February 23rd, 2023 at 11:37am CST by Sam Robinson
The Saints have begun their annual midwinter trudge toward cap compliance. They reworked two of their starting offensive linemen’s contracts, along with Wil Lutz‘s, in recent days to create a chunk of cap space.
New Orleans adjusted Ryan Ramczyk‘s contract to create $10.4MM in cap room, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com, doing so not long after they adjusted Erik McCoy‘s deal (Twitter link). The McCoy restructure created $8MM in space, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.
This business-as-usual effort from the NFC South team also included Lutz lowering his cap number by $1.5MM, Yates adds (on Twitter). Altogether, the Saints have created just more than $20MM in cap space. As of Thursday morning, OverTheCap slots New Orleans as being just more than $35MM over the 2023 salary ceiling. More work is coming, but GM Mickey Loomis certainly has extensive experience in making these climbs.
The latest batch of restructures involved moving $12.92MM of Ramczyk’s base salary into a signing bonus, per Yates. Ramczyk signed a five-year, $96MM deal back in 2021; that contract will now produce higher cap numbers after 2023. From 2024-26, the acclaimed right tackle’s three cap figures ($27MM, $28MM, $25.2MM) will be in the top 10 for non-quarterbacks, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap passes along (via Twitter). Though, various deals around the league this year will likely change that. McCoy’s through-2027 extension will feature a cap spike from $4.7MM this year to $13.7MM in 2024.
While Loomis’ 2021 restructure project involved moving from more than $100MM over the cap to a place where the team could use its franchise tag on Marcus Williams, displaying the veteran GM’s acumen here, the team is among those pursuing Derek Carr. The Saints were the only team to host Carr during the Raiders’ brief (and strictly controlled) trade sweepstakes, but the Saints would have needed to rework his contract to greenlight a trade. Carr refused to waive his no-trade clause and is now a free agent, having made the Jets his first FA visit. The Saints will need to fire up more of their February-March cap craftsmanship to create room for a Carr contract, in the event they are still in the running when the quarterback prepares to make his final call.
In a move foreshadowed earlier in the week, the Saints have brought back a key member of their offensive line. The team announced on Saturday that center Erik McCoyhas been activated from IR.
The 25-year-old was designated for return on Wednesday, opening his 21-day activation window. He had missed the past four games, as required by injured reserve rules, but a return to action along this timeline is encouraging for his health outlook down the stretch. The same holds true of linebacker Chase Hansen, who has played exclusively on special teams to date.
With McCoy back in the fold, New Orleans will once again have their full-time starter in the middle of their o-line. McCoy played every snap of the 2022 season before going down in Week 9 with a calf injury. He dealt with a similar issue the year before, which caused him to miss games for the first time in his four-year career. The former second-rounder graded out in the top-five amongst all centers as a rookie, earning a 78.0 rating from PFF. 2022 has, however, continued his emerging trend of grades in the mid-60s, which have placed him mid-pack at the position.
The move will allow Cesar Ruiz to return to his usual right guard spot. That should help the team’s offensive front in their attempts to improve on the ground during their late-season playoff push. The Saints rank 21st in rushing yards per game with 110, and sit 28th with an average time of possession of 29 minutes. Improvement in those areas could spark a December turnaround and keep the team in contention for the NFC South title.
In a corresponding roster move, New Orleans placed linebacker Zack Baunon IR. The 2020 third-rounder has, similarly to Hansen, been used on special teams far more than defense. The former will now miss the remainder of the regular season after being sidelined for just one contest over the course of his first two years in the league. Hansen will likely re-take a significant third phase role in his absence, beginning on Sunday for New Orleans’ divisional contest against the Falcons.
As we enter the final stretch of the regular season, New Orleans is making preparations, designating center Erik McCoy and linebacker Chase Hansen for return off injured reserve, according to Field Yates of ESPN. Both players have sat out of the team’s last four games, the minimum amount required to return form IR.
McCoy was placed on IR after leaving New Orleans’ Monday night loss to the Ravens in early-November. The team’s fourth-year starting center left the game with a calf injury and sat out the next five weeks, mirroring his absence from the year before due to similar calf issues. Usual starting right guard Cesar Ruiz, who has center experience from his time as a Wolverine, has been filling in for McCoy with backup lineman Calvin Throckmorton filling Ruiz’s spot at guard. Veteran interior lineman Josh Andrews has also helped to fill out the two positions, starting three of the four games McCoy has missed.
Hansen’s return will add a bit of depth at the linebacker position. The third-year player out of Utah had been a mainstay on the special teams units this season before finding his way to IR.
The team also has officially placed veteran running back Mark Ingram on IR following the slight MCL tear suffered in the team’s more recent Monday night loss to the Buccaneers. The injury to the team’s backup running back has forced New Orleans to make some moves, the first of which being the promotion of practice squad running back David Johnson to the 53-man roster.
The second move made to counter the absence of Ingram is today’s waiver claim of former Texans and Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin, confirmed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Benjamin was released by Arizona a few weeks after a three-week starting run that included a 113-yard, touchdown-scoring performance. He quickly was picked up by the Texans who gave him two weeks to adjust to his new settings before playing him sparingly each of the past two weeks. He received his first carries as a Texan last weekend against the Cowboys before getting waived for the second time this season.
Benjamin was starting to show some production as a backup running back in his second year of NFL play, earning 299 yards off 70 carries before getting waived from the Cardinals. Combining Benjamin with Johnson should provide New Orleans with some solid, fresh legs behind starter Alvin Kamara.
