Cesar Ruiz

Saints Sign OL Cesar Ruiz To Extension

SEPTEMBER 17: Details on the Ruiz pact are in, courtesy of ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. The 24-year-old will see fully guaranteed base salaries of $1.33MM and $1.35MM over each of the next two seasons, along with an $8MM roster bonus in 2024. Ruiz’s 2025 salary ($9.15MM) will become guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. Overall, his cap hits will remain flat beginning next season, ranging from $10.65MM to $11MM.

SEPTEMBER 9: Cesar Ruiz is sticking in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Saints have signed their offensive lineman to a four-year extension. 

[RELATED: Saints OL Cesar Ruiz Still Has Potential Future In New Orleans]

The contract is worth $44MM and has a max value of $46MM. The deal also includes $30MM in guaranteed money. Ruiz was set to hit free agency following the 2023 season after previously having his fifth-year option declined.

Ruiz hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round billing through three seasons in the NFL. He became a full-time starter during his sophomore season and has started all 31 of his appearances over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus hasn’t been fond of his performance, never ranking him higher than 56th at his position (among 82 qualifying guards in 2021).

This past season, Ruiz ranked 59th among 77 qualifiers at offensive guard. He was sidelined for the final three games of the 2022 season after suffering a Lisfranc injury. The front office declined his fifth-year option back in May.

Despite his struggles and the Saints’ lack of commitment, general manager Mickey Loomis implied this offseason that Ruiz could still have a future with the team. The executive described the lineman as an “ascending player” and hinted that Ruiz could be a candidate for an extension. Mike Triplett of NewOrleans.football notes that the lineman was a standout during training camp and preseason, while Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com believes Ruiz “enjoyed one of the best camps of any player on the roster.”

Saints IOL Cesar Ruiz Still Has Potential Future In New Orleans

In three years of professional football, interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz has struggled to live up to his first-round potential. Despite the Saints essentially echoing that sentiment by declining his fifth-year option, general manager Mickey Loomis seems to have implied that Ruiz still has a future with the team, according to Jeff Nowak of Audacy Sports.

After excelling as a pass-blocking center at Michigan in college, Ruiz hasn’t been able to find the same success at the NFL level. He has spent most of his time in New Orleans as the team’s primary right guard while filling in at times at his old center position. Ruiz found starts as a rookie thanks to injuries to Andrus Peat and Nick Easton and became a full time starter in his sophomore season.

He’s started every game he’s appeared in since taking over as a starter but has missed four games over his career, including three to end the 2022 regular season. Ruiz suffered a Lisfranc injury that held him out of the team’s final games of the year. He hasn’t practiced since the injury but was scheduled this week for a procedure to remove hardware from the initial surgery to repair his foot. The follow-up procedure was set to take place yesterday, according to Jeff Duncan of nola.com, which should give him enough recovery time to be back for training camp.

Given his on-field and injury struggles, it’s hard to see where his future lies with the Saints. According to Nowak, Loomis referred to Ruiz as an “ascending player,” saying he has high expectations for the fourth-year player. So why decline his fifth-year option?

Declining Ruiz’s fifth-year option makes 2023 a contract year for the lineman. He’ll have one year to prove he deserves a fifth year with the team and beyond. This season, he’ll need to prove that he is improving and ascending, as his general manager hopes. He’ll also need to display an ability to rebound from the season-ending injury from last year. Lisfranc injuries have a tendency to linger, but if Ruiz’s health holds up throughout the season, Nowak feels that an eventual extension is inevitable.

New Orleans signed veteran center Billy Price this week, as well. The move could be insurance in case Ruiz is unable to recover fully. It could also be in service of the goal to keep Ruiz at guard full-time. Without Price, Ruiz is the team’s primary backup at center behind Erik McCoy. If Price can earn the backup role, it would allow Ruiz to focus solely on his work at guard, potentially helping him to ascend to a level worthy of an extension.

