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Guarantees kick in for Saints QB Drew Brees, safety Jairus Byrd

If the Saints have plans of not bringing back Drew Brees or Jairus Byrd next season, the team missed an important deadline.

Both players had clauses in their contracts that guaranteed a significant portion of their base salaries become guaranteed next season if they remained on the roster Wednesday, according to a source.

For Brees, $10.85 million of his $19.75 million base salary became guaranteed on Wednesday. And for Byrd, $6 million of his $7.5 million base salary is now guaranteed.

In the case of Brees, this isn’t a significant development since there was little chance he was going to be released this offseason. Both coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have said he will be the quarterback of the Saints next year and it remains possible his contract is extended at some point this offseason.

For Byrd, unless his deal was reworked like Ellerbe’s and that information has not yet been announced, this could indicate that he will be back next season. The free safety carries a $11.4 million cap number and it would cost New Orleans more to release him than to keep him on the roster.

New Orleans could, however, part ways with Byrd and designate him a post-June 1. If this happens, he could be released and only count $3.4 million against the cap in 2016. That would, however, create a dead money charge in 2017.

MORE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS COVERAGE

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Nick Underhill’s top three thoughts on Jahri Evans’ departure from the Saints

Underhill: Saints’ release of Jahri Evans is a step away from past and a step toward uncertain future

Film review: Saints DC Dennis Allen calls strong game against Bucs

After reviewing Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one has to wonder what Dennis Allen could have done if he started the season serving as the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been any different. Maybe the defense would have struggled all year and still crumbled under the weight of all the injuries in the secondary. But after seeing the game plan and how well he called the 24-17 victory, it’s interesting to wonder how different things might have been.

There’s little question this was the best called game of the season for New Orleans on defense. In his third game as defensive coordinator after taking over for Rob Ryan, Allen finally put his stamp on a game and there were a lot of differences in how the team operated from other games earlier in the season.

The biggest noticeable differences were in the coverages the team used. After operating primarily out of single-high safety looks with man coverage underneath, the Saints used a variety of different looks and did a good job of disguising them.

While the team still used several looks with a single-high safety, the Saints also mixed in several Cover 2, Tampa 2 and “inverted” Cover 2 looks. The defense also played more zone coverage than it typically does.

The mixing and matching of looks made it difficult for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston to diagnose the defense, especially when New Orleans waited until right before the snap to show its coverage.

The end result was that the defense did not ever get beat on a deep pass. Winston only attempted two deep passes during the contest, neither of which were completed. The rest came on short passes and the Saints were often in position to quickly make a tackle.

It’s too soon to know if Allen will cure all that ails the Saints or if he can keep this up, but this game was a strong step in the right direction.

QUARTERBACK: 3 out of 4

This was a really solid game by Brees. He took what was there, didn’t miss any receivers, and picked apart the Tampa secondary from start to finish. Only three of his passes were deep down the field, and he connected on one for 41 yards. Most of Brees’ passes were in the short and intermediate areas of the field. He didn’t take many risks, mostly because he didn’t have to.

RUNNING BACKS: 2.5 out of 4

Spiller missed an opportunity when he caught a screen pass with 5:49 remaining the first quarter. After catching the ball in the left flat, he allowed his momentum to carry him into a blocker. Had he been able to stop, there was a big cutback lane to his right. Perhaps not being able to make such plays is why the team left him on the field for only 15 snaps. And of those snaps, approximately five came in the second half. There was one odd moment late in the second half when Willie Snead motioned over to become the running back and Spiller served as a receiver. … Tim Hightower got the yards that were there for the taking. When he had a hole, he hit it and made the most of the yardage that was available. He had one nice run in the third quarter for a gain of 7 when he beat a defensive end to the edge and turned up field out of 12 personnel. It worked so well the team ran a similar play to the other side out of 11 personnel for a gain of 7 on the next snap. He needs work picking up blitzes, as he said after the game. He simply forgot to pick up his man and allowed a sack in the first half. He got better as the game went on and should continue to improve in the weeks to come.

