You know how they say you never want to watch how sausages get made, or you’d lose your appetite for them? Darren Sproles and his wife, Michel, seem to feel the same way about decisions made during NFL free agency.
But many folks enjoy well-made sausages. And hopefully Sproles and his family feel similarly about something else well-made: a deal he was at the center of, which sent him to one of the best offenses in the NFL while netting the team with whom he spent the three previous seasons a bit of compensation they’ve shown they can capitalize on.
The pro football world woke up to news on Thursday morning that the Saints traded Sproles — their rushing, receiving and kick-return threat since 2011 — to the Eagles for a fifth-round draft pick. The exchange between New Orleans and Philadelphia marked the end to a saga that Sproles and his wife had run out of patience for, as they let millions of people know.
To an extent, anyone who’s been stressed out because they were told one thing — only for plans to quickly, abruptly change — can empathize with the Sproleses.
It appears this all began around the time of a widely circulated NFL Network report on March 7 that bluntly stated the Saints were going to terminate Sproles’ contract, which would save the Saints $3.5 million. That prompted Sproles to bid farewell to New Orleans on Twitter that day.
Right around then, there were competing reports that Sproles was only going to be released if he wasn’t traded. Yet, if Sproles’ Twitter feed is to be believed, it doesn’t seem he learned about the possibility of a trade until Tuesday, when reports promoted throughout social media revealed about a third of teams in the NFL were interested in striking a deal with New Orleans for his services.
“WOW!” he tweeted. “The stuff u find out on Twitter.”
It was obvious Sproles, who remained on the Saints roster, was upset. Saints players who are under contract and don’t want to incur the wrath of coach Sean Payton for the most part only speak with media after games, during open locker-room periods following practice or if they’re granted permission from the front office.
It’s doubtful the Saints gave Sproles permission to speak with the media while the rumors they were trying to trade him were deafening. But he spoke with ESPN’s Josina Anderson anyway and told her he didn’t want to be traded — he wanted to be released, like it was initially thought he would be, so he could become a free agent and determine where he’d sign next.
Matters bordered on the absurd Wednesday night, a day after the Saints had agreed to terms on a massive six-year, $54 million deal with free-agent safety Jairus Byrd. Byrd’s contract, which was officially processed Thursday, carried a 2014 cap figure identical to the savings related to Sproles: $3.5 million.
Nonetheless, Sproles remained on the team through Wednesday. His wife, Michel, apparently couldn’t take it anymore, and she posted a profane message on the Instagram social media network that accused the Saints front office of mistreating her husband.
“I understand this is a brutal business but ... (you) would think they would show a little more respect,” she said, adding that God would “get” the Saints back.
At last, on Thursday, things took a turn for the best.
While Sproles might not have gotten things exactly how he wanted them, he would probably agree there are many worse teams to which he could’ve gone. Philadelphia’s running game — led by running back LeSean McCoy, a two-time All-Pro who’s the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Year — was the top-ranked in the NFL last year.
He’s leaving one star quarterback hailing from Westlake (Texas) High School — the Saints’ Drew Brees — and uniting with another, Nick Foles, who compiled the league’s best passer rating last year. He’ll have at least one familiar face in Philly — former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who agreed to a three-year deal with the Eagles on Tuesday.
Oh, and don’t forget the $3.5 million salary the 10-year veteran who will be 31 in June left with Thursday after turning in 1,152 rushing yards, 2,197 receiving yards and 24 TDs in 48 games for the Saints, including the playoffs.
Sproles’ tone seemed to be changing Thursday evening. He tweeted: “I’m excited about being a part of the @Eagles organization! Thank you New Orleans for 3 great years!”
As for New Orleans, moving on without Sproles is certainly justifiable. Yes, he set an NFL single-season record in 2011 with 2,696 all-purpose yards; but that figure fell to 1,577 in 2012 and then plummeted to 1,273 in 2013, a 53 percent drop from what he had his first year.
Teams often don’t get any compensation for veterans whose numbers are falling. The Saints, however, did.
Sure, two of the Saints’ recent fifth-round draft picks under Payton include defensive back David Jones (2007, cut in the preseason) and center Matt Tenant (2010, never started a game and waived before 2012).
But look at some of the others: guard Carl Nicks (2008, two-time All-Pro), punter Thomas Morstead (2009, one-time Pro Bowler), wide receiver Kenny Stills (2013, led the NFL in yards per catch) and cornerback Corey White (2012, started eight games last year, including the playoffs).
The Saints picked defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. They let him go on two separate occasions, but he’s helped New England get to three AFC title games as well as a Super Bowl, and Payton acknowledges one of his biggest coaching regrets is letting Ninkovich get away.
The holdout for the Sproles trade perhaps got as ugly as sausage manufacturing, at least for him and his wife. But they also say all’s well that ends OK.
Correction: This column incorrectly stated Darren Sproles’ 2014 salary-cap figure was $3.5 million. In fact, $3.5 million is what he was owed and what the Saints saved by trading him. The column has been updated.