2024 NFL Fifth-Year Option Tracker

NFL teams have until May 2 to officially pick up fifth-year options on 2020 first-rounders who are entering the final year of their rookie deals. The 2020 CBA revamped the option structure and made them fully guaranteed, rather than guaranteed for injury only. Meanwhile, fifth-year option salaries are now determined by a blend of the player’s position, initial draft placement and performance- and usage-based benchmarks:

  • Two-time Pro Bowlers (excluding alternate Pro Bowlers) will earn the same as their position’s franchise tag.
  • One-time Pro Bowlers will earn the equivalent of the transition tag.
  • Players who achieve any of the following will get the average of the third-20th highest salaries at their position:
    • At least a 75% snap rate in two of their first three seasons
    • A 75% snap average across all three seasons
    • At least 50% in each of first three seasons
  • Players who do not hit any of those benchmarks will receive the average of the third-25th top salaries at their position.

With the deadline looming, we’ll use the space below to track all the option decisions from around the league:

  1. QB Joe Burrow, Bengals ($29.5MM): Exercised
  2. DE Chase Young, Commanders ($17.45MM): Declined
  3. CB Jeff Okudah, Falcons* ($11.51MM): N/A
  4. T Andrew Thomas, Giants ($14.18MM): Exercised
  5. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins ($23.2MM): Exercised
  6. QB Justin Herbert, Chargers ($29.5MM): Exercised
  7. DT Derrick Brown, Panthers ($11.67MM): Exercised 
  8. LB Isaiah Simmons, Cardinals ($12.72MM): Declined
  9. CB C.J. Henderson, Jaguars** ($11.51MM): Declined
  10. T Jedrick Wills, Browns ($14.18MM): Exercised
  11. T Mekhi Becton, Jets ($12.57MM): Declined
  12. WR Henry Ruggs, Raiders: N/A
  13. T Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers ($18.24MM): Exercised
  14. DT Javon Kinlaw, 49ers ($10.46MM): Declined
  15. WR Jerry Jeudy, Broncos ($14.12MM): Exercised
  16. CB AJ Terrell, Falcons ($12.34MM): Exercised
  17. WR CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys ($17.99MM): Exercised
  18. OL Austin Jackson, Dolphins ($14.18MM): Declined
  19. CB Damon Arnette, Raiders: N/A
  20. DE K’Lavon Chaisson, Jaguars ($12.14MM): Declined
  21. WR Jalen Reagor, Vikings*** ($12.99MM): To decline
  22. WR Justin Jefferson, Vikings ($19.74MM): Exercised
  23. LB Kenneth Murray, Chargers ($11.73MM): Declined
  24. G Cesar Ruiz, Saints ($14.18MM): Declined
  25. WR Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers ($14.12MM): Exercised
  26. QB Jordan Love, Packers ($20.27MM): Extended through 2024
  27. LB Jordyn Brooks, Seahawks ($12.72MM): Declined
  28. LB Patrick Queen, Ravens ($12.72MM): Declined
  29. T Isaiah Wilson, Titans: N/A
  30. CB Noah Igbinoghene, Dolphins ($11.51MM): Declined
  31. CB Jeff Gladney, Vikings: N/A
  32. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Chiefs ($5.46MM): To decline

* = Lions traded Okudah on April 11, 2023
** = Jaguars traded Henderson on Sept. 27, 2021
*** = Eagles traded Reagor on August 31, 2022

Saints Decline Cesar Ruiz’s Fifth-Year Option

While not a Pro Bowler, Cesar Ruiz has been a starter for most of his Saints career. That places the fourth-year guard on the third tier of the CBA’s fifth-year option structure. As a result, the Saints are passing on Ruiz’s 2024 option, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Had New Orleans followed through with the option pickup, Ruiz would have made $14.18MM in 2024. The NFL’s franchise and transition tag formula is used to calculate options, and it still places all offensive linemen under one umbrella. With tackle contracts inflating this price annually, interior O-linemen’s fifth-year options become more onerous — seeing as the 2020 CBA made them fully guaranteed — for teams.

The Saints passing on Ruiz’s option does not mean this partnership will end after four seasons, but the Michigan alum is now set for a contract year. Ruiz will earn $2.34MM in base salary this season and is tied to a cap number just north of $4MM. The Saints are positioned rely on the former No. 24 overall pick as their right guard again in 2023.

Primarily a center with the Wolverines, Ruiz has played guard as a pro. Erik McCoy‘s center entrenchment slid Ruiz to guard as a rookie, and despite not having played the position since his freshman year of college, Ruiz has started 40 games for the Saints. Pro Football Focus has not viewed Ruiz as an upper-echelon guard in any of his three seasons, slotting him just outside the top 50 at the position from 2020-22, and the 6-foot-4 blocker is coming off an injury-shortened season. A foot injury ended Ruiz’s 2022 slate after 14 games.