RECEIVERS: 3 out of 4

Snead again succeeded with his precise route running. It’s clear Brees has a level of trust in Snead and looked for him in big moments. Bonus points for picking up more than 30 yards after the catch. … Brandin Cooks only had three catches for 29 yards, but he should have had more. Whether it was him not being in the right spot or Brees missing a throw, there were two other passes where Cooks was open and Brees simply missed him. … Marques Colston is the third option at receiver now, but he’s still reliable enough to bring value. He continues to find soft spots in zone coverage and figure out ways to get open. … Michael Hoomanawanui, Ben Watson and Josh Hill all had some poor moments in run blocking. Both Watson and Hoomanawanui missed blocks on a play that resulted in Hightower getting dropped for a loss of three yards. … Not a bad game for Brandon Coleman, even if 20 of his 38 yards came on a pass when he was left uncovered. … Big play by Watson on the final drive to fight for a first down on a third-and-1 play.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: 2.5 out of 4

Max Unger and Tim Lelito did a stellar job opening up a hole for Hightower on the first series of the game on a 12-yard that put the Saints at the 3-yard line. It would have been impossible for the running back to fail on the play. … Andrus Peat was once again solid. He gets better each week and continues to look more comfortable pulling and getting out into the second level on running plays. He allowed one hurry. There wasn’t much else to nitpick. … Zach Strief allowed a couple hurries and a quarterback hit. He also surrendered a sack that was nullified by an illegal use of hands penalty on the other side of the line. … Lelito is doing a good job filling in for Evans and is more athletic in the running game. He needs to develop some more consistency, but he’s had some really solid moments this season.

DEFENSIVE LINE: 2.5 out of 4

The Saints need to find Cam Jordan a running mate this offseason, whether it be at defensive tackle or coming off the other edge. He remains the only player who can generate consistent pass rush. He had a few pressures, a quarterback hit, a tipped pass, and a few good plays in the running game, including when he stuffed a run from the back side. … New Orleans remained aggressive in this game, blitzing on about 37.5 percent of Winston’s dropbacks, but the team struggled to get consistent pressure – especially when attacking with only four men. … Tavaris Barnes only played six snaps but managed to record a pressure and a quarterback hit. … Obum Gwacham owes linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha for creating his sack. The linebacker pushed him back into Gwacham. The bigger question on that play is what Winston was trying to do. It looked like he wanted to run but turned back after spotting Dannell Ellerbe waiting for him to take off. … Bobby Richardson flashed several times and was very good against the run. His best moment came on the second series when he shed an Austin Seferian-Jenkins block and stuffed Doug Martin. … Rookie Tyeler Davison showed a lot of promise last week against Carolina starting in place of John Jenkins. This performance was more mixed. He was cleared out a couple times on big runs.

LINEBACKERS: 2.5 out of 4

This wasn’t the best game that Ellerbe has played this season. He’s been better, but there’s something about his presence that makes the defense be more successful. In his first game back from sports hernia surgery, Ellerbe was pretty solid against the run. He fits his gaps better than his replacements and is quick to the ball. His performance in coverage was just OK. … Despite not having many “flash plays,” Stephone Anthony was very solid in coverage and his ability to drop back in zone was one of the keys to the defense being able to constrain Tampa’s passing attack. For example, in Tampa 2, Anthony is required to drop back and cover a deep third of the field. He also had a lot of responsibility in other coverages, both man and zone. While those things do not show up in the stats, they were huge for the defense.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: 3 out of 4

Delvin Breaux has really bounced back after a shaky performance against the New York Giants. In the five games since, he’s better targeted 16 times for five receptions and 33 yards. He was not thrown at against the Bucs until there was 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. The pass, intended for Mike Evans, fell incomplete. … Breaux was used in an interesting capacity in this game. New Orleans ran an “inverted” Cover 2 several times, with Breaux flowing up the field and serving like a safety and another player covering underneath. … Brandon Browner was left covering Evans several times and never gave up a reception. Overall, Browner surrendered two catches for 25 yards. … Evans finished with two receptions, one which came on Anthony (22 yards) and another on Damian Swann (17 yards). … Kenny Vaccaro had more deep responsibility in this game than what has become typical. It didn’t count as an official play since there was a penalty elsewhere, but he blitzed a put a nice hit on Winston on the first snap of the game. He was later flagged for roughing the passer. It looked like a bad call. Vaccaro was already in motion to tackle to Winston when the ball was released. … Kyle Wilson had a two penalties on the same drive. That can’t happen. … It was a good game for Jairus Byrd, who seemed to benefit from playing half the field at times. He broke up a pass intended for Cameron Brate that came out of a Cover 2 shell.

MORE SAINTS COVERAGE

Source: Saints cornerback Damian Swann suffers concussion

Lewis: Saints actually may be a closer team than last season

In new role this season, Saints wide receiver Marques Colston consistent, quiet about his accomplishments

Report: Mark Ingram dealing with ‘serious shoulder injury’

Update, 3:55 p.m.

Mark Ingram has been placed on injured reserve. Click here for more.

