Something odd is going on with the New Orleans Saints. The team set its 53-man roster like every other outfit across the league at last week’s NFL-mandated deadline, and then continued tweaking things by assembling a 16-man practice squad, sending some rostered players to injured reserve, submitting a couple of semi-successful waiver claims, and briefly cutting running back Dwayne Washington before re-signing him to facilitate some of those other moves. Now they’re left with 16 guys on the practice squad, which is normal. But there’s a hole on the 53-man roster where another player should be.
If you check the official website’s public roster (as of 5 p.m. CT on Monday), you’ll find that only 52 of the 53 allotted roster spots are occupied, though all 16 practice squad vacancies are filled. Those opportunities come at a premium, so it’s curious to see the Saints operating at below capacity, even at this chaotic early stage in the offseason.
So what’s the deal? Are the Saints about to sign a splashy free agent before Week 1’s road opener with the Atlanta Falcons? Probably not, though you can never fully rule it out with this team’s aggressive front office. Over The Cap’s experts currently have New Orleans under the 2022 salary cap by about $4.8 million, though Spotrac’s calculations have a more-conservative $2.2 million estimation. The Saints’ internal numbers are likely closer to the middle. They could mortgage cap resources in future years to sign a big name off the market, sure, though I wouldn’t bet on it.
But we could expect some movement on Tuesday. Assuming that New Orleans is still following the same weekly in-season schedule that we’ve seen before, their Week 1 itinerary looks like this:
Tuesday, Sept. 6: Players off, free agents visit for workouts
Wednesday, Sept. 7: First practice session
Thursday, Sept. 8: Second practice session
Friday, Sept. 9: Third practice session
Saturday, Sept. 10: Walkthrough practice, travel to Atlanta
The Saints historically use Tuesdays as their prime window for free agent tryouts, which makes sense with rostered players out of the building and coaches freed up from meetings. We’ll see if that pattern endures under Dennis Allen, but his “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy has worked well so far. A new player could sign with New Orleans on Tuesday, rounding out the 53-man roster, and still get three full days of practice in before kickoff with the Falcons.
On the other hand, the Saints could be opting to wait until Week 2 for the opportunity to plug that last hole on the roster. Signing vested veterans (those with four or more accrued seasons in the NFL) to contracts after Week 1 has concluded helps the team’s salary cap situation while only partially guaranteeing the player’s salary, so it’s possible that the Saints intend to sign a veteran player from their practice squad next week and save a little cap space while boosting their base level of pay. Eligible veterans on the practice squad who could do this include:
DE No. 54 Taco Charlton
DT No. 57 Christian Ringo
LB No. 58 Eric Wilson
G No. 68 Josh Andrews
C No. 72 Nick Martin
TE No. 88 J.P. Holtz
My best guess: Ringo will get called up from the practice squad as one of their single-game elevations, and if he does well he’ll sign to the 53-man roster next week. If not, they’ll bring in a free agent (the team tried out veterans Kingsley Keke and Vernon Butler after losing Malcolm Roach to injured reserve for four weeks). Defensive tackle is maybe their thinnest position group with just three guys on the active roster and two on the practice squad, having signed Ringo and rookie sixth-round draft pick Jordan Jackson.
So, yeah, it would still be odd to see the Saints start their season at less than full strength. At the same time, they can’t dress everyone on game days anyway. Though teams can elevate up to two practice squad players each week, temporarily increasing their roster limit from 53 to 55, they can only activate 46 guys in time for kickoff. Maybe they’re banking on a Week 2 move to get up to capacity. Maybe not. We’ll just have to wait and see how this develops.