Estimated 2015 Cap Space: -$25.1 million ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 59
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 10(1 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 13
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
It is hard to make much of case for the Saints to really bring back any of their free agents. If they do consider bringing any back it would be the lowest cost players. Parys Haralson will play on the minimum and can be a first down player…The Saints could use players in the secondary which could pave the way for Patrick Robinson to return on a one year contract. They should not consider any more years than that with him.
Free Agents to Let Walk
I can understand making a case to bring back Mark Ingram, but the Saints can afford to spend $4 million on a running back- if they could have afforded it they would have kept Darren Sproles. Ingram was a hard runner for the team last year, but they have always been able to find change runners and not miss a beat…Ramon Humber is cheap but not productive.
Contracts to Modify
Junior Galette has a $12.5 million roster bonus due this March and they will save $10 million in cap space by converting it into a signing bonus. Galette is young so restructuring his contract should not be a major negative for the Saints moving forward…The team has a very difficult decision ahead with receiver Marques Colston and I think in these cases sometimes emotions get in the way and that will push the team towards a restructured contract rather than an outright release. Colston can still play, but $14.7 million over the next two years is far too high. They can convert a majority of his $7 million salary into a bonus and add a few years onto his contract to bring his average down to the $5.5 to $6 million level.
Players to Consider Releasing
Because of the Saints salary cap situation they will need to be active in deconstructing the roster if they have any intention of working with an eye towards the future…Pro Bowl or no Pro Bowl, it is time for the Saints to part ways with Jahri Evans and begin the process of getting younger on the line. His $11 million cap charge is far too high for the team and they can’t afford to go deeper in with him especially if they extend Colston. Cutting him frees up $6 million….Releasing Curtis Lofton will save the team $4 million in cap and they can find a player with more upside in the draft that will cost a fraction of Lofton’s salary…Broderick Bunkley had been relegated to a 40% snap player before he was injured. His release creates $2.88 million in cap space…Pierre Thomas had to take a pay cut last year to remain in New Orleans and could be released to save $1.5 million.
Saints GM Mickey Loomis recently said that the Saints were in a better place with their salary cap than they were last season and I’m not really sure of the logic behind that statement, unless he simply means they don’t have to worry about a franchise tag player that is contesting his position or that they are two years away from purging all deals. The team is around $25 million over the cap which is about $15 million worse than the next worst team. Even taking the Galette restructure into account they are still far beyond anyone else in the NFL.
The team is in a difficult position because the perception of the team is very good, but the reality is they have had a losing record in two of the last three seasons. The team has been as big an offender as any team in the history of the NFL at playing “kick the can” and deferring salary cap charges to future years, leaving them with a league high 8 players with cap charges in excess of $9 million.
I’m sure the temptation is there to bring most of the players back, which can be accomplished by restructuring more contracts including that of Drew Brees. Brees’, who only has two years left on his contract, would either need to be extended or utilize void clauses to bring his cap hit way down. Neither should be an option. Other big ticket players like Jairus Byrd, who has missed 17 games over the last two years, and Jimmy Graham, who would project to decline faster than his closest comparable in Rob Gronkowski, need to have the contracts left alone for future flexibility.
Teams have to face difficult decisions when they make these contractual decisions that backfire. Last year the Cowboys released DeMarcus Ware and this year the Steelers will likely part ways with Troy Polamalu, one year after also releasing LaMarr Woodley. Both of those teams will be better for those moves and the Saints should look at those two franchises for some guidance as to navigating a bad situation.
The Saints answers for the future do not lie in free agency. Sure they may find some bargain basement type that excels for a year the way the Cardinals have the last two seasons, but they can not make another short sighted mistake of signing a Byrd type to a monstrous backloaded contract. The Saints need to start picking this roster apart and determining who will not be a big contributor in 2016 and begin the process of designing exit strategies from those players now and getting replacements in the draft.
They also need to be honest with themselves about Brees’ future in the organization. Brees is most likely not going to take a Tom Brady contract in two years and New Orleans needs to determine if they are willing to continue to pay him at a $20M per year rate or if it will be time to explore life without Brees. If it is the latter they should strongly consider a QB in the draft to learn behind Brees and hope for a relatively seamless transition that occurred when Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre.
For New Orleans this offseason should be all about planning for the future and not making it worse by going out and finding a way to bring in superstar free agents on the defensive side of the football. If they don’t consider a developmental QB then the team will need to find a cornerback, pass rusher, linebacker, and younger lineman in the draft. Free agent additions should only be used on players who are being cut by their teams and drawing minimal interest that the Saints scouts have identified as being a good fit. Anything else and we’ll be right back here next season talking about digging out of a bigger salary cap hole.