1. Right Defensive End Will Smith: Labeled as the Saints best overall defender, Smith has struggled with inconsistency — notching 6.5 sacks in 2011, 5 in 2010, and 13 in 2009 — and now with Spagnuolo at the helm, who relies on more pressure from the front four, Smith’s overall lack of production for an “elite” defensive end could mean the veteran may be out of job.
Factor in that Smiths’ base salary for 2012 is $7 million, plus a $1 million dollar roster bonus due 3/27, you have the second highest salary on the team and a good reason for he and the Saints to finally part ways.
Potential Replacements: Junior Galette, Greg Romeus, draft pick, free agent.
2. Middle Linebacker Jonathan Vilma: In 2011 Vilma injured his knee in week two, and that injury slowed the normally ultra productive linebacker resulting in the second lowest tackle total in his career (54).
During the five games that he missed Jo-Lonn Dunbar filled in at middle linebacker — playing exceptionally well — and arguably just as good or better than Vilma.
Dunbar will be significantly cheaper to keep on the roster in 2012 as Vilma is set to make a $5.4 million dollar base salary. Jo-Lonn will become a free agent, but it’s likely the Saints can retain him with a more team friendly deal.
Potential Replacements: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Ramon Humber, draft pick, free agent.
3. Left Cornerback Jabari Greer: Greer has been the Saints most reliable cornerback since joining the team in free agency three seasons ago, and he responded in 2011 with a great season — 60 tackles and 18 pass deflections — once again rarely getting beat by the elite receivers in the NFL.
Corners are the foundation of a great defense, and the Saints surely aren’t keen to let Greer go, but his base salary of $5.4 million in 2012 could give them enough reason to explore other options.
New Orleans has no first round pick this year, but they could select a cornerback with their second round pick (59th overall) in the upcoming draft to replace Greer.
Potential Replacements: Patrick Robinson, Johnny Patrick, draft pick, free agent.
4. Wide Receiver Devery Henderson: Henderson possesses great speed and has been one of the Saints primary deep threats in his seven seasons with the team. In 2011 he caught only 32 passes for 503 yards and two touchdowns — he is technically not even a starter — and working against him is the $3.6 million dollars he will count towards the cap in 2012.
He is a prime target for release because of this, but his future is probably dependant of whether or not the Saints re-sign impending free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem.
Potential Replacements: Adrian Arrington, Joseph Morgan, Courtney Roby, Andy Tanner, draft pick, free agent.
Whether or not the Saints release any of these player is still yet to be seen, but what is known is that the potential contracts of Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Carl Nicks will put a huge financial strain on the team.
New Orleans could have already been preparing to part ways with some of these veterans by hanging on to cheaper players like Joe Morgan and Greg Romeus.
These two are ultra cheap in comparison to the two players they could possibly replace (Henderson, Smith), and having them on the roster could make the Saints upcoming decision just that much easier considering they continue to blossom.