The 53-man roster deadline has come and gone, and the New Orleans Saints made their share of expected and unexpected moves on Tuesday.
The story of the day, though, came hours before the deadline when C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s surprise trade to the Philadelphia Eagles was announced. Nothing that happened on roster cut day comes close to the devastating impact of the Gardner-Johnson news, and the Saints will have to find a way to fill the defender’s void in 2022.
As for the roster cuts, NOLA sealed the fates of many players heading into the season, but the current roster isn’t necessarily final and plenty could happen during the waiver wire period and after teams place players on injured reserve.
Without any further ado, here are three of the biggest surprises to the Saints’ initial 53-man roster.
As the only UDFA rookie to make the team’s 53-man roster, offensive tackle Lewis Kidd has to be feeling pretty good about himself.
Kidd currently sits as depth behind right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and given the Saints’ concerning left tackle situation, it makes sense why the Saints may want to hold onto as many offensive linemen as possible.
Ramczyk’s backup was originally Landon Young, but Young has since been moved to the left side to potentially fill in for the injured Trevor Penning.
Kidd’s inclusion comes somewhat as a surprise given the astounding amount of talent in this year’s UDFA class: Nephi Sewell, Eric Wilson, Abram Smith, Rashid Shaheed, and Dai’Jean Dixon all impressed in preseason yet got cut on Tuesday afternoon.
It’s likely that at least a few of those names will land on the Saints’ practice squad, but Kidd belongs in the exclusive group of having made the initial roster. Well done, “kid.”
Baun has spent two seasons in NOLA serving as backup linebacker depth, and it appears as though he’s included in the defense’s future for the upcoming season as well.
The 2020 third-rounder currently sits behind Demario Davis for insurance and admittedly has enjoyed a very solid preseason and training camp. That being said, it’s a little surprising that Baun beat out other players like Nephi Sewell and Eric Wilson for a reserve spot given Baun’s streaky past.
Baun received heavy criticism last year for his poor coverage skills and even has some claiming he’s the franchise’s worst draft pick of the past five years. Oof.
Since being drafted, Baun has performed well in special teams but he has continually struggled in the defense — the team tinkered with playing him at both the strong and weak-side linebacker position, and in both roles Baun underperformed.
Baun is a third-round pick that many fans would like to have back, but the Saints apparently see enough in him to keep him around.
Defensive back Justin Evans had a hugely impressive preseason game against the Chargers last week, and his inclusion on the roster comes as a very welcome surprise.
Given the strength of the Saints’ secondary, there was always a chance that a talented yet unproven player like Evans would be released, but the Texas A&M product thankfully made the cut.
An honorable mention surprise could also be noted here: former Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen somehow making the 53-man roster.
Rather than focus on a washed-up vet in the league, though, we want to congratulate Evans for his productive play in the last three weeks as he fought and clawed his way to a well-deserved roster spot. Heading into 2022, Evans should be able to secure a special teams role until he develops into a starting-caliber defender, and he’s already gotten plenty of praise from his peers.
The Saints now need to focus on replacing C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the defense, by which they’ll probably use some rotation of Bradley Roby and P.J. Williams. Holding onto a promising playmaker like Evans gives NOLA some leeway in moving pieces around, and fans have every reason to expect another year of defensive excellence in 2022.
Were there any other big surprises from the Saints’ roster cuts?