With Sean Payton stepping down as coach of the Saints the questions are rolling in about whether or not the Saints should be headed to a rebuild. Payton may have had the finest year of his career last season helping guide the Saints to a 9-8 seasons despite not really having a typical NFL quarterback for most of the season. With Payton gone they lose the most important member of their organization as they face major salary cap problems for the second straight season. The question is can the team really trade off assets to still comply with the salary cap next year? Let’s see if they can or can not.
We currently estimate the Saints to be about $76 million over the projected 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million. That number does include a few assumptions. It assumes that the team will not extend the contracts of Terron Armstead, Jameis Winston, and Tre’Quan Smith before they void. Of those three Armstead is the only player whose cap number would decrease if they extended him. He would also be the most expensive.
First lets start with who I believe would be the obvious restructure candidates. These would be the players who are expected to be in for the long haul and would be valuable during a rebuilding season.
OT Ryan Ramczyk– The team extended Ramczyk just last season and it is possible that he could make the move over to left tackle if Armstead does not return. He has a $23.0 million cap charge or which $3.8 million is a sunk cost and the rest can be restructured. By converting all of his roster bonus and salary to a bonus the team will open up $14.565 million in cap room. That leaves them with $61 million to find in cap relief.
CB Marshon Lattimore– While Lattimore would probably get a decent return in a trade he also is a player who was just extended and probably someone they see set for the long haul. He carries a massive $27.45 million cap charge of which the team can restructure an equally massive $24.1 million. They can create $18.454 million in a restructure. This brings the team to $43 million over the cap.
QB Taysom Hill– One of the more polarizing players in the league due to his salary, Hill certainly is not going to be traded and may very well be the starting QB next season. Hill has a $12.3 million cap charge of which about $9 million can be reworked. They can open up $7.252 million in cap space with a Hill restructure. That would bring the Saints to about $36 million over the cap.
G Andrus Peat– If there was a contract that the Saints probably wish they could have back it is this one. Peat has only played in 19 games in the last two years but his salary is already fully guaranteed for the season so they do not really have any options. The team would need to add two void years to his contract to max out savings which would make sense to do here. His cap figure is $15.45 million and they can bring that down by $7.852 million. That gets the team to $28 million under.
I would call that the end of the obvious restructures if the goal is to tear things down which would mean leaving the contracts of Cameron Jordan, Michael Thomas, and Marcus Davenport, and Demario Davis intact.
The next area to look at are player cuts. Here we want to look at a few players where the Saints would save some cap room with their release.
CB Bradley Roby– The team took a shot on Roby last year and it did not work out. His cap charge is $10.17 million and they can save $9.5 million with his release. That brings us to $19.1 million over the cap.
DL David Onyemata– Onyemata has a $13.17 million cap charge and they would save $3.83 million if he were cut. He was a starter for the team in the 11 games he played and it would be a lot of snaps to replace so they could try a restructure as well, but he will be 30 next year and not in the long term future. So lets call it a release for now. That’s would bring us to $25.9 million once we factor in the cost of a replacement player on the roster.
S Malcom Jenkins– Similar to Onyemata, Jenkins is a full time player for the Saints and would leave a void in the secondary, but he is also on the wrong side of 30. Jenkins carries an $11.7 million cap charge. They would save $3.8 million with his release and you cant count out a restructure if they just run it back for another year. But again Ill go with the release here. That’s gets us to about $12.9M over the cap.
K Wil Lutz– Having a kicker count for $5.57 million on the cap is probably a luxury they can’t afford. That said releasing him only saves $1.7 million and once you consider the replacement player cost its just $1 million that is going to be created. $11.8 million over.
RB Mark Ingram– There is no reason for Ingram to be on the Saints at a cap charge of $2.3 million next year. There is no dead money associated with his release. $10.3 million over the cap.
DE Tanoh Kpassagnon– The team can create $2.35 million with his release. He was basically a 40% snap guy and you could argue he is fine at that salary but for the cap troubles they have I would imagine he would be released. That brings the team to $8.6 million over the cap.
So now we need to circle back around to the restructures as we pick and choose who stays and who goes. It is possible that someone could come from the cuts list could also be restructured but for now lets just work with the veterans who are left on the team.
DE Cam Jordan– Jordan is still a terrific player and he carries a $23.181 million cap charge. There is really nothing saved by trading him and given his history in New Orleans I can’t picture them trading him even if he would have value in a trade. Hey can save $10.864 million by restructuring all the salary in his contract and another $500,000 by putting a team qualifier in his contract for his LTBE incentive. This puts the Saints under the salary cap for 2022.
That would now leave the door open for the Saints to explore the trade markets for Michael Thomas, Marcus Davenport, and Demario Davis. For any trade to occur the player would need to be held on his full salary cap charge until the start of the new league year so the above moves should get them cap compliant. Trading any of these player wont open up much cap room but it would bring in some assets for the future.
That isn’t to say that the Saints would be locked at the number mentioned above. There are still some triggers to pull. They could save $8.4 million with Alvin Kamara, but I am always hesitant about restructuring RB deals so really they should only do that if they need the room for a specific reason. Any player who is not going to be traded can also be restructured. Davis would open up $5.1 million, Davenport $6.8 million, etc… So they can probably be in the ballpark of $25 million in cap space with a trade of Michael Thomas still possible if he is the only player they would want to trade.
Of course this defers more to 2023 where the Saints currently have the 2nd worst cap situation in the NFL but the way the team has to work is to just go year to year until they flush more of the players out of the system who have been restructured over and over through the years. This is probably going to be reminiscent of the Saints 2014 to 2016 run where they were always top 5 in dead money and went 7-9 three years straight, except now they need to do that without Payton and Drew Brees on the team.