The New Orleans Saints surprised quite a few people yesterday, including their own locker room, with their decision to release running back Darren Sproles. The cap strapped Saints have been doing everything in their power to clear up some money for this offseason, but Sproles was not a name that too many expected to be released. Sproles turns 31 this summer and had seen his productivity drop, but he was still an effective player who was very popular in the locker room and with the fan base.
Sproles’ unique skill set should make it fairly easy for him to find work, and the New York Jets are one team that could be interested. The Jets are likely to release Mike Goodson, and they need a third down back who can give them a receiving threat out of the backfield. I have had the Jets targeting similar players like Dri Archer and De’Anthony Thomas late in my mock drafts (here and here), but Sproles is the first addition to the free agent class who fits that mold.
Sproles had 53 carries for 220 yards and 2 TDs and 71 receptions for 604 yards and 2 TDs last season. It was his least productive season with the Saints, but it still represented far more than the Jets got out of their running backs in the passing game. The Jets’ four running backs and fullback Tommy Bohanon all combined for just 53 receptions for 378 yards and no touchdowns last season. Sproles would bring a different element to their backfield.
Obviously the Jets should not make a big investment in a declining player, but Sproles shouldn’t be particularly expensive on the free agent market. Also, the Jets would use Sproles in a smaller role than the Saints did, which could help keep him fresh and productive when he did get the ball. Marty Mornhinweg is a creative offensive coordinator with plenty of experience working with players with Sproles’ skill set, so he would be able to maximize his abilities.
Targeting a third down back in the draft might be a better idea, but going after Sproles is a good option as well. He is not a long term solution, but the Jets need playmakers on offense, and Sproles would give them on in the backfield.