NFL teams that make deep playoff runs usually make an underrated acquisition or two along the way. The Saints may have just made theirs.
When New Orleans Saints fans got the notification Tuesday afternoon saying that the team had acquired cornerback Eli Apple from the New York Giants, the immediate reaction was disappointment. While Apple is a young, talented piece, he’s no Patrick Peterson.
That’s who Saints fans were hoping the team would acquire, as Peterson – a seven-time Pro Bowler – had been reportedly requested a trade from the dysfunctional Arizona Cardinals. Former NFL cornerback Bryant McFadden even suggested that New Orleans was Peterson’s preferred destination.
So, naturally, when the team makes the move for a guy who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team last season rather than a seven-time Pro Bowler, frustration ensues.
But, once the anger boils over, Saints fans may come to appreciate the move general manager Mickey Loomis pulled off.
Even an average cornerback like Apple can serve as a major upgrade to the secondary that New Orleans has been running out there on a weekly basis. Marshon Lattimore is a steady fixture at corner on one side of the field, but the depth behind him is atrocious. Third-year pro Ken Crawley has been dismal, as he was benched in Week 3 versus Atlanta only to return to action following an injury in the secondary. According to Pro Football Focus, Ken Crawley has surrendered an unfathomable 154.8 passer rating when targeted.
Conversely, Apple has allowed a passer rating against of just 86.1. He’s cemented himself as a serviceable cover corner in the league, which are becoming harder and harder to come by in today’s passing era. After a rocky first two years with the Giants that included poor play, locker room problems and a suspension, Apple has settled in nicely in 2018.
But, the underlying opportunity in the acquisition for the Saints comes in the form of Apple’s ties to players already on the Saints roster. It’s often said that a player may just need a change of scenery, but here is a case where that could really be the situation.
Apple was a top-10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft for a reason. He’s a long, athletic cornerback with all the tangible skills needed to succeed. But, when the Giants’ 2017 season went down the chute, tensions mounted and things went awry. Apple then had to play in an environment where he was not well-liked or respected, which is not exactly conducive to good performance.
Now, in New Orleans, Apple will join fellow former Ohio State Buckeyes Marshon Lattimore, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell and Kurt Coleman. In fact, Apple, Lattimore, Thomas and Bell all played for the Buckeyes at the same time. So, in essence, on most snaps the Saints will be sporting a secondary comprised of three-fourths Buckeye. That sense of comfort and belonging is something that Apple never experienced in New York.
If Apple remains the same player that he’s been in 2018, the Saints will be better than when before they made the move. But if the familiarity and solidarity allows him to excel, then this move just might be exactly what the Saints needed to push them over the top.