In the brutal business of the NFL, teams are constantly searching for players that give the best value for their services. The Saints are no different. And as the 2013 season closes, they have plenty that were very cost-efficient while others whose production didn't match their price.
Here's how I would rank them:
5.) Kenny Stills – Another mid-round draft bargain for the Saints, Stills flashed his ability to stretch the field for the Saints. He finished the year with 32 catches, 641 yards and five touchdowns and led the NFL in yards per catch at 20.0. Stills' cap hit was a minuscule $453,000.
4.) Kenny Vaccaro – We were told what sold the Saints are drafting Vaccaro was his versatility and they were exactly right. The ultimate joker for Rob Ryan's defense, Vaccaro lined up all over the field and was productive across the entire defensive stat sheet. Vaccaro finished with 79 tackles (3rd on team), five tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, six passes defended and one forced fumble. Vaccaro tore his ACL in Carolina and his presence was certainly missed down the stretch of that game and beyond. Vaccaro only made a $405,000 base salary. His cap hit cost the Saints just $1.7 million.
3.) Akiem Hicks - A beast in the middle against both the pass and the run. Hicks had 56 tackles for 4.5 sacks. Playing in the middle of the defensive line sometimes the stats don't tell the whole story. This is certainly true in Hicks' case, he consistently ate up double teams on runs and provides incredible interior pass rushing that affected several plays even when he didn't actually get the tackle or sack. Not bad for a guy that didn't even make a half million dollars this season. His base salary was just $480,000.
2.) Cam Jordan - Jordan just seems to be getting better and better every year. Year number three was his best. He made his first Pro Bowl and recorded a team-high 12.5 sacks. The Saints' 2011 first round pick is still on his rookie contract and only made a base salary of $1.4 million and only cost the Saints a cap hit $2.45 million.
1.)Jimmy Graham - For the third straight year, Jimmy Graham claims the title of best bargain on the Saints. Graham was a monster this year, despite his no-show against Seattle. Graham led the team with 86 catches, 1215 yards and a remarkable 16 touchdowns. He only made a base salary of $1.3 million and only cost the Saints a cap hit of $1.4 million. That cost will undoubtedly go up if they want him back with the Saints next year.
Bang doesn't match the Buck- Unlike in years past when I've done this post, this year it was very difficult to find players to fit this bill of ‘overpaid.' Perhaps it's a sign of how many younger players contributed this year or that simply they didn't have a lot of players that underachieved.
5.) Lance Moore - I don't think Moore had a bad year, in fact I think Moore has been one of the best bargains the Saints have ever had throughout his career, but injuries cost him three games and likely played a role in his lowest receiving output since the 2009 season when he missed nine games. Moore is still the steady, reliable veteran but only caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns. What put him on this list was his cap hit of $4.5 million this season.
4.) Jonathan Vilma/Will Smith - I could have very easily put them at the top given that Smith didn't play a down all year and Vilma only played one game but I ultimately wanted to keep it to players that played most of the year. Vilma counted $3.8 million against the cap; Smith counted $7.6 million. Vilma is a free agent next year and Smith is going into the final year of his deal. The Saints would save roughly $10 million if they cut him. I'd say it's a long shot either one of these players are back next year.
3.) Ben Grubbs - I've said since it was announced, Grubbs did not deserve a Pro Bowl selection this year. In my opinion he was the most inconsistent performer along the offensive line. Grubbs restructured his contract before the season began but still carried a cap hit of $4.3 million. That number jumps to $9.1 million next year with a base salary of $6 million. I'll be very curious to see how they approach his status this offseason.
2.) Roman Harper - Unlike this entire fan base at times, I have never been one to blame Roman Harper for everything that has ever gone wrong with the defenses in years past. I've always felt like when put in the right position Harper can be and was a huge asset to this team. In 2013, Harper was banged up most of the year and had just 39 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. Those wouldn't be terribly bad numbers had he counted $3.6 million against the cap.
1.) Broderick Bunkley - With the emergence of some young talent, it appeared Bunkley was getting phased out he only played in twelve games and only finished with 13 tackles. Bunkley restructured his deal before the season but still carried a cap hit of $2.5 million. With a base salary of over $4 million next year, Bunkley appears to be a prime candidate for either another restructure, pay cut or flat out release.
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