Remaking the Roster

Saints offseason promises turnover

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

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. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com.


 

The New Orleans Saints are furiously trying to shed salary commitments as they are expected to be more than $100 million over the yet-to-be-announced salary cap entering the NFL’s 2021 league year, which begins March 17.

For the first time since 2011, the NFL will not see a $10 million year-over-year salary cap increase.

For years, teams have made deals with players expecting the 2021 cap to be around $208 million dollars, but due to COVID-19-related revenue loss, the league is expected to drop the cap somewhere between 2020’s $198 million to as low as $175 million. According to overthecap.com, a website dedicated to tracking NFL player contracts and teams’ salary cap position, 14 of the league’s 32 teams would enter the 2021 season above a hypothesized $176 million salary cap. None, however, is in as precarious a position as New Orleans, as many cite the Saints’ current underwater status as the worst salary cap position an NFL team has ever seen.

The Saints have $284.1 million in 2021 cap commitments with 45 players under contract, according to NFL Players Association data. They’ve carried over $4.1million of unused 2020 cap space but need to shed nearly $105 million in salary to get below a $175 million cap, which will result in several players possibly being traded, cut, or having their current deals reworked in order for the team to meet their budget.

Quarterback Drew Brees has one year remaining on his contract, during which he is due $36.15 million, according to overhtecap.com. If he retires, as has been widely expected, the Saints have options. They can do nothing and be on the hook for $22.65 million in dead money, which would relieve $13.5 million in cap space, or they could add a void year and drop his salary to the league minimum, $1.075 million, which would allow his cap hit to drop from $36.15 million to $12.22 million, saving $23.93 million in 2021 but adding around $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022. They could also reduce his salary to the league minimum and convert the $23.93 million they would owe him to an option bonus, which would make his 2021 pay $17.01 million. That would create $19.14 million in savings but add to the dead money figure in 2022.

Brees’ deal is not the only one that would need to be reworked. Defensive end Cameron Jordan is due $13.8 million in salary in 2021, but he comes with an $18.9 million salary cap charge. The Saints can add to his deal with backloaded money and cut about $10 million this year. Defensive back Marshon Lattimore is set as a $10.24 million hit but could also be extended to reduce his figure to less than $3 million against the cap in 2021. The same goes for Ryan Ramczyk, who is set as an $11.06 million hit. The Saints can extend his contract, convert salary to bonuses, and push money owed to future years lowering their 2021 bill by as much as $8.1 million.

The toughest part of this offseason will be seeing talented players let go because the Saints just cannot afford to keep all of them at their current price. Count linebacker Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone, running back Latavius Murray, tight end Jared Cook, defensive backs Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Williams, punter Thomas Morstead, offensive lineman Nick Easton, and defensive linemen Trey Hendrickson and Malcom Brown in that number.

In his 20 years with the team, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been an economic sensei who has been able to work financial jiu jitsu on the team’s payroll. This may be his biggest test yet. No doubt the Saints would love to keep as many of the players from the 2020 team as possible. If the team and players are willing to restructure deals, it would be nice to have as many players back as possible.

“We’ve got a great roster,” said Loomis, “and I can’t foresee a circumstance where we’re not going to say, ‘We’re going to do everything we can to win, win now and compete for a championship.”