The New Orleans Saints are done with the 2017 NFL Pre-Season, following last night's 14-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints finished the 51st Pre-Season in their team history, with an even (2-2) record.
Next up for the Saints: the opening game of the 2017 regular season, when they travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota for ESPN Monday Night Football on September 11th in 10 more days from now, to face the always-tough Minnesota Vikings.
As most fans know: the Saints starters (with the exception of center Max Unger) were rested and given the night off as is normally the case for all 32 teams in the NFL with the 4th and final Pre-Season game each year; so that back-up 2nd and 3rd string players have the opportunity to play for most of the game, and determine Final 53 man roster spots for each position on the team.
The Saints can begin announcing cuts, releases, and any trades as early as today; but aren't expected to formally announce their Final 53-man roster until the NFL-imposed deadline tomorrow at 3 p.m.
Practice Squad players can be signed on Sunday (September 3rd) beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time, after they clear waivers at 12 p.m. noon.
With that in mind, here's a look at the 5 biggest "winners and losers", from last night's final Pre-Season game loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Starting with last night's truly BIGGEST winners......
#5. TRAVARIS CADET, RUNNING BACK
A large portion of Saints fans won't want to hear this, but -- veteran RB Travaris Cadet likely WILL make the Final 53-man roster. Why is that you ask? There's 3 reasons, actually.
Reason #1 is that Sean Payton loves him and finds him reliable. Reason #2 is that Cadet was able to take full advantage of a not-so-great performance by 2nd year RB Daniel Lasco (more on him in a minute). And Reason #3 is that with his job on the line, Cadet came up big when it mattered.
Cadet hauled in 5 receptions for 51 yards in his back-up "scat back" role behind #3 RB and designated "scat back" starter Alvin Kamara, including a key 25-yard reception on a wheel route in the team's final drive with less than a minute to play, to set up the potential game-winning 59-yard field goal attempt by kicker Wil Lutz (Lutz missed).
Now make no mistake about it: Sean Payton could still decided to cut Cadet when the final cuts are announced sometime between now and tomorrow --- but last night was a prime example of WHY Payton likes Cadet, and has kept him around as long as he has.
#4. ARTHUR MAULET, CORNERBACK
Maulet, the New Orleans native who played at Bonnabel High School in the NOLA suburb of Kenner, has been locked in a heated battle for the team's final CB spot throughout Camp and the Pre-Season; and last night he gave a valiant effort in what he hopes will be seen by the defensive coaching staff as deserving of a final roster spot.
Maulet forced a fumble and then quickly made the recovery on a Ravens punt return midway through the 3rd quarter that set-up a Saints field goal; and then came back a few series later with a key pass break-up on a 3rd down passing play to stop a Baltimore drive.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 1, 2017
Now the only thing for the popular young local NOLA hero is to sit and wait, as the defensive coaching staff determines his fate.
The Saints are likely to only keep a total of 11 defensive backs, and Maulet will now have to hope that he has impressed the coaches enough last night; to win the final CB spot over 2nd year player De'Vante Harris.
#3. AL-QUADIN MUHAMMAD, DEFENSIVE END
If you're a Saints fan, then you already knew about how much excitement that Muhammad has generated by his outstanding play in the Pre-Season; which has made him an unexpected surprise for the coaching staff and makes it nearly impossible for them to cut him and not keep him on the Final 53-man roster.
The 22-year old rookie 6th-round draft pick from the University of Miami Hurricanes made the biggest play of the game for the Saints defense in the 1st quarter, with a strip /sack of Ravens back-up QB Thad Lewis to set up a Saints scoring drive.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 1, 2017
If there was an award for a Pre-Season Defensive MVP, then Muhammad would be the easy winner after leading the Saints with 4 total sacks (one in every game) and showing the consistent pressure and disruptive presence that the team was hoping to get from the edge pass rusher position.
He has clearly earned a Final Roster spot, and anything less would be a huge lapse of judgement by the Saints organization / front office and the coaching staff.