Ruiz, 23, played every snap for the Saints in 2021 and logged a 100% snap rate in the 14 games before being shut down last season. The Saints have McCoy, left guard Andrus Peat and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk signed to long-term extensions. The team has continued to make big investments in its O-line, drafting left tackle Trevor Penning in last year’s first round. Assuming Penning becomes a full-time starter in his second season, he makes it five homegrown first- or second-round picks comprising New Orleans’ O-line.

With a 2024 franchise tag not realistic for Ruiz, the Saints will have a decision to make on him before next year’s legal tampering period begins in March. The team did trade up to No. 103 to start Saturday’s fourth round, selecting Old Dominion O-lineman Nick Saldiveri. While Saldiveri worked as Old Dominion’s primary right tackle in recent years, he repped as an interior blocker at the Senior Bowl.

Saints Place G Cesar Ruiz On IR

DECEMBER 21: A Lisfranc injury will shut down Ruiz, Dennis Allen said Wednesday. This troublesome foot issue will bring to an end a 31-game start streak for the third-year blocker.

DECEMBER 20: Shortly after seeing Erik McCoy return from IR, the Saints will be without another of their interior offensive line starters. The team moved Cesar Ruiz to IR on Tuesday, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

Although Ruiz played all 55 of New Orleans’ offensive snaps against Atlanta in Week 15, the former first-round pick will be shut down with a foot injury. He would not be able to return until the divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints are still vying for the NFC South title, even at 5-9, but this transaction will probably end Ruiz’s third season.

Saturday will be only Ruiz’s second missed game as a pro. The Saints have turned to the Michigan product at guard and center, primarily stationing him at guard opposite Andrus Peat. Ruiz worked as the Wolverines’ starting center during his sophomore and junior seasons, entering the NFL after the latter slate, but the Saints shuttled him to guard due to McCoy’s presence.

The Saints have invested significantly in their interior O-line, having Peat and McCoy signed to extensions. Ruiz becomes eligible for a new deal in January, but the Saints can slow-play this process by exercising his fifth-year option and waiting until 2024 to consider an extension. New Orleans has four former first-round picks and an ex-second-rounder (McCoy) along its O-line.

The 24th overall pick in 2020, Ruiz started all 17 games last season and all 14 thus far this year. Pro Football Focus rates Ruiz 58th among full-time guards this season, a number right in line with his 2021 assessment. Ruiz, however, allowed a career-low 16 quarterback pressures, Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football tweets. It will be interesting to see how the Saints proceed regarding Ruiz’s option, given the team’s extensive work fortifying its front.

To fill Ruiz’s roster spot, the Saints signed Ty Summers off the Jaguars’ practice squad, Aaron Wilson of KPRC tweets. A former Packers draftee who saw action from 2019-21 in Green Bay, the TCU-produced linebacker has played in three Jags games this season.

More Details On Deshaun Watson Sweepstakes; Latest On Baker Mayfield

Though there were four finalists for QB Deshaun Watson before the Browns and Texans completed the blockbuster trade that sent Watson to Cleveland, as many as 10 teams were reportedly interested in Watson’s services. In remarks he made following the trade, Houston GM Nick Caserio would not say exactly how many teams made inquiries, but he did note that the interest went beyond the Browns, Saints, Panthers, and Falcons.

“I would say there was a fair amount of teams, but what we tried to do was bring the teams that had a legitimate interest, and that was based off the compensation that was presented,” Caserio said (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). “I don’t want to get into the exact number, but there was a few more, however many teams than what everybody was reporting towards the end.”

Caserio’s comments confirm what had been reported all along: only clubs that were willing to meet the Texans’ steep asking price (three first-rounders and more) were granted permission to have an in-person meeting with Watson. While that seems like the only logical move in hindsight, it was quite a masterstroke by Caserio. Had he allowed Watson to meet with all interested clubs, regardless of proposed compensation, Watson may have decided to waive his no-trade clause for only one team, thereby undermining Caserio’s leverage. But as Florio observes, by having a “pre-qualifying” process, Caserio guaranteed that he would get what he wanted before Watson truly got a say in his next destination.

