Payton: Sproles can’t be replaced, but Cadet can ease loss

ORLANDO, Fla. — Saints coach Sean Payton speaks frankly about how it’s not really possible to substitute what his team lost when it traded running back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I don’t think you ever replace a skill set like Darren’s,” Payton said to media at the annual NFL owners meeting Wednesday. “It’s unique, and it’s different really than our league has seen in a while with a player of his stature.”

But in reserve running back Travaris Cadet, the Saints have a player on their roster who — while not nearly as proven as Sproles — shares some qualities with the man who led New Orleans in all-purpose yards each of the three seasons he was there, Payton added.

And he’ll have plenty of help from the remaining members of his position group: Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas.

“He’s a guy that can run the routes (Sproles) did,” Payton said of Cadet. “He is a utility player that has gotten better at the core skill set of just being a runner but is very comfortable when it comes to being a receiver out the backfield.”

Few will argue with Payton that he shipped off a valuable commodity in Sproles, whom the Eagles acquired for a fifth-round pick earlier in March. Among his many feats, Sproles set an NFL record for all-purpose yards (2,696) in 2011 and scored 24 touchdowns in 48 games for the Saints.

But Payton knows there are three reasons not to fret about not having Sproles on the roster. First, the Saints still have Robinson and Ingram, who especially showed how dangerous they can be on the ground in a wild-card win last season at Philadelphia in which the Saints racked up 185 yards, the second-most in franchise history for a postseason contest.

Then there is the eight-year veteran Thomas, who was the Saints’ leading rusher and led the NFL in catches among running backs with 77.

“We’ve carried and had quite a bit of depth at that position,” Payton said. “We’ve always felt it’s important.”

And that brings things to Cadet.

He’s far from a carbon copy of Sproles. In his two years with the Saints and the NFL, he has seven catches for 49 yards, one touchdown reception and one carry for five yards.

On 35 kick returns, he’s piled up 929 yards. He’s returned two punts for 2 yards.

All of which raises his all-purpose yardage to a modest 985 yards.

Nonetheless, Cadet made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Appalachian State by leading the team in receiving yards (246) and receptions (30) as well as finishing second in rushing (39 carries for 132 yards) during the 2012 preseason.

Payton wasn’t around when that happened due to his suspension related to the bounty scandal. But in 2013, whenever Sproles was unavailable to play, some of his duties were assigned to Cadet — especially on kickoff returns.

In the event Sproles couldn’t field them, punt returns were handled by Lance Moore, who’s now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cadet did well enough in games and practices to convince Payton he’s a possibility to ease the effects of Sproles’ absence, the coach said. Payton had no qualms declaring that Cadet would have the chance to be more involved in the running, passing and kickoff return games, and he’d contend to field punts full-time.

“With regards to his touches, with regards to his opportunities, Travaris is a guy that played and is now going (to do so more),” Payton said. “He’s someone that’s very comfortable in that role.”