Almost immediately after the lockout ended, the Saints traded Reggie Bush to Miami and signed Darren Sproles to replace him, in what may have been the most significant personnel move of the entire 2011 NFL offseason. More than five months later, as 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prepares to stop Sproles on Saturday, he’s still shaking his head about how it was possible that an already good New Orleans offense could pull off a move like that to get better.
“I can’t believe they got him for the cheap price that they got him for replacing Reggie Bush,” Fangio told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think if it was the NBA, the commissioner might have stepped in and stopped that move.”
Every defensive coordinator who has had to prepare for Sproles this season has probably wished Roger Goodell had pulled a David Stern and said it would simply be unfair to add a player like Sproles to an offense like the Saints’. After all, in Sproles’ first year with the Saints he set a new NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards.
However, it’s easy to forget that not everyone around the league appreciated Sproles’ talents before this season. That’s why the Saints were able to attract Sproles for the relatively low price of a four-year contract that averages $3.5 million a year.
But now everyone knows how good Sproles is. The 49ers’ defense especially.
“There’s no doubt that he’s a unique running back,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “For a guy his size, he does it all. He runs in between the tackles, outside, catches the ball really well. He’s a complete running back. Certainly, we’re going to have to know where he is at all times.”
Fangio is shaking his head at how many ways the Saints can move the ball.
“He’s a talented player,” Fangio said of Sproles. “He’s extremely quick, extremely fast. He’s got a great working knowledge with Brees that goes back to their San Diego days. They worked all offseason together. He’s a weapon. And that’s the most glaring thing when you look at this offense is they have weapons everywhere. It’s hard to say, hey, if we stop this guy we’ll win this game, or we’ll play great on defense. They’ve got a lot of guys we’ve got to stop.”