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The Fleur-De-Lis Report: Breaking Down This Week's Trades, Cuts and Roster Moves as the Saints Establish a New Team Identity

1 year 9 months 2 weeks ago Sunday, September 04 2022 Sep 4, 2022 September 04, 2022 10:24 AM September 04, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ
Image: Sports Illustrated, DB CJ Gardner-Johnson traded to the Eagles for draft compensation

The preseason is over and the New Orleans Saints now have their sights set on the Atlanta Falcons for week one of the regular season. Head Coach Dennis Allen had to make bold decisions this week regarding the team’s 53-man roster, including parting ways with one of the team’s most valuable assets from recent years. All of this comes as the Saints try to establish a new identity that resonates with this group of players.

MAJOR ROSTER MOVES

It was a turbulent week for the coaching staff as they had to decide who will remain on the team’s 53-man roster ahead of week one. I won’t mention every move made this week, so you can read about them here. However, I will touch on the more significant ones, starting with the practice squad.

Teams are only allowed to keep 16 players on the practice squad at a given time. Wide Receiver (WR) Kirk Merritt was one of the first names that stood out. Merritt was a guy I really thought had a great chance of making the team. He performed well throughout camp and preseason, especially against the Chargers in the third game. He also showed a willingness to play a variety of roles including runningback (RB) and returner. Even though he didn’t make the initial 53, it's relieving that he landed on the team’s practice squad. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets called up at some point throughout the year given his versatility and playmaking ability.

Shockingly, defensive end (DE) Taco Charlton, a former first round draft pick and league veteran, landed on the practice squad. I thought he'd surely be claimed off the waivers because he was fairly productive for the Saints throughout the preseason. The coaching staff should keep an eye on him if they need to add depth in this position down the road. 

The Saints decided not to keep several linebackers (LB) on the active roster, cutting and moving guys like Eric Wilson, Chase Hansen, and rookie Nephi Sewell to the practice squad. Earlier in training camp, I pointed out how the depth at the LB position was lackluster and I still have those same concerns now. Wilson had a great camp and I believe he will definitely be on the active roster sooner rather than later. Hansen dominated the first preseason game against the Texans, but struggled with injury later on throughout camp. One game may not be enough to get him called up but I do like having the insurance.

The interior defensive line (DL) also got reassured with guys like rookie Jordan Jackson and Former Ragin’ Cajun Christian Ringo. Jackson was the team's 6th round pick this year but had a relatively quiet camp and preseason. Ringo is a good addition as someone who’s spent time with the Saints in the past and contributed nicely while on the field. 

Lastly, RB Abram Smith was a guy who generated some buzz throughout camp. The undrafted rookie from Baylor was right in the thick of a stiff RB competition but ultimately fell short of the final 53. Smith didn’t play badly. He was a hard-nosed, downhill runner who ran with physicality. However, both Tony Jones Jr. and Dwayne Washington impressed me just a little more. Not to mention, Smith was the only RB during the preseason to turn the ball over on a goal line fumble against Houston. In the end, the RB room was getting crowded and he didn’t show enough to the coaching staff that warranted him getting a spot over the guys I mentioned above. 

Aside from the practice squad, the Saints claimed offensive lineman (OL) Tanner Owen off waivers from the Bills. RB Dwayne Washington was cut earlier this week but signed back to the team Thursday. LB Jon Bostic was released Tuesday and re-signed with the Commanders. And quarterback (QB) Ian Book was waived and later claimed by the Eagles, ending his career in New Orleans.

TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS WEEK

The Saints are closely monitoring the health of a few key contributors who didn’t report to practice this week. We still know little on the status of WR Michael Thomas, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Thomas didn’t report to practice but I think the coaching staff is optimistic that he’ll return soon and be ready for week one. 

Cornerback (CB) Paulson Adebo hasn’t seen significant action since August 24th. This past Wednesday, Dennis Allen elaborated on his status saying he’s rehabbing an ankle sprain. Adebo spoke with the media saying he feels good about his recovery but the question still remains if he will be available for the game next Sunday. But with Adebo sidelined, the door is now opened for rookie Alontae Taylor to get more meaningful reps and make up for time he missed earlier in camp.