Original story

The New Orleans Saints might have been dealt a potentially devastating blow.

Running back Mark Ingram is reportedly battling a serious shoulder injury and there is a “fear it could be season ending,” according to the NFL Network.

Ingram played 55 of 64 snaps during Sunday’s 41-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

If this is a new injury, it’s unclear how it occurred. Ingram was on the field for the last offensive play of the game. He was targeted on a screen pass with 24 seconds remaining. His final run resulted in a 9-yard touchdown.

Ingram was limited with a shoulder injury during practices on Nov. 25 and 26. He appeared on last week’s injury report and was listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

While the Saints’ hopes of making the playoffs are already very slim, losing Ingram will be a tough hurdle to overcome over the final four weeks of the season.

Ingram has served as the featured back for the offense this season, playing on every down, and currently leads the team with 166 carries for 769 yards with six rushing touchdowns.

He’s also developed into a viable option catching passes out of the backfield this season, and currently has 50 receptions for 405 yards.

If Ingram is unable to play, it’s likely that C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower will see a higher dose of snaps.

More to come …

MORE SAINTS COVERAGE

First look: Breaking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saints report card: Brandon Browner turns in flagging performance

Ted Lewis’ open letter to Saints coach Sean Payton: Let’s talk embattled Brandon Browner, 2016 plans

Rob Ryan on NFL Network: ‘Everything in New Orleans is being blamed on me, including Katrina’

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Former Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan hasn’t been asked much about his firing in New Orleans during two hours on the NFL Network Sunday morning.

For the most part, the NFL Network has hinted at his departure, rather than address it directly.

But Ryan did comment on his firing after Marshall Faulk brought up the subject on Sunday morning.

“Everything in New Orleans is being blamed on me, including Katrina. I think that’s a little far-fetched,” Ryan said. “The bottom line is this: I’ll hold my head high and walk out in the sunset, but believe me, I’ll come back with a vengeance.”

Ryan acknowledged the Saints needed to make a move to turn around a defense that is dead last in the NFL in both scoring and total yardage, 30th in the league against the run and on pace to set an NFL record for the worst opposing passer rating ever.

“Something had to be done,” Ryan said. “Right now, the defense is ranked 33rd in the league, and there’s only 32 teams. I had a lot to do with it.”

Source: Keenan Lewis’ hip still an issue, sees specialist

Keenan Lewis is trying to get back to full strength. His hip has different plans.

After having surgery to repair a ligament in his hip during training camp, the Saints cornerback has continued to experience discomfort, according to a source.

After playing eight snaps during Thursday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, Lewis flew to see a specialist to get his hip checked out on Monday since his recovery has not gone as smooth as hoped.

His ability to play will continue to be determined by how he feels.

Lewis was slated to miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery on Sept. 1.  He met the early end of that timetable, playing in an Oct. 4 game against the Dallas Cowboys. He played 18 snaps and was used only in nickel and dime packages during that game.

Lewis then played 27 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles the next week. On Thursday, against the Falcons, his role diminished and he could be seen on the sidelines riding a stationary bike during the game.

Getting Lewis back to full strength would be a major development for the Saints and would further solidify a secondary that is enjoying the emergence of Delvin Breaux. With Lewis healthy, it would allow the Saints to use Brandon Browner against tight ends more often, as they did against Dallas.

New Orleans tried out a handful of players on Monday, including former Falcons and New England Patriots cornerback Robert McClain. He did not receive a contract offer from New Orleans.

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Saints release Zach Hocker, bring in Kai Forbath to kick

Even in afterglow of big win over Falcons, Saints know there’s still plenty work to do

Ben Watson makes tight end a deadly role once again in big Saints win over Falcons

Saints have least amount of salary cap space available

After signing veteran tackle Zach Strief to a new five-year contract on Monday, the Saints had the least amount of cap space available among the 32 NFL teams as of Tuesday afternoon.

According to NFL Players Association figures, the Saints, who agreed to a four-year contract with former Tampa Bay Bucs fullback Erik Lorig on Tuesday morning, were just $849,212 under the $133 million cap.

The Saints were the only team in the league to have less than $1 million available to them. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the second-lowest amount available at $2,174,434.

Saints’ WR Lance Moore tweets good-bye to N.O.

It appears that wide receiver Lance Moore’s time with the Saints has come to an end based on a tweet he sent out Friday morning.

One day after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Moore, who’s been with the Saints since 2005, and running back Pierre Thomas were being “shopped” to other teams, Moore tweeted what appeared to be a good-bye on his verified Twitter account.

