Saints OL James Hurst Retires

A valuable player on the Saints’ offensive front for the past four seasons, James Hurst will not factor into the team’s plans any longer in 2024. The veteran offensive lineman announced his retirement Wednesday.

Further complicating matters for a Saints team that has seen its O-line plan endure multiple setbacks, Hurst’s retirement strips away a key option for the team. Hurst has seen extensive time at tackle and guard in New Orleans, but the former Ravens blocker will call it quits after 10 seasons.

Hurst started all 15 games he played last season and has been a first-stringer 46 times for the Saints over the past three seasons. Last year, Hurst saw most of his snaps at left guard. But the versatile blocker played mostly left tackle in 2021 and ’22; he operated as the Saints’ regular starter on the blind side during that span. With Ryan Ramczyk‘s career in jeopardy and 2022 first-rounder Trevor Penning having not yet panned out, the Saints enter the draft with major questions up front.

The Saints gave Hurst a $1.5MM roster bonus on March 17, and he restructured his contract last month as well. The team reduced Hurst’s cap number from $6.5MM to $2.9MM, adding void years. This retirement will only leave a small amount of dead money on New Orleans’ 2024 cap sheet, as Hurst was set to be a free agent in 2025. But it could leave a bigger hole on the team’s O-line.

After splitting time between left tackle (in relief of Terron Armstead) and left guard in 2021, Hurst worked as the Saints’ Penning bridge for most of the ’22 season. Hurst logged 913 LT snaps that year, and Penning did not boot him out of the lineup upon returning to full strength in 2023. The Northern Iowa alum wound up benched, but Andrus Peat slid from guard to tackle to replace him. Hurst ended up at left guard primarily, starting 15 games last season. Pro Football Focus viewed Hurst as a better tackle than guard, rating him as a plus pass blocker from 2021-22. Even upon being shifted to a different position, Hurst graded as PFF’s No. 41 overall guard last season.

Peat is unsigned, and Ramczyk — after knee trouble in 2023 — is uncertain to suit up at all this year. After five years featuring the Armstead-Ramczyk tandem, with regulars like Peat and Erik McCoy inside, the Saints are backed into a corner presently. This is a good time to need a tackle, and the Saints are being linked to capitalizing on this deep draft class and bringing one in at No. 14. That path would mean two first-round tackle picks in three years, but the team would be taking a considerable risk by not going this route given what has happened at the position.

A UDFA out of North Carolina, Hurst did well for himself as a pro. He made 95 career starts with the Ravens and Saints. The Ravens used him as a frequent spot starter — at both right and left tackle — and plugged him in as a full-time guard in 2017. Hurst earned a four-year, $17.5MM deal to stay in Baltimore in 2018 but only played two years on that accord; Baltimore cut him following a 2020 PED suspension. Hurst landed in New Orleans on a low-cost deal but scored a three-year, $9MM deal to stay with the team.

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