The Saints have cut veteran DE Will Smith, in the least surprising move of the early NFL offseason, along with cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Roman Harper, completing a trio of moves that frees up around $17 million in cap space for 2014.
More than $11.5 million of that comes from Smith, whose bloated contract still will leave $2.3 million in dead money on the Saints' books next season. The 32-year-old Greer still had two years remaining on his deal at an average of $4.1 million per season, but those base salaries were not guaranteed and Greer tore his ACL in November. Likewise, Harper was signed through the 2015 season. His performance and advancing age made it hard for the Saints to justify keeping him around.
Jonathan Vilma, another key to New Orleans' Super Bowl-winning defense in 2009, will be headed out of town, too -- he's an unrestricted free agent and the Saints have decided to let him walk.
Should that occur, nary a soul on the remaining defensive two-deep depth chart would have any ties to New Orleans' Super Bowl title from the 2009 season (Malcolm Jenkins, also on that team, is a free agent). The Saints have attempted to slowly rebuild that unit in recent seasons, especially in light of a 2012 campaign that saw them finish dead last in team defense. Greer, Harper, Smith and Vilma all appear to be on the downside of their careers.
"I have coached and been around a lot of great players and I put these four guys right there at the top," Saints head coach Sean Payton said in a statement. "Jabari, Roman, Will and Jonathan all represent and epitomize what we look for in our players. These are disciplined, smart, tough and team-oriented individuals. They all played an important role in helping this team and this city win its first Super Bowl and they have all enjoyed multiple playoff appearances and wins."
Smith's release has been a long time coming. While he did record 67.5 sacks from 2004-12, he was an awful fit for the new 3-4 defense that New Orleans implemented prior to the 2013 season. Smith then suffered a torn ACL in late August, which landed him on injured reserve for the duration of the year.
Harper also struggled to stay healthy, a knee injury limiting him to just nine games. And his playing time dwindled when he was able to be on the field -- rookie Kenny Vaccaro secured one starting safety spot and Jenkins slid over to win the other gig. Rafael Bush stepped in as well, once Vaccaro suffered an injury.
Wednesday's cuts should move the Saints below the projected 2014 salary cap limit; before, they were sitting an estimated $12 million over. There may be more transactions on the way in the coming days, with WR Lance Moore and RB Pierre Thomas possibly on the chopping block.
Much of the reconfiguring will be undertaken in hopes of locking up star tight end Jimmy Graham to a long-term deal. Graham's currently on track to be a free agent, although the Saints surely would use the franchise tag on him before that occurred. Doing so would come with its own drama: Graham has said (as most players do) that he does not want to be tagged, and if he is it's likely that he will argue he should receive WR money as opposed to TE money.
A potentially hectic offseason is officially underway in New Orleans, and several links to the Saints' successful past are now looking for new homes.