Defensive linemen Malcolm Roach and Albert Huggins also didn’t report to practice this week. Roach was placed on injury reserve (IR), making him eligible to return at the earliest in four weeks. 

RB Mark Ingram and WR Tre’Quan Smith were also absent throughout the week.

Despite the few setbacks, the Saints are trending in the right direction in terms of health. OL James Hurst and Landon Young’s return proved to be even more critical after learning the significance of rookie Trevor Penning’s toe injury. Thursday, Penning was formally placed on IR after an MRI confirmed he has a torn toe ligament. Hurst claims to be 100%, ensuring the Saints will have a competent starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if the team brings in an outside veteran to compete with Hurst. Eric Fisher and Jason Peters are two of the biggest free agents still on the market. 

Among other key attendees, Tight Ends (TE) Adam Trautman and Taysom Hill participated. LB Pete Werner was also at practice this week coming off a groin injury. He participated in walkthrough drills and believes he is on track to play week one.

CJ GARDNER-JOHNSON TRADED TO THE EAGLES

Tuesday, the Saints made the bombshell trade that sent defensive back (DB) CJ Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles in exchange for a 2023 5th round pick and a 2024 6th round pick. The Saints also sent Philly a 2025 7th rounder to complete the deal. 

The context around this move is very reminiscent of the Jimmy Graham trade from 2015. All speculation points to Gardner-Johnson wanting to be paid as a full-time safety despite the Saints primarily using him as a nickel-cornerback. Sources say there was about a $4 million dollar gap between both sides' best offer. With this being his contract year, Gardner-Johnson likely would have tested the market, so the Saints wanted to guarantee some form of compensation for him.

Dennis Allen said Gardner-Johnson’s role will be viewed on a matchup-to-matchup basis. The Saints are very deep at DB so I don’t think this will negatively impact how the team does business defensively. Last year, Bradley Roby stepped up nicely while Gardner-Johnson missed time due to injury. He also had a very productive training camp, leading the team with six interceptions. PJ Williams is entering his seventh season with the Saints and is very familiar with Dennis Allen’s system. Alontae Taylor is another option as a guy who showed good upside during camp. 

However, while the Saints might be okay in terms of on the field play, it will be close to impossible to replace the attitude and mentality Gardner-Johnson brought on a weekly basis. His villainous persona gave this defense an edge and often threw opposing offenses off their game. It will be interesting to see how his departure affects the unit going forward.

Another situation affecting the secondary is the recent arrest of safety (S) Marcus Maye. Thursday Maye was arrested following an alleged road rage incident. He faces charges of aggravated assault with a firearm after being accused of pointing a gun at a car full of women in Metairie. Maye denies any wrongdoings but it's worth noting that he already could face a suspension from a DUI arrest earlier in the year. Dennis Allen said he is aware of the situation but is waiting for more information to come out before commenting on it. Regardless of how this turns out, it's a bad situation for both Maye and the Saints to be in especially after trading Gardner-Johnson.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think I speak for all Saints fans, losing CJ Gardner-Johnson hurts. The energy and swagger he brought to the defense cannot be replaced. It’s easy for us to suggest that they traded a quality starter for pennies on the dollar, given what they received. However, in the end, I trust that General Manager (GM) Mickey Loomis and Dennis Allen accepted the best offer. I also like the approach Allen is taking with the nickel-cornerback role. I think basing the personnel on the weekly matchup will make it difficult for opposing teams to game plan against.

Despite the stinging loss of Gardner-Johnson, this is the least of my concerns when it comes to the overall team. I mentioned a while back the Saints are solid in all three phases of the game but there are still some holes to fill. Are the Saints comfortable with the current group of guys they have on the offensive line? Will Michael Thomas be ready to go week one? How will they address the depth issue at the linebacker spot? And how serious is the Marcus Maye legal situation? These are all questions that remain to be answered. 

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter @Chris_Lunkin98 for weekly content and up-to-the-minute updates on your New Orleans Saints.

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