Per Florio, the Colts put feelers out to the Texans, but Caserio was not willing to deal Watson within his division. Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network reports that the Eagles remained interested throughout the process, but Watson was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause for Philadelphia, largely because he is friends with Eagles QB Jalen Hurts and did not want to take away Hurts’ starting job. Wilson adds that the 49ers also placed a call to the Texans last year.

Caserio suggested that reports on the Texans’ being interested in players as well as picks in a Watson swap were at least somewhat overstated, saying, “I would say other than three first-round picks, I would say probably the rest of it was a little bit of speculation.” Still, Wilson reports that if Houston swung a deal with the Falcons, Atlanta CB AJ Terrell would have been intriguing to Caserio, and if the Saints had been able to acquire Watson, New Orleans OLs Erik McCoy and/or Cesar Ruiz might have been a part of the package heading back to the Texans.

In the end, the Browns, who were initially believed to be out of the running for Watson, were able to acquire the three-time Pro Bowler because they were willing to give him a contract — five years for a fully-guaranteed $230MM, which Wilson reports includes a $45MM signing bonus — that other teams were not comfortable matching. We heard at the time the Cleveland-Houston deal was consummated that the financial side of the equation became untenable for the Falcons and Panthers, and Wilson confirmed in a separate piece that Carolina was resistant to a fully-guaranteed pact.

Cleveland may have felt compelled to make such a bold strike because of an unsalvageable situation with Baker Mayfield. Mayfield requested a trade while the Browns’ courtship of Watson was ongoing, and when it appeared that Watson would not waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to northeast Ohio, the Browns indicated they would not accommodate the request. However, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes, Mayfield had no intentions of playing for the Browns in 2022 even if the club had not acquired Watson, and that reality could have forced Cleveland’s hand.

According to Cabot, the Browns had made it clear to Mayfield’s camp that they would pursue a top-flight QB this offseason, but that they were content to run it back with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 draft if such a pursuit were unsuccessful. Because it had been upfront with him about its intentions, the organization believed it could eventually smooth things over with Mayfield. As we heard last week, though, Mayfield declined owner Jimmy Haslam‘s offer to fly out to Mayfield’s home to discuss the situation, which was a clear indication that there was trouble in paradise.

Cabot further reports that the Watson situation and the team’s comments that it was looking for an “adult” at the quarterback position — thus implying that Mayfield is not, in fact, an adult — merely represented the final straw. Mayfield was said to have issues with HC Kevin Stefanski‘s play-calling and scheme, and as Stefanski will retain play-calling duties in 2022, Mayfield was prepared to skip the Browns’ offseason program and minicamp in an effort to force a trade to a team that has an offense more conducive to his skill-set. As Mayfield is eligible for free agency in 2023, the upcoming season is obviously critical for him, both from a financial and on-field perspective.

We recently learned that Mayfield would prefer to be traded to the Colts. Cabot suggests that, if Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard is interested, he may require the Browns to pay at least some of Mayfield’s $18.9MM salary, and since Cleveland has no choice but to deal Mayfield at this point, the team’s leverage in that regard and in terms of trade compensation is fairly limited.

Both Cabot and Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times confirm that the Seahawks may be interested in Mayfield but are genuinely excited by Drew Lock, who recently came to Seattle in the trade that sent Russell Wilson to the Broncos. As for the Texans, Caserio was non-committal when asked if Davis Mills, who started 11 games as a rookie in 2021 and who showed marked improvement down the stretch, would remain Houston’s QB1. Nonetheless, Mills is expected to open the 2022 campaign as the starting signal-caller, despite Caserio’s comments that the team is “starting from scratch” at the most important position in sports.

NFC Notes: Goodwin, Hunter, Murphy, Saints

Marquise Goodwin‘s bid to make a second U.S. Olympic team failed Friday. The Bears wide receiver was unable to qualify for Sunday’s finals in the long jump, placing 19th out of 24 jumpers in the prelims at the U.S. Olympic trials. An Olympian in 2012, Goodwin has now fallen short of returning to the U.S. team in back-to-back trials. He placed seventh at the 2016 Rio-qualifying event. The 30-year-old’s best jump a 24-foot, 10-inch leap, was nearly three feet shy of his career-best mark — set at the 2012 trials. Goodwin falling short should not exactly surprise, given his focus on an NFL career in the years since the London Games. Although the veteran wideout met the Olympic standard at a March meet, he has been far from an active jumper during his NFL career. He can now transition to full-time football prep. Goodwin, who signed with the Bears in April, will now be on track to join his team on time for training camp.

