The New Orleans Saints had to make a bevy of personnel moves early in the 2021 offseason to fall under the salary cap in time for the free-agent signing period.
Several players agreed to restructure their existing contracts. The NFL salary-cap limit forced New Orleans to part ways with key veterans CB Janoris Jenkins, LB Kwon Alexander, TE Josh Hill, P Thomas Morstead, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and G Nick Easton. They traded DT Malcom Brown to the Jaguars for additional salary-cap space.
New Orleans created enough salary room to re-sign their free agents like QB Jameis Winston, RB Ty Montgomery, and defensive backs P.J. Williams and J.T. Gray.
They even signed a few key veterans like DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, TE Nick Vannett, and FB Alex Armah.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Saints are currently $76,854 under the salary cap set for 2021, the least amount of cap space in the league.
They still have one of the NFL's most talented rosters but could look to add more veteran talent at positions of need before training camp.
Several talented veterans remain on the free-agent market, and more will be released on Tuesday, June 1, when their salary cap hit will be lessened.
The Saints need to create more cap space to add a free agent to their roster but have options.
Veteran stars Ryan Ramczyk, Marshon Lattimore, and Marcus Williams are entering the last year of their contracts.
Extending them would create cap room. New Orleans has three players who could be post-June 1 casualties to give the team the money to add other players.
LATAVIUS MURRAY, RUNNING BACK
Murray has provided a lethal 1-2 punch at running back along with Alvin Kamara for the last two seasons.
He’s rushed for 1,293 yards and 14 touchdowns with New Orleans the last two years, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
A physical runner between the tackles with underrated breakaway speed, Murray has also proven to be a capable receiver and pass blocker.
He’s caught 57 passes for 411 yards and 2 touchdowns with the Saints.
The 31-year-old Murray is signed through 2023 and will count $4.2 million against the salary cap this season.
Trading or releasing him will open up nearly $3.2 million in cap space, while creating $1 million of dead cap in 2021 and $850,000 of dead cap in 2022.
The 6’3” and 230-Lb. Murray has been a highly productive complement to Kamara.
New Orleans could feel confident in the re-signed Ty Montgomery and the development of young UDFA running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Stevie Scott III to move on from Murray and bolster depth in other areas.
PATRICK ROBINSON, CORNERBACK
New Orleans selected Robinson in the 1st round of the 2010 NFL draft with the No. 32 overall pick.
After 9 interceptions and 46 passes broken up in five years with the Saints, Robinson left as a free agent in 2015.
Robinson returned to New Orleans in 2018 but played in only three games before an ankle injury ended his season.
He’s appeared in 23 games over the last two years, intercepting 2 passes, breaking up six others, and allowing 60% completion percentage when targeted.
Entering the last year of his contract, Robinson will count $3.85 million against this season's salary cap.
Releasing or trading him will cause $1.25 million in dead cap, but open up $2.6 million of cap space.
Robinson, 33, has been a spot starter throughout his career. He is vulnerable as an outside corner, but performs far better in slot duties.
Since the offseason release of Janoris Jenkins, the only way New Orleans would release Robinson would be if they’d target a free-agent upgrade at cornerback with Bashaud Breeland or Gareon Conley.
TRE'QUAN SMITH, WIDE RECEIVER
The Saints selected Smith in the 3rd Round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
He has 80 receptions for 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns in his three seasons, including a career-high 34 catches for 448 yards in 2020.
Smith enters the last year of his rookie contract and will count $2.4 million against the cap in 2021.
Parting ways with him would open up over $2.3 million in cap space and create only $204,000 of dead cap.
Smith is just 25-years-old and has good size at 6’2” and 210-Lbs.
However, he’s never developed as a consistent number two complement to All-Pro WR Michael Thomas.
His separation and productivity as an intermediate threat have been erratic, but his deep ball skills could thrive with the strong-armed Jameis Winston at quarterback in 2021.
Tre'Quan Smith knows the New Orleans offense well, giving him a distinct advantage over any incoming free agent.
The Saints could still view a free-agent wideout like Dede Westbrook as an upgrade over the inconsistent Smith.
New Orleans may also feel confident in developing former undrafted receivers Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, and 2021's seventh-round choice Kawaan Baker to release Smith and use the money to bolster other positions.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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