Moore tweeted: “Thank you New Orleans for an amazing nine years. Who Dat Nation, the best on earth!!!”

Later Friday morning, NFL Network national insider Ian Rapoport, citing a source, reported that Moore’s representatives have been informed by the Saints that they plan to release him.

Saints’ officials did not immediately confirm their plans for Moore, who was the last player remaining from the pre-Sean Payton era after linebacker Will Smith was released last month.

Moore was going into the fourth year of a five-year, $20 million contract he signed in 2011. He was due $3.1 million in base salary and carried a cap figure of about $5.07 million for 2014 when you factor in his prorated signing bonus and other bonuses.

His release will save the Saints just more than $2.7 million on the salary cap this season.

As of Thursday, the Saints were close to the $133 million cap that goes into effect Tuesday after franchising tight end Jimmy Graham and offering a one-year tender offer to safety Rafael Bush, a restricted free agent.

Moore joined the Saints in 2005 when Jim Haslett was in his final season as the Saints’ coach. After joining the team’s practice squad that season, Moore blossomed in Payton’s potent offense.

He spent most of the 2006 season on the practice squad and had just one reception for 10 yards, but worked his way onto the field in 2007 and had 32 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns.

Overall, he caught 346 passes for 4,281 yards and 38 TDs with the Saints. His best seasons were in 2008 when he caught 78 passes for 928 yards with 10 TDs and 2012 when he had a career-high 1,041 yards and six scores on 65 receptions.

Moore, who will turn 31 before the start of the 2014 season, missed three games with a hand injury last year and had his snaps cut later in the season. He wound up with 37 receptions for 457 yards and two TDs.

Saints shopping Moore, Thomas according to ESPN report

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.

Saints re-sign K Shayne Graham, two others

After making their first big moves of the offseason on Wednesday, the Saints have re-signed three players — including veteran kicker Shayne Graham.

 Graham, a 13-year veteran who signed with the Saints on Dec. 18 after kicker Garrett Hartley was released, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

Graham, 36, signed a new one-year contract for the 2014 season with a base salary of $955,000, according to the NFL Players Association website.

He was 2-for-2 in the final two games of the regular season and connected on all four of his field-goal attempts in the Saints’ 26-24 wild-card playoff win against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Graham hit from 36, 46, 35 and 32 yards out against the Eagles — with the last one coming on the final play of the game for the win. A week later, he missed from 45 and 47 yards in tough conditions in a 23-15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.

Graham has converted 85.5 percent of his field-goal attempts during his career, making 247 of 289 tries in 157 games.

The Saints also signed their two exclusive rights free agents — tackle Bryce Harris and cornerback Trevin Wade.

As two-year veterans, both players were exclusive rights free agents. They could only re-sign with the Saints if given a one-year tender offer of $570,000 each by the club.

Harris played in all 16 regular-season games with one start at right tackle against the New England Patriots. He played extensively on special teams and also lined up as an extra tight end for blocking purposes.

Wade was signed on Nov. 19 for depth after veteran cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury. Wade played in the final two regular-season games and broke up one pass and had one tackle on special teams in two postseason games.

The release Wednesday of Greer, outside linebacker Will Smith and strong safety Roman Harper became official on the NFL transactions wire Friday.

Greer and Smith officially were released because they failed physicals. Smith had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the third exhibition game that sidelined him for the entire season.

The Saints also announced Wednesday that they will not try to re-sign inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was to become an unrestricted free agent in March. He played in only one game in 2013 after having arthroscopic knee surgery midway through training camp.

Former Saints DE/LB Will Smith makes statement

After having his contract terminated along with safety Roman Harper and cornerback Jabari Greer on Wednesday, former Saints defensive end/linebacker Will Smith issued a statement thanking the fans and team for his 10-year stay with the club.

The Saints also announced that linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, will not be re-signed.

“While it was always my dream to retire as a member of the New Orleans Saints, I recognize that the NFL remains a business first,” Smith said. “I will always be grateful to Mr. Benson, Mr. Loomis, and Coach Payton for the opportunity they gave me to play the sport I love in front of football’s greatest fans, amongst some of my best friends.

“We accomplished great things during my time with the Saints, including winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, and I am proud of my contributions during the decade I wore black and gold.

“My wife Racquel and I will continue our commitment to improving lives for New Orleans’ youth no matter where my next stop in professional football takes me. I’m in good spirits, thankful and focused on training. My family and I welcome the next chapter in our NFL life. Who Dat!”

Classy move.