Here is the latest from the NFC:

  • Danielle Hunter‘s reworked contract ended up creating nearly $4MM in cap space for the Vikings. The Pro Bowl defensive end’s adjusted deal dropped his 2021 cap number from $17.25MM to $13.37MM, per Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson (Twitter link). This pact added $9.45MM in total guarantees to Hunter’s contract, Wilson tweets. In 2022, Hunter’s base salary will drop to $1.4MM, per Wilson (on Twitter), with the $18MM roster bonus comprising most of his $26.1MM cap figure. The Vikings also included a $1MM sack-based incentive for their top pass rusher.
  • The Cardinals lost All-Decade cornerback Patrick Peterson, a 10-year starter, in free agency. Fellow 2020 Arizona boundary starter Dre Kirkpatrick is gone as well. However, the Cards want to keep top holdover Byron Murphy primarily in the slot, Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com notes. GM Steve Keim called Murphy one of the league’s top inside defenders earlier this year, and the former second-round pick fared much better in 2020 than he did as a rookie in ’19. Murphy’s snap rate, however, dropped from 98% in 2019 to 72% last season. The Cards also signed Darqueze Dennard this offseason; Dennard mostly played in the slot with the Bengals. It will be interesting to see how DC Vance Joseph deploys Murphy, whom he called his top corner, in the Washington product’s third season.
  • The Saints‘ starting lineup received some shakeups this offseason, most notably at quarterback. But Taysom Hill and/or Jameis Winston are still set to play behind one of the NFL’s top offensive lines. However, the Saints may be considering a change up front. Upon selecting Cesar Ruiz in last year’s first round, the Saints originally planned to play him at center and move incumbent Erik McCoy to right guard, per Larry Holder of The Athletic. But McCoy’s play at center through two seasons prompted New Orleans to leave him there. While a switch may still be a consideration, Holder expects the two blockers to stay put for now (subscription required). McCoy has been a quality center, but Pro Football Focus ranked Ruiz 64th among guards last season.

Peter King’s Latest On 2020 NFL Draft

While Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah is widely viewed as the top defensive back in the 2020 draft class, at least one general manager thinks a portion of NFL decision-makers may have a different view. “I bet 40% of the teams in the league have C.J. Henderson higher on their boards than Okudah,” the anonymous GM told Peter King of NBC Sports. “Better cover guy.” Henderson, a Florida product with 30 total games and a 2019 All-SEC nod under his belt, is pegged as a first-round pick, but it would certainly be a surprise if he came off the board before Okudah, who is thought to be a potential top-five selection.

Let’s take a look at a few more draft tidbits from King’s latest column:

  • The Chargers‘ quarterback situation continues to a conundrum. While a source close to Los Angeles GM Tom Telesco tells King Telesco is high on Oregon signal-caller Justin Herbert, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has faith in incumbent Tyrod Taylor. In fact, Lynn might be comfortable starting Taylor even beyond the 2020 season.
  • While the Chargers may target a quarterback in the first round, don’t expect the Jaguars to go after a passer with the ninth overall pick, per King. Jacksonville intends to give 2019 sixth-rounder Gardner Minshew a legitimate shot at becoming a full-time NFL starter after trading veteran Nick Foles to the Bears earlier this month.
  • Although the 49ers are already loaded along their defensive line (even after trading DeForest Buckner to the Colts), they could still target even more front four help in the first round. Specifically, San Francisco could be eyeing a defensive tackle such as South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers own both the 13th and 31st picks on Day 1 of the draft, leaving them ample opportunities to address nee areas.
  • The Cowboys may look to find a replacement for All-Pro center Travis Frederick after he announced his retirement earlier this year, but at least one rival executive tells King that Dallas won’t spend the 17th pick on a pivot. However, that same executive believes the Cowboys are fans of Michigan interior lineman Cesar Ruiz, and could trade down before selecting the ex-Wolverine.
  • One NFL GM tells King the Patriots “love” Herbert, but may not be infatuated enough to trade up from pick No. 23. Indeed, New England would likely need to sacrifice a 2021 first-round pick in order to move into Herbert range.