With the start of free agency and new NFL year just five days away Thursday, the Saints were reportedly trying to create salary cap space by “shopping” wide receiver Lance Moore and running back Pierre Thomas.
Citing a source, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted the Saints were trying to deal Moore and Thomas, two of the more tenured players on the roster, and possibly running back Darren Sproles.
Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis did not respond to an email about the ESPN report, and agents for Moore and Thomas did not return phone calls to The Advocate.
The Saints were believed to be about $1.5 million under the $133 million salary cap Wednesday evening, but need more cap room to sign All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham and perhaps retain some of their other potential unrestricted free agents.
Graham had the franchise tag applied to him a week ago, a designation that carries a $7.035 million price tag for a tight end.
But Graham and his representatives are expected to file a grievance for him to be paid as a wide receiver because he lined up more at that position than at tight end last season.
If the grievance is filed and an arbitrator rules in Graham’s favor, the one-year deal would jump to the wide receiver franchise salary of $12.132 million for 2014 — unless he and the club agree on a long-term contract by July 15.
The Saints last month gained some cap relief by terminating the contracts of three veteran defenders — outside linebacker Will Smith, cornerback Jabari Greer and strong safety Roman Harper.
That, coupled with a $7 million increase over the projected 2014 salary cap, gave the Saints enough breathing room to tag Graham as a tight end.
The Saints also announced that inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who’ll become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday afternoon, will not be re-signed.
They have only 11 unrestricted free agents remaining after signing linebacker Keyunta Dawson and kicker Shayne Graham and announcing Vilma would not be re-signed. The Saints likely want to keep some of those UFAs — a group that includes tackle Zach Strief, free safety Malcolm Jenkins, center Brian de la Puente and wide receiver Robert Meachem.
Also, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who spent the entire 2013 season on injured reserve, was told he won’t be re-signed and has indicated that he’ll retire.
Freeing themselves of the contracts of Moore, Thomas and/or Sproles would mean substantial savings for the Saints this season.
At the same time, it would subtract some players that have made significant contributions to an offense that has led the NFL in total yards four times and finished no lower than sixth since coach Sean Payton took over in 2006. All three played on the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning team in 2009.
Moore, Thomas and Sproles all signed their current deals in 2011. Moore received a five-year contract that runs through 2015, while Thomas and Sproles received deals that expire after the upcoming season.
Moore has a cap figure of about $5.07 million, while Sproles and Thomas are on the books for cap hits of $4.25 million and $2.9 million, respectively.
If the Saints were to part with them, either via trade or termination of their contract, they would save $3.5 million on Sproles, $2.9 million on Thomas and $2.711 million on Moore.
All three have been productive players in Payton’s offense, but Moore and Sproles will be 31 when the regular season starts and Thomas turns 30 at the end of the season.
Moore, who joined the Saints as a street free agent, caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns last year while missing three games with a hand injury.
Thomas led the Saints in rushing this past season with 549 yards and two TDs. He also caught 77 passes for 513 yards and three TDs before missing both playoff games with a chest injury.
Sproles rushed for only 220 yards and two scores in 2013, but was effective in the passing game with 71 receptions for 604 yards and two TDs.