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Landing the disgruntled Lewis would help lessen the blow of losing Darrelle Revis. Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

They say misery loves company, so at least Pats fans can take solace that they aren't the only ones who have gone through gut-wrenching offseasons so far. While the Niners have unofficially become this offseason's biggest shipwreck, the cap-strapped New Orleans Saints continued a troublesome spring with a shocking trade of Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. While the Saints have already had to let go of mainstays such as LB Curtis Lofton and RB Pierre Thomas this offseason, trading Graham appears to be a tacit admission that the window is closed for the forseeable future.

The move apparently didn't reside well with cornerback Keenan Lewis. The veteran cornerback took to Instagram to express his displeasure with the team's direction, posting the following:

"I think it's time for me to take my talent somewhere else. I only want fairness. I would love to stay and play for my hometown but I only want to be treated fairly."

"I want to be here, probably more than any Saints player ever. I would die for my team. If we was 0-16, I would want to be here."

"I don't want to be like (Darren) Sproles, (Pierre) Thomas, Jimmy (Graham) or (Malcolm) Jenkins, etc. I am a team guy. I care about this team probably more than any player to ever wear a uniform trust me. I sacrifice and put my health on the line last season.

I just want to know, I am going to be here the remainder of my contract. I deserve that. I proved my loyalty, now it's time for the organization to prove theirs. Trust me people I'm not giving up, I just want them to make that simple move to happen."

According to ESPN's Mike Tripplette, the issue for Lewis isn't money and the corner isn't seeking a raise. Instead, Lewis feels an understandable lack of security given the Saints recent moves, and is insisting that he be let go if the team won't guarantee the rest of his contract. He has already told ESPN that he plans to hold out of OTAs and minicamps.

“I’m not happy. The team’s being broken apart. I want to be here. But if they can’t do that for me, (I’m not sure they feel the same).
I will be a distraction if they can’t do that for me, period.” 

While the Saints will hope the situation blows over, those are strong words and there's little upside to allowing that level of discontent to simmer in your locker room. Despite his emergence as a number one corner, the Saints will likely be forced to let him go.

Lewis is no Darrelle Revis, but he would be the top corner on the Pats roster if signed today. At 6'1" and 208 pounds, Lewis has the ideal lanky build and athleticism to match up one-on-one against top receivers. At 28, he's in his prime, and has three years remaining on a contract that looks like a downright bargain compared to what some lesser corners (I'm looking at you, Buster Skrine) got on the market last year.

That contract would become even more team-friendly if Lewis was traded for, as the Saints would be required to pick up the $6.9 million in dead money remaining from Lewis' deal. With his annual prorated signing bonus charges of $2.3 million off the books, Lewis' cap charges would be reduced to $2.55 million in 2015, $5 million in 2016 and $5.5 million in 2017: outright bargain prices for one of the league's better starting corners. The Pats would also have all negotiating leverage over Lewis, as they'd be free to release him at any time with no cap consequences.

If the Saints hand is forced, they'd presumably prefer to receive some compensation for Lewis rather than let him walk for nothing. The Pats already have three picks in the third and fourth rounds, and will likely receive another third round compensatory pick for losing Aqib Talib last offseason. Parting with one of those picks would likely land Lewis now, and the price could drop to just a late round pick if Lewis continues to pout.

For the Saints, such a move would have similar consequences to the Graham trade, albeit on a much smaller scale. Due to the dead money on Lewis' deal, the Saints would actually lose $2.05 million in cap space this year by trading or releasing him. However, such a move would eliminate his $7.3 and $7.8 million cap hits for the two seasons after that, which isn't without benefit for a team that desperately needs to clear it's books and start fresh from a cap perspective. In the process, they'd receive an extra draft pick or two, essential to strengthening the roster with affordable talent on rookie deals.

Most importantly, trading for Lewis would mean acquiring him under those favorable terms. If Lewis were released and hit the open market today, he'd likely get something between $7 and $8 million a year. The Patriots certainly have the cap space to do that now, but trading for him would ensure landing the player while saving some extra cap space to address other needs on the roster.

Improving the front seven with a pass rusher like visiting OLB/DE Jabaal Sheard would go a long way to helping a secondary that will be incapable of carrying the schematic burden they did with Revis in tow. A corner group of Lewis, Malcolm Butler, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Denanrd would certainly be competitive, especially if aided by a stronger pass rush. Drafting a high level corner prospect (Florida State's PJ Williams could become a name to watch) in the first round to pair with Lewis could make such a group an outright strength again, albeit not at the level of the 2014 secondary.

Lewis was originally a third round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, and the Oregon State product showed enough promise in a reserve role to earn a 5 year, $25 million deal from the Saints when he finally hit the open market in 2013. Lewis thrived in his first season as a Saint, allowing quarterbacks to complete just 54.5% of their passes his way while gathering more interceptions (4) than he allowed touchdowns (3). He also was a sure tackler allowing just 131 yards after the catch all season. Those numbers are even more impressive when put into context, as Rob Ryan's aggressive scheme often left Lewis matched up one-on-one with little help against top receivers on the outside, something that shined through in the playoffs when his suffocating coverage noticeably limited Eagles dynamo Desean Jackson.

Lewis got off to a slow start in 2014, but rounded into form appeared on his way to another successful season before suffering a gruesome knee injury in Week 10. Lewis showed a lot of guts playing on a knee that looked like this, but his performance understandably suffered down the stretch, allowing five of his seven touchdowns surrendered after the injury. Still, Lewis held opposing quarterbacks to a 57.1% completion percentage, with impressive performances against Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin along the way.

There aren't many guys out there capable of matching up one-on-one with those kind of receivers, and Lewis has proven capable of that #1 role in New Orleans. He's clearly better than any of the corners left on the open market, and will likely be available on an affordable deal for minimal compensation. If the Pats are serious about repeating as champions, it's a move they must at least look in to.

Ned Brady 3/11/2015 12:59:00 PM Edit
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