The free-agent running back market will have an intriguing new name.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the New Orleans Saints are releasing Darren Sproles, according to a source. The news comes soon after we learned that Sproles was being shopped for a potential trade. Clearly, no one was interested. Sproles confirmed the news by saying goodbye to Saints fans from his verified Twitter account.
The move should save the Saints more than $3 million in cap space, but it still comes as a surprise. Sproles touched the ball 165 times for the Saints last season, including 71 catches and 41 total returns.
This couldn't be an easy decision for Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis. Sproles was one of the biggest reasons why the Saints' offense has been so difficult to defend over the last five seasons. Behind Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, we'd argue that no Saints' weapon was more valuable than Sproles.
Payton is betting that Sproles' decline is here. He had a poor season as a returner last year and had fewer explosive plays on offense. Sproles turns 31 in 2014 and the Saints are taking the risk of letting him go a year too early rather than possibly hanging on to him too long.
It remains uncertain what this means for Pierre Thomas. He was reportedly on the trade block as well and might only stay in town if he takes a pay cut. Then again, the Saints' running game would take a bit hit, especially on passing downs, if Thomas and Sproles left in the same offseason.
We are tempted to see this move as a sign of confidence in running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, who both had great moments late last season. These are the decisions that have to be made in the salary cap era.