Brian Allee-Walsh

Did the Saints land a cornerback in Eli Apple who can actually help?

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brice Butler (19) catches a pass as New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Sunday, September 10, 2017.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brice Butler (19) catches a pass as New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple (24) defends during the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Sunday, September 10, 2017. Star-Telegram

Who dat?

That was my initial reaction to the personnel move made by New Orleans Saints officials Tuesday. Not why. They obviously need secondary help. But why this player.

I speak of third-year New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft, who cost the Saints a fourth-round pick in 1919 and a seventh-round pick in 2020.

Now, Apple is not shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson who reportedly wants out of Arizona before Tuesday’s trading deadline, not even a poor man’s version of the former LSU star. In fact, Apple has underachieved in 23 NFL starts (1 INT) for the dysfunctional Giants and was labeled as a “cancer’‘ last season in their locker room by an unnamed teammate.

But Apple is a relative inexpensive pick-up, counting just a tad above $1 million in cap money and Saints officials believe they can recoup those two draft picks. He is young (23), healthy, brimming with untapped potential and fills a glaring need for a Saints team that is taking dead aim at Super Bowl LIII.

Let’s be honest here: The Saints are draft-pick poor and did not have enough ammo to make a serious run at Peterson. And, it’s apparent they need help in the secondary. Did you see the ease in which Baltimore moved 81 yards for a TD to nearly force overtime?

The Saints were fortunate to escape with a 24-23 win. Now I know it was windy at M&T Bank Stadium in downtown Baltimore but I’m convinced that Who Dat Nation collectively blew kicker Justin Tucker’s potential game-tying PAT wide right with 24 seconds remaining.

The kick initially looked as if it would split the uprights and knot the game at 24, then inexplicably took a wicked hard right outside the right goal post leaving Tucker bug-eyed in disbelief.

Tucker had never missed a PAT in 6-plus NFL seasons including the postseason (238 of 238), so you see why I think divine intervention came into play here.

The elements won’t come into play Sunday night (7:20 p.m., NBC) when the NFC South-leading Saints (5-1) tackle the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1) in Minneapolis, unless, of course, one counts a partisan sell-out crowd of 66,000 at indoor U.S. Bank Stadium.

Whether Apple has a role in Sunday night’s game remains to be seen. I suspect at the very least Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen simply could tell Apple to play an area of the field or help cover talented Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen.

Maybe, Apple will help the Saints when all is said and done, whether Sunday night against Minnesota or next week against the Los Angeles Rams or down the road against other pass-happy and wide receiver-rich opponents.

Or next season and beyond.

The argument could be made that Eli Apple can’t be any worse than several of the corners currently on the 53-man roster. Who knows? Perhaps, a change of scenery will do him well.

But he’s not Patrick Peterson.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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