The New Orleans Saints are compiling their shopping list and preparing for the new year. No, I am not a month late in preparing a holiday article. Actually there’s something much more important to football executives. The NFL New Year is now here. As most of the world prepares to watch the AFC and NFC conference title games and subsequent Super Bowl, the 28 teams not participating are instead preparing for the future.
February 15th is the official date that NFL teams may apply franchise or transition tags to any players. In addition, that’s the deadline to retain exclusive negotiating rights. The deadline to apply such tags is March 1st. Then, after a two day negotiating period with it’s own free agents, the official start of the 2017 season starts at 4 p.m. EST on March 9th. Consequently, this is the craziest 72 hour period of any NFL season. Furthermore, it also marks the beginning of the league’s free agent signing spree.
Who Dat Dish will take a look at the free agency outlook for the New Orleans Saints for every position. The first in our series will look at the Saints running backs. Afterward, the focus will be on current players on the roster. Also, there are plenty of in-house priorities, free agents possibilities, and free agents to avoid. Without any further delay….
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RB’s Currently on Roster
New Orleans has only three running backs currently locked into contracts: Mark Ingram, Marcus Murphy, and rookie Daniel Lasco. The 27 year old Ingram is coming off a career year. Ingram finished 2017 with 1,043 yards rushing, 46 receptions and 10 total touchdowns. Ingram averaged almost 5.5 yards, whenever he touched the ball and is the very definition of a “featured back.” Murphy, on the other hand, will be holding on to his roster spot by the slimmest of grips. In fact, he’ll be very fortunate to we wearing the Black and Gold after training camp.
Murphy has tremendous explosiveness as both a kick returner and receiver out of the backfield. His problem? Well, he simply isn’t reliable from a ball security standpoint. After landing in coach Sean Payton’s doghouse numerous times in his short two year career, Murphy’s time as a Saint is most likely finished. Lasco, a 2016 late round pick from Cal showed the Saints coaches some nice potential in the preseason and limited opportunities early in the regular season. The coaches’ confidence in Lasco will likely dictate how they handle the free agent decisions at this position.
Saints free agent RB’s
Tim Hightower, John Kuhn, and Travaris Cadet are all unrestricted free agents, which of course means that they are free to negotiate with any team after March 9th. Hightower has been the most productive of the three and has shown the ability to step in for Ingram without the offense missing a beat. He had 548 yards rushing, over 200 more receiving yards and five touchdowns. Hightower is an extremely popular veteran and has shown a desire to remain in New Orleans. The problem is that he is a 30 year old running back on surgically rebuilt knees. Kuhn is another productive and popular veteran.
The 34 year old fullback signed with New Orleans in training camp after his release from Green Bay. The hard-nosed throwback proved invaluable to a Saints offense, that is one of the few to utilize the fullback position regularly. Kuhn was especially effective in short yardage and goal line situations contributing five touchdowns. Cadet is nothing more than a third down back, but his 40 receptions and four scores prove that he has the trust of Drew Brees. Hightower, Kuhn, and Cadet each played at a salary of less than one million dollars this past season. Expect the Saints to attempt to retain Hightower and Kuhn at team-friendly deals.
If New Orleans does decide to go a different direction with their backs, here are a few names to keep an eye out for….
Free Agent RB interests:
Benny Cunningham (age 26-Rams)
Cunningham is a versatile threat out of the backfield, and is a solid special teams performer as well. He hasn’t been effectively used in a mostly anemic Rams offense but will likely come cheap.
Rex Burkhead (age 26-Bengals)
Burkhead is a tough, hard-nosed type of player that could become a New Orleans fan favorite. Burkhead isn’t much of a pass catching threat but a good short yardage runner.
Robert Turbin (age 27-Colts)
Turbin was once thought to be the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch in Seattle but has been plagued with injury throughout his career. He has shown some nice power when actually on the field. Sean Payton may be willing to take a training camp gamble on a player with his potential, much like he did with Hightower two years ago.
RB’s to Avoid:
Andre Ellington (age 27-Cardinals)
Much like Turbin, Ellington hasn’t been able to stay healthy at all. The difference between the two however, is that Ellington’s game is built on speed, and injuries seem to have robbed him of the explosive ability he once had. Signing Ellington could be a repeat of the C.J. Spiller debacle.
Matt Asiata (age 29-Vikings)
Asiata has shown some decent potential around the goal line but little else. Asiata had numerous opportunities to be the feature back in Minnesota, with Adrian Peterson out with injury and flamed out every time.
Running Back Outlook:
There will be little activity from the Saints at this position, especially if the team is able to resign Hightower and believes in the potential of Lasco to progress. Ingram is the unquestioned starter and is just entering the prime of his career. Kuhn is a pretty good bet to remain in New Orleans, but the Saints have always been able to find capable fullbacks if he doesn’t.
Cadet is an underrated pass catcher, but the team could definitely use an upgrade here. That will more than likely come from the draft, as Sean Payton has a tendency to use a late round pick or a college free agent signee with success.
Free Agent Priority = Low
Next, Who Dat Dish will take a look at the New Orleans Wide receivers.