After leaving Monday night’s loss to the Ravens with a calf injury, Saints starting center Erik McCoy was placed on injured reserve yesterday. Since they were able to make the move prior to today’s game against Pittsburgh, this gives McCoy five weeks for a potential return from IR after the Saints late Week 14 bye week. If they waited until after today’s game, the 25-year-old wouldn’t be eligible to return until Week 16.
McCoy is currently in his fourth year out of Texas A&M, serving as the team’s starting center since being drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. This is McCoy’s second encounter with a calf injury after missing five games last year due to calf issues. Before that, McCoy played every game possible in his first two years.
When McCoy left last week’s game, the Saints moved right guard Cesar Ruiz, who had plenty of experience at center from his time in Ann Arbor, to cover for McCoy and brought in Calvin Throckmorton to fill in for Ruiz. Today, though, the Saints started Josh Andrews, whom they had just signed to the active roster from the practice squad yesterday, at center, allowing Ruiz to return to right guard. Throckmorton and undrafted rookie Lewis Kidd split time filling in for an injured Andrus Peat at left guard and, after starting left tackle James Hurst, already filling in for first-round rookie Trevor Penning, left the game with an injury, Landon Young was called into action. The offensive line is currently in tatters with three starters out by the end of today’s game.
If Hurst or Peat are forced to miss any more time, expect more practice squad call ups in the coming weeks. The Saints currently roster Drew Desjarlais, Yasir Durant, and Derrick Kelly on the practice squad and may have to call on one or all of them to cover their battered offensive line in case of any further injuries.
The Saints have taken care of an important piece of business just before the beginning of the season. New Orleans has reached agreement with center Erik McCoyon a five-year extension worth up to $63.75MM (Twitter link via Mike Garafolo of NFL Network).
Garafolo adds that the deal – which was confirmed by McCoy’s agents – also includes over $40MM in guaranteed money. The 2019 second-rounder had one season remaining on his rookie contract, so this new deal will keep him in New Orleans through 2028. His level of play since his arrival in the league made an extension such as this one a distinct possibility.
McCoy, 25, has been a full-time starter since his rookie season, when he earned a PFF grade of 78. He played a full schedule once again the following season, though his rating fell that year to 69.4. In 2021, the Texas A&M product took another step back in PFF’s eyes, ranking 23rd in the league amongst centers. McCoy also missed the first action of his career, being sidelined for five games due to a calf strain.
As Garafolo notes, this new deal will make McCoy the highest-earning center who has yet to be named a Pro Bowler. Overall, the $12.75MM yearly average of the contract will rank him fourth in the league amongst centers in terms of compensation, only slightly behind Jason Kelce, Frank Ragnowand Ryan Jensen.
McCoy has been able to maintain his spot in the middle of the Saints’ o-line despite the team drafting Cesar Ruizin the first round of the 2020 draft. New Orleans’ investment in him points to McCoy remaining at the pivot, as the team begins life without Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead. Even without the latter, the Saints should still have a strong unit up front on the right side in particular with McCoy, Ruiz and Ryan Ramczyk.
It remains to be seen if this new deal will affect McCoy’s 2022 cap hit, which currently sits at $3.4MM. The Saints made a slew of moves this spring to reach cap compliance, but they entered today with less than $3MM to work with. Over the life of the contract, though, McCoy could prove to be worth the commitment as the Saints look to keep as many of their top young players on the books for the long term as possible.
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.
September 25th, 2021 at 5:02pm CST by Sam Robinson
Thin at wide receiver, the Saints are promoting a familiar player to help fill the void. The team elevated Kenny Stills from its practice squad Saturday.
Should the Saints dress Stills for their Week 3 game against the Patriots, it will mark his first game with the team since 2014. Like former teammate Brandin Cooks, Stills has been involved in multiple trades since his most recent game as a Saint. New Orleans traded Stills to Miami in 2015; the Dolphins sent him to the Texans in 2019.
Stills’ most recent Saints slate remains his best yardage total to date, with the former fifth-round pick accumulating 931 in his second season. The veteran deep threat has 37 touchdown catches and 4,843 receiving yards as a pro. Much has changed since Stills’ last stint on New Orleans’ active roster. Only Cameron Jordan and Terron Armstead remain from that period.
The 29-year-old target has, however, hit a bit of a rough patch since the Texans acquired Cooks and reconfigured their receiving corps last year. Stills has not played in a game since the Texans faced the Patriots in Week 10 of last season. Houston released Stills last November. While the Bills signed him to their practice squad late last season, Stills did not suit up for Buffalo.
The Saints reacquired Stills on a practice squad deal last week. He will join a receiving corps in need. The Saints are down Michael Thomas until at least Week 7, due to his belated ankle surgery, and also have Tre’Quan Smith stashed on IR. New Orleans also elevated center Austin Reiter for Sunday’s game. Starter Erik McCoy remains out with a calf injury.
September 14th, 2021 at 10:50am CST by Zachary Links
Saints center Erik McCoy will miss time due to a calf strain (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). While the team awaits word on his timetable, they’ll work out former Chiefs center Austin Reiter, per Pelissero.
The Saints drafted McCoy in Round 2 of the 2019 Draft and immediately installed him as the starting center. They flirted with moving him to right guard at one point in time to make room for Cesar Ruiz, but his leadership in the middle was too valuable to lose.
Including Sunday’s blowout win over the Packers, Ruiz has started in all 33 of his games for the Saints. Now, he’ll be shelved for the first time in his young pro career.
Reiter, a Washington seventh-round pick in 2016, could offer some interim support. He spent the last couple of seasons as Patrick Mahomes‘ snapper, but Kansas City let him hit the open market. Reiter met with multiple teams, including the Bengals, Giants, and Texans, but went unsigned all offseason.