packers have multiple big-name free agents to work through, including B.J. Raji and Sam Shields. But Mike Neal is also worthy of note, and has been somewhat overlooked to this point. The linebacker is coming off a very solid season and is set to hit the open market when the new league year begins. The Packers have reportedly given Neal a "meaningful offer," but apparently, it's not enough to convince Neal to sign before hitting the open market.
Over at Acme Packing Company, they wouldn't be shocked to see him remain in Green Bay regardless:
With only two days remaining before free agency beings, Neal's decision to sit on the offer isn't surprising. He and his agent will want to know the going rate for his services, and the Packers aren't likely to pull the offer before Neal can review his options. However, given his familiarity with Capers' defense and his successful first year at linebacker, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Neal back in Green Bay in 2014.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has finally signed with a new agent: CAA Sports' Jimmy Sexton. Suh fired his agents back in January, and talks with the Lions on a potential contract extension have been slow to non-existent since then. Detroit isn't in danger of losing Suh at this point, but he has a huge cap hit for 2014 and the team would like to get him extended on a multi-year deal while simultaneously limited the cap hit for next season. The large cap number comes from a huge rookie contract from before the latest collective bargaining agreement was signed into place.
The Dallas Cowboys have been dealing with significant salary cap issues all offseason. On Friday, the team released center Phil Costa, saving $1.5 million against the cap, and restructured the contract of Mackenzy Bernadeau, who had a cap hit of just over $4 million before the restructuring. The release of Costa was expected, though the Cowboys took a bit longer to act than anticipated, likely due to the announcement of the 2014 salary cap, which comes in at $133 million. Dallas will still need to do more to actually have room to sign enough players to field a full team in 2014, including the signing of draft picks and bringing in free agents.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin was tendered at the second-round level. Baldwin has become a large part of Seattle's offense and the team would definitely like to keep him around. The second-round tender means the Seahawks have the right of first-refusal for any team that makes an offer on Baldwin. The Seahawks would have to match the offer to retain Baldwin, however. Any team that wants to get him would have to give Seattle a second-round pick in addition to paying Baldwin what was offered. The tender will be worth $2.187 million if signed.