Jahri Evans is too expensive, too old, too slow.
You’ve heard all these talking points if you’ve been paying attention to the New Orleans Saints. They say the guard was undeserving of his Pro Bowl spot and probably should be cut this offseason. His production doesn’t justify the amount of money it will take to keep him on the roster. He was the weak link of the interior offensive line.
Some of these claims are valid. Most are not.
Starting at the top, yes, Evans is too expensive. The right guard counts $11 million against the salary cap next season, and the New Orleans Saints can save $6 million by parting ways with him. If there was an obvious replacement waiting in the wings, perhaps this might be an enticing proposition for the Saints.
Unfortunately, that player does not exist. While Evans might no longer be worth his salary, and there’s a case to be made that he did not play up to his own standards last season, he’s still a very capable player.
It’s important to remember that Evans battled a back injury during training camp and then suffered a wrist injury at some point that required offseason surgery. Though he did not miss time because of the injury, it’s reasonable to assume his play suffered because of it.
How, exactly, the injury impacted him is not clear. A review of all the offensive snaps from the 2014 season did not reveal an obvious injury or even a change in how the offensive line operated. From start to finish, Evans was leaned upon to handle his matchups by himself more so than left guard Ben Grubbs.
Quarterback Drew Brees attempted 659 passes last season. Of those, the center either immediately turned Evans’ direction or provided help on 163 occasions. Grubbs received immediate help 232 times. On the rest of the snaps, the center had his own man to block, other responsibilities to tend to, or waited for the play to develop before determining which player to help.
Those numbers need to be placed in proper context. In some cases, the way the defense lines up or the presence of a specific player might dictate the center’s actions. For instance, Evans’ numbers become bloated since he received help against Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on more than 20 occasions. There were also other games where Grubbs drew a difficult matchup that required consistent assistance.
But the disparity is large enough to deduce that New Orleans felt confident in Evans’ ability to fly solo to some degree. And while he wasn’t the stalwart he was previous seasons, his only truly poor games came against Tampa Bay in Week 5, Baltimore in Week 12, and the final three games of the season.
In those contests, he surrendered three sacks and 18 pressures. Over the rest of the games, Evans gave up three sacks and 23 pressures. Since we don’t know when Evans injured his wrist, it’s difficult to put those numbers into proper context.
Assuming some of it is attributable to his injury, meaning Evans will rebound to some degree, there’s a case to be made for bringing him back for another season — at a cheaper salary.
Evans’ cap hit is currently slated to be the highest in the NFL among guards next season. The next person on the list is Grubbs, who carries a $9.6 million hit. And Tennessee’s Andy Levitre comes in third at $8.6 million.
Evans’ base salary of $6.8 million is still the richest among all guards. But if New Orleans could somehow get his total cap figure down around that number, which would place him eighth among guards in total cap hit, it would create a more manageable situation for 2015.
The Saints need to do even more trimming with Grubbs. New Orleans can save $3.6 million against the cap by simply parting ways with him, but losing him would again create a void without an obvious replacement.
Reworking those deals might mean having to add years on the end of their contracts, which might not be the best thing for a pair of guys on the wrong side of 30, but the duo is still probably better than anyone who could be brought in — particularly Evans.
But doing so will come down to both sides being willing to come to an agreement that makes financial sense for both sides. And in this case, doing so would probably be in the best interest of all parties involved.