McCluster Could Be The Dex Factor In Saints Return Game
With so many players becoming cap casualties in New Orleans, one must ask the question of how the Saints plan to address their weakness in the kick and punt return department. The Saints struggled all year in the return game, failing to record a single touchdown off of a punt or kick return. It is the norm in today’s NFL for a team to have a return specialist who doubles as (more often than not) a WR or CB, but New Orleans did not have that luxury last year because of a season-ending injury to speedy receiver Josh Morgan. As a result, the Saints had to turn to RB Darren Sproles.
Sproles had been returning for the Saints since his arrival in 2011, and was one of the best at the position as a member of the San Diego Chargers. In his first six years in the NFL, Sproles recorded at least 1,000 kick return yards and at least one kick or punt return TD per season. Over the past two years, however, Sproles had just 1,115 total return yards and did not find the end zone once. The obvious explanation for the drastic drop in production is his age. Eight years in the NFL has taken a marginal toll on Sproles’ speed. The Saints would like nothing more than to keep Sproles fresh and avoid using him as their return specialist in 2014.
With that said, who is out there on the free agent market that the Saints can bring in?
A name that immediately comes to mind that would address their punt return problem is Dexter McCluster. The current Kansas City Chief has proven to be a menace as a punt returner, leading the league last season with 686 punt return yards. He was also the only player to record two TDs as a punt returner. Those 686 yards rank as the fourth most in the history of the NFL.
Along with his punt return abilities, McCluster can serve as a valuable guy elsewhere. Each of the past two years, he has accounted for over 50 receptions per season, and averages nearly nine yards per reception in his career. McCluster has experience at the RB position as well, averaging over four yards per carry in his career. Last season, McCluster had the second most all-purpose yards in the league with 1,205, second to only Chiefs teammate Jamaal Charles.
Being a multifaceted player is what would make McCluster such a nice fit for the Saints. Players such as Sproles and RB Pierre Thomas serve as versatile players, and adding one more to the mix would make New Orleans that much more lethal on offense. In addition, he has the speed and quickness to elude tacklers, which allows him to turn a short yardage reception into a 30 or 40 yard gain. Therefore, the Saints could cut RB Mark Ingram and/or Thomas in favor of making room for McCluster on the roster.
As a side note, Morgan will be returning this year after missing the entire 2013 season, and could easily fill the void as kick returner since McCluster has had little experience in that department since 2011.
McCluster is an unsung hero and would be a great fit for New Orleans, but the issue with acquiring him is going to be money. How much money and how many years will McCluster be looking for in a potential deal? Do the Saints have the resources available to obtain him if they become involved in a bidding war with Kansas City or other possible suitors?
Time will tell but given McCluster's role, he likely would not cost the Saints more than what they are already slated to pay Thomas and Ingram combined this season.