Requiem for the Saints
Without major changes, the golden era of New Orleans football will be over.
Illustration Antoine Passelac
Although the New Orleans Police Department won’t line up on horseback, shoulder to shoulder, and march in lockstep from the Girod Street end zone to the Poydras Street end zone to clear the Superdome field like they do on Bourbon Street when Carnival comes to a close, they may as well. It’s looking pretty bad — the party may soon be over.
The New Orleans Saints have enjoyed the best 10-year span in their history, but the start of the 2015 season has been a rude awakening: The window of opportunity to win a second championship may have slammed shut. It is time for the Saints to explore all options moving forward. From the front office to the coaching staff to the last man on the roster, no one should consider their position safe.
General Manager Mickey Loomis and head Coach Sean Payton were masterful in building their first few rosters. But after winning the Super Bowl, they mortgaged the team’s future to make championship runs while Brees was in his prime. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t had another Super Bowl appearance since, and they’re underwater now that the bill is due.
Because they entered the past two league years in the financial nightmare of being tens of millions of dollars over the salary cap limit and contractually obligated to pay millions to players no longer on the team (“dead money”), the Saints started this season with 25 players who weren’t on the team last year, including 17 who had never played a down in the NFL. The team has $30.9 million in dead money going against this year’s salary cap and $14.8 million toward the 2016 cap.
The draft is the cheapest and easiest way to build a team. But too many of the Saints’ picks have been misspent on players whose talent didn’t meet expectations. The team traded its No. 2 pick in 2011 and No. 1 pick in 2012 to move up in 2011 to get Heisman Trophy-winner Mark Ingram. They lost their No. 2 pick in the 2012 and 2013 drafts as punishment for the bounty scandal. Most sobering is that Brandin Cooks is the only remaining pick from the 2014 draft class on the roster.
Without draft picks significantly contributing to the team, management has been forced to fill the roster with lower-priced journeymen, backups and undrafted free agents who have proved to be a notch — or several — below the talent they replaced.
If the Saints are going to get out of this financial trap, they need to start rebuilding now, and it has to start with Brees, who has a $26.4 million salary cap figure this year. His pay increases to $27.4 million, almost a fifth (18.3 percent) of the team’s total salary pool. It’s just too much for one player when the rest of the roster needs desperate attention. Unless his injured shoulder proves to be a major issue, expect the team to try to negotiate a contract extension that will lower his annual salary and keep him a Saint for the remainder of his career.
The gutting of talent on the roster over the past few seasons has been heart wrenching for fans to experience. If the team can agree to a new contract with Brees, escape the salary cap noose, and rebuild talent and depth across the team, the Saints may have a shot at another championship. If not, it’s time for the Saints to make major changes to their roster of management, coaches and players.
Top five potential cap savings figures for 2016
By removing a handful of players, the Saints could better spend to improve talent across the roster. These are the top five potential cap savings figures if these contracts are terminated by June 1..
Player 2016 Cap # 2016 Dead $ Cap Savings
Drew Brees $27.4 million $7.4 million $20 million
Dannell Ellerbe $5.9 million $1.4 million $4.5 million
Thomas Morstead $4.45 million $1.2 million $3.25 million
David Hawthorne $4.51 million $2.26 million $2.25 million
Marques Colston $5.9 million $2.7 million $3.2 million
Total $48.16 million $14.96 million $33.2 million
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.