Originally when the news came down that the New Orleans Saints had released guard Jahri Evans, many Saints fans were floored by the news. If a player was going to get released on the offensive line, you would had really thought tackle Zach Strief would get the axe before anyone else — especially the perennial All-Pro Evans.
While Evans (like Strief) had shown some decline over the past few seasons, it was a collection of injuries that hampered him and he played through most of it; but was inactive for five games in 2015, which was the most he’d missed in his career.
Prior to him being released, conventional thought was Evans would take another pay cut to stay on the team, at least another season.
In a report yesterday, Evans’s agent actually stated that the Saints did indeed ask him to rework the three year extension signed in 2015 but the Pro Bowl guard refused, apparently leading the Saints to go another avenue.
Dec 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Brandon Browner (39) against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
You have to wonder if this was the same scenario that forced the still unconfirmed release of cornerback Brandon Browner, who has said his goodbyes but is still not listed on any NFL transaction sheets.
According to Spotrac.com, Browner was scheduled to make a base salary of $2.75 million with a cap hit of $6.3 million for 2016.
With the way he played this past season and the team in need of salary cap space, Browner was number one on the list to be a candidate for a contract restructure and it had to be obvious to him.
As with Evans, I thought that he would stay in New Orleans for at least another season before a final decision was made on his future.
Cutting Browner like Evans immediately would only save the Saints $950,000, where with Evans it was $3.1 million according to Overthecap.com.
Also the dead money in Browner’s contract would be a bit more significant if released now, with it being $5.35 million as compared to designating him as a post-June 1st where it drops to $4.05 million and they would save $2.25 million.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was one of the first to agree to a reworking of his current deal with the Saints; where originally he was scheduled to count $5.9 million against the Saints salary cap but with his new deal has created $2.7 million in cap space.
Dec 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims (34) is tackled by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (59) during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Ellerbe was feared to possibly be a cap casualty this year because his contract numbers compared to his history of playing time wasn’t adding up.
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In 2014 with the Miami Dolphins, he was only active in one game before landing on injured reserve and this past season he was only active for six in another injury filled campaign.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Ellerbe wisely decided to play ball — knowing that if released, he may not make as much heading into free agency considering teams may be concerned about his health.
The release of Evans is sending a message to everyone on the roster, much like the release of linebacker Junior Galette last year: which is they won’t be held hostage by the numbers — so be a “team player”, or you WILL get released.
With the phrase being “held hostage” of course, I’m referring to that the Saints are already lacking in quality depth at both corner and guard, but still made the decision to move on.
Fingers may point to cornerback Keenan Lewis; who seemed to do the same after the “Great Roster Purge of 2015” when Galette and others were being released or traded left and right.
Lewis, who showed concern over his own stability with the team; vocalized those concerns and promised that he’d be a distraction in training camp if his contract wasn’t reworked to provide more guarantees.
With issues in the secondary still a problem at the time, Lewis had his contract restructured to do just that and he later clarified his statement saying that he wanted to stay with the team and actually retire as a Saint.
Nov 15, 2015; Landover, MD, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis (21) is looked at by trainers after suffering an apparent leg injury during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Of course Lewis should tread carefully too moving forward, with his injuries becoming more prevalent along with the salary cap space he’s taking up.
He was only active for six games this year, before being placed on injured reserve for a nagging knee injury that had started to bother him from the previous season.
Although Lewis has said he’ll be back to 100%, if he isn’t then the cap hit of $9.1 million in the final year of his contract next season could loom large for both him and the Saints.
Big Easy Believer editor Barry Hirstius mentioned five more players that could be headed to the “chopping block” with names that shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering they’re a failed free agent signing with a bloated contract like Browner or a beloved veteran on the downslope such as Evans.
While it may be painful to see some of the players on the roster go, the Saints are staying strong with their stance that they can’t afford to be handcuffed financially anymore…