NEW ORLEANS – Head coach Sean Payton said Saints have spent the last few weeks examining their depth at running back and explored the possibility of trading C.J. Spiller, who, on Sunday, was inactive for the season opening loss to the Raiders.
Ultimately, though, the injury to Delvin Breaux forced the team’s hand and Payton said he simply couldn’t justify retaining Spiller, one of seven running backs on the roster, when the team had more pressing needs. It’s why the team released Spiller Tuesday afternoon and signed cornerback B.W. Webb.
“It was just studying who’s up and who’s getting the special teams snaps,” Payton explained via conference call Wednesday morning. “I still see him as a kick return threat.”
The emergence of running backs Marcus Murphy and Daniel Lasco, both valuable special teams contributors now who appear to have bright futures on offense, made Spiller expendable.
Since signing a four-year, $16 million contract last year, Spiller simply never carved out a role offensively. In the end, he played just 196 offensive snaps, contributing 112 rushing yards and 34 receptions for 239 yards, and finished last season on injured reserve.
Nevertheless, Payton raved about Spiller’s character and didn’t rule out a possible return to New Orleans.
“So this guy’s a phenomenal, phenomenal guy, teammate,” he said. “We spent about a half an hour just he and I talking yesterday. I think he’s gonna have another opportunity sooner than later with another club.
“And yet, the window I know in this building or this club is not permanently closed.”
By releasing Spiller, whose 2016 salary was fully guaranteed, the Saints now have more than $40 million in dead money this season, a staggering total, which not only amounts to more than 25 percent of the salary this year’s salary cap, but also leads the league.
Spiller is now the latest in a recent string of misses the Saints continue to pay for, which include Brandon Browner and Junior Galette, among several others.
“Anytime you bring in someone in free agency, you’re hoping to find a fit and the niche for your team, you’re hoping to improve your team,” Payton said. “Obviously when you’re unable to do that it sets you back because you’re planning on it.”
Payton acknowledged the risk involved with free agency and admitted the team must do better.
“What’s hard to predict is him having another scope in training camp,” Payton said about Spiller’s 2015 knee surgery. “But he’s as good a teammate as you can find and as good a guy as you can find.
“And you know what, we’ve gotta get on to the next step with it. And that’s part of the deal. And we’ve gotta be better in those areas. And yet some of the things that take place with an injury like his, you can’t predict.
“Obviously, last season was frustrating because he dealt with the knee injury in training camp. And I think he’s ahead of where he was a year ago and has gotten better then where he was a year ago.
“And yet, it just became a challenge for us when we were looking at actives and roles. And that was really it.