Game Week Breakdown: 3 biggest questions regarding Saints 53-man roster

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Bradley Roby
The trade of C.J. Gardner Johnson (22) have left Bradley Roby (21) with a bigger role in the Saints defense to start the 2022 season.

Last week, NFL teams cut their training camp rosters down to their initial group of 53. As expected, the roster has already undergone some flux since then.

Running back Dwayne Washington was released and re-signed in a procedural move. Rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning was moved to injured reserve along with defensive lineman Malcolm Roach. Offensive lineman Tanner Owen was added and now the team sits with an open spot, with only 52 slots currently filled. That open roster spot leads to our first of three big questions regarding the Saints’ 53-man roster.

Why is there an open spot on the roster?
It seems the Saints front office have been maximizing procedural moves as laid out above. This open roster spot may be another example of exactly that.

There are two obvious reasons New Orleans want to keep an opening right now. The first is that they may be looking to add another player during game week. The offensive line is a position that makes sense for additional help. With Penning on injured reserve and reportedly not expected to return until early November, the Saints could look to bring in a veteran lineman to help shore up depth at tackle.

However, management could feel good about where they are now based on the health of Landon Young and the rise of undrafted free agent rookie Lewis Kidd. If that’s the case, the team could be looking to elevate a practice squad veteran to their active roster post-Week 1.

Why wait to do that instead of doing it now? After Week 1 of the NFL season has concluded, veteran contracts are non-guaranteed, allowing the Saints even more flexibility while adding veteran experience to their active roster. Players like defensive tackle Christian Ringo, defensive end Taco Charlton, linebacker Eric Wilson and offensive lineman Nick Martin are prime candidates to jump from practice squad to active roster status.

What will the Saints do at safety?
The New Orleans defense was impacted heavily in the past week at safety with the trade of C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles and free agent addition Marcus Maye’s arrest on a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm. It’s hard to believe that the legal process will move quickly enough for the Saints to be impacted in 2022 by Maye’s arrest, especially with his 17-month DUI case still open and not expected to go back to court until November. It could be pushed back again.

However, the impact of trading away defensive back Gardner-Johnson will be immediate. The good news is that he played a position at which, in terms of on-field production, the Saints have the talent to cover. Veteran cornerback Bradley Roby is a clear and obvious replacement for Gardner-Johnson as a slot corner. With 870 slot defense snaps in his career, Roby has allowed just 0.98 receiving yards per snap.

Although Roby should play that role quite a bit, the Saints are unlikely to make it that simple for opposing offenses though. With P.J. Williams, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Evans all bringing their own unique skillsets, it’s likely that any and all of them will be rotated into the nickel spot depending on gameplan, matchups and injuries. That provides the Saints a lot of talent to maintain their ability to disguise their defenses and deploy specific players with skills sets that perfectly fit down, distance and game situations.

Will Kirk Merritt get an opportunity Week 1?
NFL teams are allowed to elevate two players per week from their practice squad to the active roster for gameday. Each player can be elevated up to three times (an increase from two times in 2020 and 2021) before they must be added to the active roster to appear in another game. Some pairing of the aforementioned veterans like Ringo, Martin, Wilson, and Charlton could make up those elevations. Merritt, the versatile wide receiver, also fits the bill.

The Destrehan native quickly became a fan favorite this offseason with his expansive ability to impact the game for the Saints as a receiver, returner and potentially a runner. Fellow wideout Tre’Quan Smith took a hard fall making a diving attempt to reel in a pass during the team’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, meaning a keen eye should be kept on him as a possible injured reserve candidate. If Smith was moved to the IR list, he would then miss the first four games of the NFL season at least, opening a potential roster spot for Merritt.

For the moment, Merritt’s opportunities will need to come as an elevated member of the gameday roster. Will he get his chance early on, one way or another?

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Ross Jackson

Saints/Football Analyst

Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…

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