#2. ADAM BIGHILL, LINEBACKER
If there was any one player that stood out for the Saints last night besides Muhammad, then it was definitely free-agent linebacker and former Canadian Football League Defensive MVP Adam Bighill, who last night showed exactly why he was a four-time CFL All-Star and a Grey Cup champion (the Canadian version of the Super Bowl) with the British Columbia Lions.
Bighill has been locked in a heated battle for one of the 2 final LB spots on the roster along with Michael Mauti and Stephone Anthony (more on him in a minute as well), and last night you'd have to think that Bighill WILL make the Final 53 man roster after a brilliant performance.
Bighill was all over the place, making tackle after tackle, and one nice play after another. He started at the "Will" / weak side linebacker spot for the entire first half, and led the Saints with 11 -- yes, ELEVEN -- total tackles (8 solo). He also had a PBU but dropped a sure-handed interception on the very first snap of the game that would have made his night all the more impressive.
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) September 1, 2017
At this point, anything can happen between now and Sunday with regard to who the Saints decide to keep at the linebacker position --- but that said, it would almost come as a complete shock if Bighill isn't the 7th and final member of the Saints linebacker corps.
#1. DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK
The biggest winner last night for the Saints, didn't even have to take a single snap in the entire game. That's because after the dismal performance(s) by the Saints back-up QB's (more on that still to come later in this article), Drew Brees not only proved how VALUABLE he is to the Saints franchise, but more than likely earned a huge pay-day in a few months from now, as a result.
Brees was already a "big" winner before last night's game, after Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford earlier this week signed a record-breaking contract extension with the help of Brees' agent Tom Condon. Stafford became the highest-paid player in NFL history when he inked a 5-year contract worth $135 million or one that carries an annual value of $27 million.
What that means is that Brees -- who will make $24.5 million this season after signing a one-year extension pact last year -- will now command one last multi-year contract that’s based around Stafford’s new deal.
Despite now being age 38 and about to turn 39 in January, Brees has showed no signs of slowing down and is coming off a strong 2016 campaign in which he passed for 5,208 yards (along with 37 TD passes) – the 2nd most yards ever in what is now his illustrious 16-year NFL career.
And after the godawful performances of the Saints back-up QB's in last night's game, the Saints organization would be TOTALLY INSANE if they don't pay Brees whatever he wants, to stay in New Orleans to finish out his future Hall of Fame career.
At this point, it's become obvious that the Saints will likely draft a top-rated college QB in next year's 2018 NFL Draft to become Brees' eventual replacement in 2-3 years from now; and Saints fans will want to start paying attention to names like Josh Allen (Wyoming), Sam Darnold (USC), and Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) during this year's college football season that got underway last night.
#5. VONN BELL, FREE SAFETY
The apparent demotion of last year's rookie free safety starter Vonn Bell continued last night, but perhaps it's more about him simply being surpassed by the sheer "off-the-chart" athleticism and talent of this year's sensational rookie free safety and 2nd Round draft pick Marcus Williams that he appears to have lost his starting job -- more so than it means he's done anything wrong in the eyes of the coaching staff (although it might be debatable).
Pretty clear the Saints haven't been pleased with Vonn Bell this summer. Odd to see him still in the game.
— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) September 1, 2017
Bell entered the game after Williams left in the early 2nd quarter with an apparent minor injury; and remained at the free safety spot for most of the 2nd half. He finished the night with 4 tackles including a tackle for loss, although he did get penalized for a defensive hold in pass coverage that more than likely sealed his official demotion at the free safety spot.
Bell's roster spot is more than secure, but last night's extended playing time had to be considered somewhat bittersweet for a player who just a year ago was held in the same high regard that Marcus Williams is being held in now.
Should Williams' injury turn out to be anything more serious, at least the Saints know that they'll still be able to turn to Bell for back-up.
