A week ago, we began our breakdown of who we thought should return and who shouldn't for the Saints come the 2011 season. We continue the series today with the running backs.
Saints: Who will stay and who will go - running backs
With the Super Bowl now over, we thought it'd be a good time to look at the roster the Saints ended the season with and give our two cents into what players should stick around and which players should go.
It should be noted that this is all with the assumption that A) the collective bargaining agreement, or lack thereof, doesn't kill the 2011 season and B) a new CBA doesn't drastically alter roster or free agency rules.
MONDAY: Running Backs
TUESDAY: Tight Ends/Quarterbacks
Reggie Bush, Julius Jones, DeShawn Wynn, Joique Bell, Heath Evans
Bush is likely the player on the list that will get the most attention. He's the running back we get asked the most about. He's under contract for one more season at $11.8 million, none of which is guaranteed. That means Bush and the Saints will likely go to the negotiating table to re-structure the contract, or at least try to. Bush was inactive in eight of the 16 games this season and took himself out of the playoff game with a leg injury. He has played in only 75 percent of the regular season games in which he has been a member of the team. He has only 2,090 rushing yards in five seasons. We're not sure what the market holds for Bush, but we suspect he'll re-negotiate with the team and be back in 2011 and beyond.
Jones signed with the Saints prior to the Oct. 17 Tampa Bay game and finished the season with 193 yards on 48 carries. Additionally, he caught 17 passes for 59 yards. But he also coughed up the football in several critical situations. He fumbled in the playoff game, leading to a Seattle field goal. He also fumbled in the regular season finale against Tampa Bay, a giveaway that ended in a Bucs touchdown. He'll be heading into his eighth season and has bounced around the league. We don't expect him back this coming season.
Wynn signed an undisclosed contract on Jan. 3, filling in for the Saints when the team lost both Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory to IR. He was on and off the roster this season and yet, he ended the playoffs as the Saints top active running back once Jones and Bush left the playoff game injured. Simply put, he's not on the roster if injuries don't decimate this roster position this season. Wynn won't be a Saint next season.
Bell, like Wynn, was a roster replacement for those unable to finish the season uninjured. Thomas, Bush, Jones, Ivory, Lynell Hamilton, P.J. Hill and Ladell Betts all ended the year on IR. Bell was signed the week of the second Seattle game from the Eagles practice squad. We're pretty sure no one thinks he'll be back. We agree.
Evans is an interesting case. He's the only true fullback on the roster and yet, he never looked fully recovered from his torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered midway through the 2009 season. Oh sure, he played this entire year without missing a game. He just looked a step slower than he did a season earlier. But his leadership in the locker room is highly valued and his guidance has helped steady the running back room. That said, he's out of contract. We see Evans being a casualty; also, he's on the TV circuit these days. Coincidence?
Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Lynell Hamilton, P.J. Hill, Ladell Betts, Marcus Mailei
Thomas is probably the most interesting name on this list. He has had a love-hate-love relationship with the franchise lately. The staff loved him during the 2009 season when he was the No. 1 running back. Then he wanted a very large, long-term contract that the Saints didn't agree he deserved and they hated each other. Then he came back and played well early in the year and they loved each other again. Then he was injured and they didn't agree on how long he should be out. So on and so forth. Now he's out of contract but coming off ankle surgery. We expect him back but no idea at what price.
Ivory is under contract through the 2012 season before he becomes a restricted free agent (should the new CBA keep current free agency rules). He finished the season as the team's leading rusher with 716 yards and five touchdowns on a team-high 137 carries. His 5.2 yard-per-carry average is the second-best in the past 25 years for a player with at least 50 carries (Thomas' 5.4 yard average in 2009 is the best in that period). Now that he's with a professional outfit, he'll have better training and his injuries probability should go down. There's no doubt he'll be back in 2011.
Hamilton is a player the coaching staff liked and would have used in that third-back role had he not torn up his knee before a preseason game was ever played. By the playoffs, he was walking around the locker room saying he was ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation. His status with the team changes depending on what the Saints do in the draft. Running back could be seen as a position of need. If they go running back, Hamilton likely is out. If not, he has a chance of sticking. We see him as a casualty of the draft.
Hill is a known entity with the Saints, having signed an undrafted rookie free agent contract with the team in the 2009 offseason. He was plucked off the roster by Philadelphia, waived, re-signed by the Eagles, then put on the Redskins' active roster in 2009. He re-signed with the Saints this past offseason, but suffered a torn triceps injury in the preseason. We see him sticking on the practice squad with New Orleans.
Betts played in eight games for New Orleans after he was picked up after the season's second week when Bush broke his fibula. But Betts went on IR when he suffered head and neck injury against Seattle on Nov. 21. Betts finished the season with 150 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries. He wouldn't have been on the team without injuries and that should remain the case. We don't expect him back with the Saints unless strange things happen in the preseason.
Mailei is really just a name only. He spent the entirety of the season on IR and we can't imagine any reason he'd return other than as a camp body
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