Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: -$4.9 million
Expected 2016 Cap Space: $11.1 million
Estimated Rookie Cap: $5.356 million
Players Under Contract: 54
Pro Bowlers: 0
Unrestricted Free Agents: 16(2 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 12
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Ben Watson has the best season of his career taking on the Jimmy Graham role. Given his age I can’t see him going anywhere else…Rafael Bush spent most of the season on IR and could be a cheap option to improve the secondary next year…Tim Hightower will only cost the minimum and is probably worth keeping at that price. He played well for the team as an emergency signing.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Almost all of the Saints free agents are minimum salary veteran types. The only reason to really bring any of the others back is if this is all they can sign within their limited cap space.
Contracts to Modify
Since it seems to be a given that the team will bring back Drew Brees this season the Saints would be best suited to extend him now for cap relief. His cap number of $30 million is going to block them from applying the franchise tag next year so they may as well just get this out of the way to avoid having to restructure other contracts for cap relief. Brees will not take the Brady type discount so if they are not trading him then they need to extend him…Cameron Jordan can have his cap umber lowered by converting some of his salary to a signing bonus, which may be necessary if Brees’ contract is not re-done…Extending Max Ungers contract could be an option.
Players to Consider Releasing
As I was writing this the Saints already began their purge by releasing Jahri Evans, Ramon Humber, and David Hawthorne, which is likely just the start…The team will receive almost no cap relief by releasing Brandon Browner which makes him a strong candidate for a pot June 1 designation. By designating Browner a June 1 they can gain $2.25 million in cap room to use to sign rookies in the summer…CJ Spiller’s signing proved to be even worse than the Browner one and he should also be cut. Spiller would be another possible June 1 designation due to his large dead money charge….I don’t know what the logic was in acquiring Dannell Ellerbe and I certainly don’t see the logic in keeping him at a $5.9 million cap number. They can create $4.5 million if they cut him…Marques Colston has had a great run with the Saints but the offer they gave him a few years back seemed to indicate they were ready to move on then but he surprisingly accepted the offer. Cutting him now saves $3.2 million…Zach Streif already seems resigned to the fact that his time in New Orleans is over. His cut only saves $1.25 million but they have other players ready to step in…$3.25 million in cap will be saved by cutting Thomas Morstead
The Saints begin the offseason as one of just a few teams “over the salary cap” (which isn’t actually true from the perspective of True Cap Space) and will have more difficult “creating cap space” (i.e. preserving True Cap Space) than any other team in the league. The primary reason is that the team carries more than $57 million worth of prorated signing bonus and dead money amounts; the next closest team carries approximately $45 million. These amounts are 100% sunk salary cap costs; they cannot be traded, restructured or deferred by any method. With more than one third of its 2016 salary cap stuck on its balance sheet, the Saints will have a very difficult time clearing enough cap space to add talent, let alone to retain existing talent.
But look a little closer and the situation is not entirely bleak. While the team ranks 32nd in 2016 True Cap Space, it ranks 5th in Commitment Index (which measures 2017 and beyond). This means that, relatively speaking, the team is in worse short-term shape than long-term shape. A year from now (or sooner), all commitments related to Brees, Colston, Unger and Hawthorne will have run their course, and most of the other large contracts will be nearing their respective conclusions. If the Saints avoid large contracts this offseason and execute well in the draft, the troublesome salary cap situation will not necessarily lead to a prolonged talent downturn. Unfortunately, this will likely leave the team with a mediocre-at-best roster. If the team is willing to bottom out for a year by trading Brees and drafting a QB in 2016 or 2017, it will likely find itself in excellent salary cap situation come 2018.
Expected Contract Outcomes – Expected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions. The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016. A pay cut is treated as a termination. We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options. Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.
|Player||Position||Expected Outcome||Expected Savings|
|Expected Change in Cap Room||+$18,250,911|
True Cap Space – Realizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms. Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.
|True Cap Space (2016)|
|Adjusted Salary Cap||$151,400,000|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||($57,658,527)|
|Realizable Cap Space||$93,741,473|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||($17,154,420)|
|Minimum Salary Cap Holds||($19,800,000)|
|True Cap Space||$56,787,053|
Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams. A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments. The Commitment Index Score of every team in the league changes to at least some degree with every transaction executed by any team in the league, so Commitment Index Score is measured as of a specific point in time (in this case, January 11, 2016).
|Commitment Index (2017+)|
|Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts||$40,225,313|
|Fully Guaranteed Salary||$5,378,913|
|Current Cap Space||$8,005,043|
|Commitment Index Score||310%|
|League Rank (1st = Most Committed)||5th|
The Saints are in a position that few teams ever are in in the NFL with regards to their salary cap. They have one of the longest tenured front office in the NFL which probably plays a role in that as philosophically they are right in line with those older management styles that would often do anything to extend a window and then crash and burn for two to three years when the window was slammed shut.
The Saints already have $22 million in dead money and it is not even Valentine’s day. They are still projected to be over the salary cap despite that total. Even if they make all those cuts I mentioned above the team would still only be a few million under the cap with a dead money number around $36 million, giving them back to back $30M plus dead money totals.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel it’s the fact that by next season the roster should basically be purged with only some stragglers like Jairus Byrd clogging up the dead money side of the ledger. Though Brees will take up probably $20 million of cap room next year that will put them in the middle of the league in cap room before doing anything else.
That’s a big positive for a team that desperately needs to change the way they do business. Dallas and Oakland both faced similar situations and were able to use some of those purge years to begin changing the way they operate for the better. Though Dallas has had some hiccups along the way the Raiders have completely flipped the script on cap management. The Saints will have a chance to join a more modern approach with that clean slate next season.
We can discuss all of the Saints needs this year but in reality the team needs to avoid free agency. They can’t do what they did last season and trade away a Jimmy Graham for cap relief but then turn around and sign CJ Spiller, Brandon Browner, and Dannell Ellerbe. If the Saints strategy is to sign a large number of free agents and just defer the costs to 2017 then the team is going to continue to struggle.
Brees should have a few good years left in him and if you get a young enough team around him they can become a serious contender in a year or two. At that point they will have the cap space to sign a few veterans that can complement the youth on the team. But until that youth is solidly in place free agency will just mean hanging around 0.500 and then having to wiggle in and out of cap problems every February.
As for the draft I’d expect the Saints to look to bolster the interior of their offensive and defensive lines, grab a linebacker or two, and look for secondary support, which could be a first round draft target. The Saints are a team that probably should consider trading down to get more picks. There are so many holes that the quantity approach might be the best one for the Saints.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.