#4. STEPHONE ANTHONY, LINEBACKER
For the 3rd straight week, Saints 3rd year linebacker Stephone Anthony did not play or suit up for the game; and prior to kickoff the team FINALLY revealed that Anthony has been suffering from a high-ankle sprain that has allegedly kept him out of action since the opening Pre-Season game at Cleveland.
After the game, Saints head coach Sean Payton told reporters that Anthony has been "nicked up", although the fact is that nobody that covers the team seems to recall Anthony being hurt in that game against the Browns 3 weeks ago. If Anthony is REALLY hurt, the team for whatever reason (???) chose not to disclose it.
At this point, the Saints have 3 choices: they can put Anthony on injured reserve and decide his future later on down the line; they can try to trade him, or --- they can cut him outright. When the team officially announces the Final 53-man roster tomorrow afternoon, do not be surprised if Anthony isn't on it any longer.
#3. KHALIF BARNES, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
If Adam Bighill had the best performance last night, then veteran back-up offensive left tackle Khalif Barnes had the worst; and at one point drew ridicule from fans on Social Media for the number of times he was getting constantly beaten by Ravens defensive linemen in pass protection.
Get Barnes off my roster. pic.twitter.com/5Tj6ccIEjz
— ©h@®£!€ (@SaintCharlie) September 1, 2017
Barnes has played off and on for the Saints a handful of times in the past few seasons, as the team has utilized him for depth purposes whenever they've had to compensate for injuries at the tackle position.
But last night, what many observers and writers that cover the team have known about Barnes for quite some time became painfully evident: which is that he is nowhere near a starting-caliber player in the NFL --- and after Sunday, he won't be IN the NFL any longer, as a result.
#2. DANIEL LASCO, RUNNING BACK
If there was any one player you had to feel sorry for last night, it easily was 2nd year RB Daniel Lasco, the hard-nosed player who always gets the tough yards and makes nice plays whenever called upon. But last night, Lasco may have played himself out of a roster spot, with a rough performance that he'd rather forget about.
Lasco actually had a decent night stat-wise, with 30 yards on 5 carries, a 6 yard average. But that was largely overshadowed by a costly fumble at the Saints' own 16-yard line in the 2nd quarter, that earned him the "stare of death" from Payton as he came back to the sideline.
Lasco has been engaged in a dogfight for the final RB spot with veteran RB Travaris Cadet throughout Camp and the entire Pre-Season, and now he will have to wait until tomorrow to find out if his shaky performance combined with Cadet's big 4th quarter play has cost him a spot on the Final 53.
#1. (TIE) THE BACK-UP QB's (CHASE DANIEL AND GARRETT GRAYSON)
We've said this once before obviously, but it bears repeating again and again: the New Orleans Saints are ROYALLY SCREWED if Drew Brees ever gets hurt, and last night was a classic, textbook example of why the team will pay a king's ransom for his services by signing him to one last final contract, after this season.
What I've learned: If the Saints have to play Chase Daniel and a bunch of third stringers, they're probably going to suck this year.
— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) September 1, 2017
Veteran Chase Daniel isn't in any danger of being cut, mind you; but with the exception of a late TD drive that he led right before halftime, he was awful. Daniel fumbled a shotgun snap during the Saints’ first series to kill one drive, then threw a poorly thrown pass for an interception deep in the Saints' own territory to set up a Ravens score on the very next possession.
Meanwhile, 3rd year Garrett Grayson wasn't even inserted into the game until there was 7 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, which tells you all that you need to know about Grayson's status -- which is that Grayson is obviously no longer a part of the team's future plans.
Grayson finished the game with a horrendous stat-line of 2-of-12 for only 32 yards; although to be fair the Saints WR's didn't do him any favors with a ridiculous 5 drops during the game's final stretch and the offensive line that allowed him to get hit 3 times as he was throwing.
Unfortunately, those are the breaks for Grayson; and unless the Saints decide to re-sign him to the Practice Squad and give him one last final shot to jump-start his brief NFL career, he will go down as another apparent draft "bust" for the 2015 Saints Draft class (Stephone Anthony, Davis Tull) that not all that long ago, once looked to be so promising......