Four days until NFL free agency is officially under way, and teams are scrambling to generate any sort of salary cap space and even exploring the typically sparse trade market.
One particular cap-strapped team is the New Orleans Saints with the squad reportedly placing running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas on the trading block, according to ESPN.
Last month, the Saints gained some cap wiggle room by releasing some top defensive performers in safety Roman Harper, pass rusher Will Smith and corner Jabari Greer, but that still left them with a mere $2.8 million in space. Only the Dallas Cowboys have less cap space than the Saints as free agency begins on Tuesday, March 11.
Even after placing the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham, it’s believed the Saints are looking to find enough room to sign the versatile and staggeringly athletic player to a long-term deal.
Of those reportedly on the block, Sproles represents the biggest cap hit in 2014 at $4.25 million, and Thomas has a cap figure of $2.9 million. Rather than outright cutting them, the Saints could be trying to obtain a pick or two on top of the cap savings.
Receiver Lance Moore was also mentioned to be on the block, and he tweeted out his goodbye to the city of New Orleans on Thursday. Since the Saints apparently received no offers, its likely Moore is released and hits free agency like so many players on Tuesday.
Working primarily as a pass-catching back, Sproles has been an integral part of the Saints offense since he signed as a free agent back in 2011. In those three years he’s totaled 232 receptions for 1,981 yards and 16 touchdowns, with another 1,067 rushing yards and five scores on top.
A Saint for his entire career, Thomas has notched 3,523 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, coupled with 2,230 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns over eight seasons.
However, both are seen as expendable with Khiry Robinson emerging last year and Mark Ingram now with enough experience under his belt to be the primary back. The departure of Moore also frees up snaps for receiver Kenny Stills as he enters his second year.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another squad looking to unload a hefty contract for some assets in return, starting with guard Davin Joseph. Reports indicate the Bucs are shopping Joseph and his $6 million cap hit for next season.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line let up 47 sacks last season, tied for the sixth-worst mark in the league, and it was by far Joseph’s worst year as a pro. Joseph’s size (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) is a huge plus, but his salary is seen as highly inflated especially with his injury history.
It’s also possible the rumors for Joseph are a smoke screen for an even bigger possible deal on the horizon.
According to the Boston Globe, the New England Patriots could make a play to bring top Tampa Bay corner back Darrelle Revis to Foxboro. Rather than re-signing Aqib Talib, the Pats could complete a blockbuster trade with the Bucs and convert most of the $16 million owed to Revis next season into bonuses that won’t count against the cap.
Considering the Bucs went through so much to acquire Revis from the New York Jets the deal might seem unlikely. However, if Tampa Bay trades Revis by March 13 they won’t have to pay him a $1.5 million bonus and will instead owe the Jets a fourth-round pick rather than a third rounder, according to the report.