No word on Darren Sproles as free agency nears

Saints running back Darren Sproles (AP Photo/Mike McCarn) Show caption
Saints running back Darren Sproles (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

It had been three days since Darren Sproles was the subject of reports stating he would be cut or traded, but on Monday the NFL didn’t process any transactions involving the Saints running back.

The 30-year-old himself indicated via Twitter that he’s on his way off the team, on Friday posting, “Thank you New Orleans for your support over the past 3 years! I will always be forever grateful. #Who Dat.”

But nothing official happened as the beginning of the NFL’s free agency signing period at 3 p.m. Tuesday neared, and he remained on New Orleans’ roster Monday.

Shortly after joining the Saints in free agency in 2011, Sproles set an NFL single-season record with 2,696 all-purpose yards as New Orleans got to the divisional round of the playoffs. But his production dropped in each of the next two campaigns.

Sproles had 1,577 all-purpose yards in 2012, during which the Saints finished 7-9 and missed the postseason. In 2013, as New Orleans again reached the divisional round, he tallied 1,273 all-purpose yards, a drop of 53 percent from what he had in 2011.

His release would save the Saints $3.5 million for the purposes of the 2014 salary cap, which was set at $133 million.

National media outlets Friday reported that Sproles seemed poised to become the latest of several fan favorites with whom the Saints have recently parted ways. In February, New Orleans cut linebacker/defensive end Will Smith, safety Roman Harper and cornerback Jabari Greer. Receiver Lance Moore was let go Friday.

In all, the releases have cleared $19.6 million of cap space. Releasing Sproles would increase that to $23.1 million, which would give the Saints about $6.2 million to use on All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham (given the franchise tag Feb. 28) and to either retain or pursue free agents.

The NFL’s free agency signing period coincides with the start of the new league year. A 72-hour free agency negotiating window opened Saturday.

The Saints headed into this week with 11 potential unrestricted free agents, headlined by right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian de la Puente and safety Malcolm Jenkins. Strief’s agent, Ralph Cindrich, has said his client will hit the open market Tuesday, and many believe the same will be true of de la Puente and Jenkins.

De la Puente has drawn attention from the Giants as well as two of the Saints’ NFC South rivals: the Falcons and Buccaneers, a source told The Advocate on Monday. The source said the Saints have communicated a desire to retain de la Puente, who has started 44 games for New Orleans since 2011.

Starting Giants center David Baas — who is 32 and played in just three games last year due to injuries — is owed $4.75 million; reports have indicated his team will cut him after exploring whether to reduce his pay.

For the Falcons, the center is young and inexperienced Joe Hawley. The Bucs’ center is Jeremy Zuttah, who has started all 32 games the past two seasons. But as ESPN has reported, Zuttah may be a candidate for release because he has been average, and the Bucs can clear his whole cap hit of $4.5 million without any dead money if they cut him.

The Bucs’ offensive coordinator is Jeff Tedford, who coached de la Puente in college at Cal.

The Miami Herald on Monday reported that the Dolphins plan to pursue Strief.

Concerning confirmed moves to retain players, New Orleans has re-signed two potential unrestricted free agents — linebacker Keyunta Dawson and kicker Shayne Graham — to minimum one-year deals as well as their two exclusive rights free agents, tackle Bryce Harris and cornerback Trevin Wade.

The Saints gave a minimum tender to safety Rafael Bush, one of four restricted free agents. That means Bush can accept an offer sheet from another team, but New Orleans can match it if it wants.

Lagniappe

After visiting New Orleans in February, free-agent safety Louis Delmas agreed to terms with Miami, Pro Football Talk reported. ... Josh Hill, an undrafted rookie tight end for the Saints in 2013, was honored by his hometown of Blackfoot, Idaho, last week. He received what is thought to be the first ceremonial city key to be given out in Blackfoot’s history, according to the Idaho State Journal. Hill had six catches for 44 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.