Burning Saints offseason questions: What moves can be made to create salary cap space?

John Hendrix

If you didn't know by now, the New Orleans Saints are some of the NFL's best at maneuvering the salary cap. Mickey Loomis and Khai Harley continue to do great work in the front office, and it allows Sean Payton's team to stay competitive and bring in some good free agents year after year. This offseason proves to be no different for New Orleans, who has several decisions to make to create more salary cap space. There's a few cap-saving angles they could pursue to get there, but let's first review their top hits of 2020.

  1. Drew Brees, QB - $21.3 million ($10.5 million in signing bonus + $5.4 million restructure bonus)
  2. Terron Armstead, OT - $15.9 million ($10.7 million base)
  3. Michael Thomas, WR - $15 million ($11 million base)
  4. Larry Warford, OG - $12.875 million ($7.65 million base)
  5. Janoris Jenkins, CB - $11.25 million ($10.15 million base)
  6. Demario Davis, LB - $9.9 million ($7.35 million base) 
  7. Jared Cook, TE - $9 million ($7 million base) 
  8. Cameron Jordan, DE - $8.347 million ($1.5 million base) 
  9. Sheldon Rankins, DT - $7.69 million (all base) 
  10. Kiko Alonso, LB - $6.4 million ($6.375 million base)

When you talk about cut candidates, the glaring players on the list would be Alonso and Jenkins. It's possible the Saints could keep both, but would need to extend them to help alleviate some space. However, the minimal dead money incurred from releasing both ($850,000 from Alonso) outweighs the nearly $17 million in potential savings. From early rumblings, it doesn't appear that Eli Apple will be in the mix for New Orleans in 2020, as other teams are interested. Couple that with Vonn Bell and P.J. Williams as unrestricted free agents, and suddenly the secondary has big needs.

The Saints picked up the fifth-year option on Sheldon Rankins, who is coming off a season-ending ankle injury after returning from his torn Achilles' from the previous season. It's not uncommon to see New Orleans roll with that cap hit, as they did it with Andrus Peat last season. Rankins is a crucial part of the defensive line for the Saints, and they'll already have an interesting decision to make on whether they'll keep David Onyemata or not.

Low-hanging Fruit

Outside of the Top 10 salary cap hits, the Saints could pick up some money by looking at players like Nick Easton and Patrick Robinson. Easton's cap hit for 2020 is $5.34 million, as he's in the second year of his original four-year deal. He'd only cost the Saints $1.5 million in dead money. As for Robinson, he currently sits at just over 3 percent of the team's 2020 cap percentage at a $6.15 million hit. He'd incur some dead money as well from being released, which seems like a real possibility at this point. Malcom Brown is another player to watch, as he's entering the second year of his original three-year, $15 million contract. Brown has a $6 million cap hit in the upcoming season, and could potentially see his $4.1 million base salary reworked and pushed into 2021.

Other Things to Consider

The Saints will likely have some additional dead money coming in 2020 from Teddy Bridgewater and A.J. Klein. Because of the way Bridgewater's last deal was altered, his deal will void on the new league year (March 18), charging the Saints $4 million in dead space for 2020 because of the two voidable years. New Orleans will be on the hook for $2 million more in 2021. As for Klein, his contract will also void, leaving behind a $1 million dead cap charge.

As far as making extra space, the Saints are no stranger to several things. Over the years, they have been able to make room by converting roster bonuses to signing bonuses and base salaries into signing bonuses. This allows New Orleans to make cap space in the short-term, while the bill eventually comes due in the long-term. There won't be much relief in turning roster bonuses into signing bonuses, as the biggest hits for the team come from Kiko Alonso ($1.425 million) and Janoris Jenkins ($1 million). 

There's something in the large base salaries the Saints face that can be worked with. For instance, they created nearly $3 million in space back in 2018 when they moved $4 million of Bridgewater's base salary into two voidable years. Take someone like Michael Thomas, for example, who carries an $11 million base salary for 2020. The Saints, if they choose to, could move around some of his base into a signing bonus, which still pays Thomas but helps the Saints with the cap.

Ultimately, the strategy the Saints will use hinges around what happens with Drew Brees. However, they've been in situations before where they were in 'cap hell' and have managed just fine. 2020 should be no different for Loomisnomics.

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