The New Orleans Saints continue to work financial wizardry to comply with NFL salary cap rules. With the NFL’s setting of a new salary ceiling at $208.2 million, New Orleans ranks dead last in available cap space entering the early summer stages of training camp. However, at least one NFL executive sees the Saints as a potential landing spot for Julio Jones (and his $23 million cap hit). Even if the Saints fail to land Jones, they will create enough space with their post-June 1 cuts to make one more roster fortifying move.
New Orleans will be without Drew Bress under center but the former quarterback accounts for an $11.5 million dead money hit to the salary cap. Taysom Hill will be given every opportunity to win, and lose, the starting job next season. Should Hill fail to seize the full-time job, the gameday production variance of Jameis Winston leaves little margin for error when building the rest of the roster. The question for the front office is simple: Where can they spare the bodies but make up the most in cost savings?
New Orleans has the most money invested into the secondary ($37m) followed by the offensive ($36.9m) and defensive ($29m) lines. The offensive line has a logjam of draft picks waiting for an opportunity but the defensive side is top-heavy on talent with Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and David Onyemata. New Orleans has bet that Payton Turner can produce immediately in the trenches.
Long-term extensions for Ryan Ramczyk, Andrus Peat, Marcus Williams, and Marshon Lattimore could potentially lower their salary cap hits this season. Shoring up the core of the roster punts the financial hits down the road for the reigning NFC South champs but it also creates some wiggle room to sign another contributor to a younger roster. Mickey Loomis said on Sirius XM NFL Radio “It’s not a rebuild for us. It might be what I would call a retool.”
A retooling requires the elimination of parts surplus to requirements. The running back committee behind Alvin Kamara is stocked. Releasing the 31-year-old Latavius Murray saves the Saints $3.4 million this season while pushing a minimal amount of dead money onto the book for the two following seasons. It also frees up playing time for Ty Montgomery($987k cap hit) or another unheralded prospect looking for an opportunity in a running back-friendly offense.
The Saints are still in the market for a reliable cornerback even after drafting Paulson Adebo. Malcolm Jenkins (33) and Patrick Robinson (34) are not getting any younger. Releasing Robinson with a post-June 1 designation creates an extra $2.4 million in immediate cap space. Likewise, inexpensive sixth-round draft pick Landon Young could push one of the veteran offensive linemen in training camp, giving the Saints the confidence to make a competitive trade offer to Atlanta for Jones. Peat ($5m cap hit) and James Hurst ($2m cap hit) are both only guaranteed approximately $1 million this year. Releasing or restructuring both players could thin out the depth but only if Cesar Ruiz and Erik McCoy are not ready for the additional playing time.
New Orleans desperately needs another receiving option behind Micheal Thomas now that Brees is gone. Julio Jones is the most talented and available option but also the most expensive both in salary cap hits and acquisition costs. The Saints kept the offense refreshed with Winston and Hill when Bress missed games through injury. They will need the same crafty refinement now that either Hill or Winston will be the leading focus of game plans each week instead of bringing an element of surprise. Reinforcing the weapons available will only serve to alleviate the burdens on the new starting quarterback.
Regardless of players being released and others having contracts restructured Sean Payton has known since the NFL Draft the New Orleans Saints would be creating enough space to make one more roster move. Payton said after the NFL Draft the Saints, “didn’t fill up every spot tonight in free agency with the undrafted players because there’s still a grade that we’re looking to sign. So we’ll have enough. Clearly, we’ll have enough wiggle room, as most teams will, heading into the spring.”