The Saints have a major salary cap problem, and while it’s no easy fix, there isn’t a reason they should tank.
-$79 Million is an abnormally large cap space hole. The Saints rank dead last in cap space among the 32 NFL teams, and no other team comes close (The Eagles are projected to be 31st at -$51.5M). Obviously this figure can change, but either way, the cap situation is a notable one. Naturally, there is a lot of work that New Orleans will need to get done to be under the cap, and some believe it is too much to ask. Many are speculating that the Saints are headed for a full rebuild in the near-future. Others are clamoring for the Saints to tank. However, the Saints shouldn’t tank, and there are many reasons for this.
There are realistic ways the Saints can clear cap space
It may seem like an insurmountable task for the Saints to clear the cap, but there are ways the Saints can get under the cap and stay competitive. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis has been fantastic at managing the cap in past years, but this year is his biggest challenge. The Saints should look to maximize their potential by keeping, cutting, and restructuring the right players. Additionally, the Saints can save chunks of money by player retirements. That being said, where do the Saints go? Here are some ways the Saints can save money through off-season moves:
QB Drew Brees (Retirement) ~$1M savings (Brees and New Orleans have agreed to restructure his contract, saving $24M currently)
G Nick Easton (Cut) ~$6M savings
LB Kwon Alexander (Cut) ~$13.4M savings
TE Jared Cook (Cut) ~$9.1M savings
CB Janoris Jenkins (Cut) ~$7M savings
DT Malcolm Brown (Cut) ~$5M savings
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Cut) ~$4M savings
P Thomas Morstead (Cut) ~$2.5M savings
RB Latavius Murray (Cut) ~$2.5M savings
CB Patrick Robinson (Cut) ~$2.6M savings
To start with the obvious, all signs are pointing towards Drew Brees retiring. The NFL legend has agreed to reduce his contract by around $24 million for the 2021 Season. Brees’ initial cap hit was at $36.15M, which would have been the largest on the Saints roster had Brees not taken a massive pay cut. Brees has agreed to the league-minimum now, so the Saints are looking at a little more wiggle-room. By keeping Brees through June 1st and placing him on the retiring list, the Saints will reduce his hit from $12.5M to $11.5M, saving $1M for the 2021 Season. The Saints will be able to spread his dead money across the following two seasons.
G Nick Easton’s current cap hit is $7M, which is too much for a backup. By cutting Easton, the Saints could lower his cap hit from $7M to $1M, saving $6M. Unfortunately, the Saints will be looking at additional losses as well. They don’t have the wiggle-room to keep many key players. There’s hardly a possible scenario in which many players listed above stick around. Obviously, the Saints may try to do whatever they can to keep Sanders or Murray around, either by cutting/releasing other players or by restructuring their contracts. While I expect the Saints to keep 1-2 of these guys, it goes to show that the Saints have no breathing room.
Potential Contract Restructures/Extensions
DE Cameron Jordan (Restructure)
WR Michael Thomas (Restructure)
G Andrus Peat (Restructure)
DT David Onyemata (Restructure)
S Malcolm Jenkins (Restructure)
Releasing players alone isn’t enough for the Saints to get under the cap. Many players, including franchise cornerstones, will have to have contracts restructured. The Saints have been very sneaky with finding ways to manipulate their cap space, and will have to do so in the offseason by means of contract restructuring. Key players Cameron Jordan and Michael Thomas were the 2nd and 3rd largest cap hits for the Saints prior to Brees taking a pay cut, hitting $18.9M and $18.8M respectively. The Saints could add a contract voiding year for both players and increase their signing bonuses. This would lower Jordan’s and Thomas’s 2021 cap hits, creating a combined ~$18M of cap space.
Andrus Peat is another candidate to have his contract restructured. The highly-paid offensive lineman could have his contract restructured to save even more room in cap space. Given Peat’s long term contract, he is virtually set to be on the roster beyond 2021, so restructuring his contract is a good idea to save cap.
There are various other players the Saints could turn to when restructuring contracts and saving cap space. In such a scenario, David Onyemata and Malcolm Jenkins are less-likely but possible players that could see their contracts restructured.
Extending T Ryan Ramcyzk or DB Marshon Lattimore
The Saints MUST extend the contracts of either Ryan Ramcyzk or Marshon Lattimore. Both players are on the last year of their rookie contracts, and the Saints can only designate one of them as a franchise tag in 2022 if desired. Marshon Lattimore seems like the prime candidate to be extended, but things get complicated as 2021 is the contract year of Tackle Terron Armstead. The Saints may look to fortify their offensive line for the future, which means extending Ryan Ramcyzk’s contract. The Saints could trade Marshon Lattimore to save cap, but Lattimore is a significant part of the team’s secondary, so this seems unlikely and isn’t worth the effort.
The Saints will be able to get under the salary cap through restructuring contracts and releasing players. There are likely some unexpected moves the Saints will make, but for now, the method above is the likely path the Saints will take in getting under the cap. So, what does this mean for New Orleans?
The Saints may be looking at losing Marcus Williams and Trey Hendrickson, which would be a tough pill to swallow as both players had significant roles on defense. The Saints could rebuild in the draft or look for alternatives in free agency. Regardless, this team will likely look different next season. Despite this, the Saints still have a very talented roster, retaining players such as Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, Malcolm Jenkins, and yeah, you get the picture.
The Saints will be able to survive their salary cap burden, and do whatever they can to compete. The Saints ability to make noise in 2021 likely relies on their quarterback play without Drew Brees. For now, all signs point towards Jameis Winston being the starting Quarterback in Louisiana. Their Super Bowl hopes are unknown at the moment, but don’t expect the Saints to tank. The Saints will still field a talented bunch.
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