By Paul Wanecski
New Orleans Saints general manger Mickey Loomis might be my favorite general manager in the NFL, but not for the reasons that you might think. He has negotiated some of the worst contracts in recent memory while living in the fantasyland that his team is still competitive. Honestly, if it was not for Tom Benson and his family internally (and legally) struggling for control of the franchise, I doubt Loomis would still be employed. The Saints are, and have been, in serious trouble.
Head Coach: Sean Payton
Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael
2nd YPG, 1st Pass, 24th Run
Defensive Coordinator: Dennis Allen
31st YPG, 31st Pass, 31st Run
The salary cap for the last few seasons has been a struggle for New Orleans. Now in the last year of his contract, Drew Brees is counting $30m against this year’s salary cap, as Mickey Loomis has consistently restructured Brees’ deal to push money into later years. Along comes the genius idea that Loomis’ defense was only a playmaker away, ushering in the era of Jarius Byrd. Of course you sign a player with a chronic foot injury (that is basically untreatable) to a franchise-crippling contract, I mean, it’s Jarius Byrd, right? As of this moment, the Saints have paid (including his contract for this season) $29.3m for 17 games and one interception from Byrd. The team has limited options and might be on the verge of total salary cap collapse. With as bad as this team could be this year, head coach Sean Payton may be looking for a job this offseason.
QB Drew Brees, if traded, would set off a $20m dead money bomb that would count against this year’s salary cap. While most teams look at such a move as out of bounds, this would actually SAVE the Saints nearly $10m. Last year the team invested in QB Garrett Grayson, which was a wise move since Brees’ contract is handcuffing the team year after year. Of course the team could extend Brees another year or two, turn some of his $19.75m into another signing bonus that will prorate over his remaining years. Still, the team is going nowhere fast and it would be best to get value while you have it.
S Jarius Byrd has no reason to renegotiate his contract. He would cost the team $6.5m against the salary cap to release now which is money the Saints just don’t have. Byrd has all the leverage in 2016, however 2017 is a different story.
Extending C Max Unger gets you some cap relief this year. Since the Saints are void of any other replacements, Unger will get a new deal that should lower his $6.2m cap number
WR Marques Colston should have been released last year. He wasn’t. His release will save $3.2m
DE Cameron Jordan moved his roster bonus into a signing bonus which already saved $4.8m against the cap for 2016. This move makes his future years $1.2m more expensive but the Saints have a history of paying tomorrow for a hamburger today.
CB Brandon Browner was a disaster this season. If they can trade him, the team saves less than $1m in salary cap room. They should get whatever they can for him (seriously, even a 6th round pick would be value), otherwise they will likely call him a post-June 1st release, which will split his dead money across two years, saving about $2.7m this season.
Why the team ever thought they could get any production out of LB Dannell Ellerbe is beyond me. They recently renegotiated his deal so that if he plays 80% of defensive snaps in 2016 that his 2017 year voids. They would lose money by cutting him, but at $3.2m, they are in a better position now than they were.
RB CJ Spiller has a $4.5m cap number this year, which is pretty high for someone that basically just returned kicks in 2016. He has no trade value at this point and the team will need to designate him a post-June 1st cut to save any money.
The Saints will save some money if they can find a trade partner for RT Zach Strief, but at 32 years old with a contract that doesn’t expire until his year 35 season, it is more likely they negotiate a restructure or release.
The team has already released G Jahri Evans and LB David Hawthorne (both of whom I advised would have been wise to release last year).
Simply put, the Saints are in no position to resign any player they are losing except perhaps Ben Watson, which should only be on a one-year deal. He had a career year, which makes total sense; what tight end DOESN’T have a career year playing with Drew Brees?
The value of trading the 12th overall pick FAR outweighs the value of any player they could draft in this spot. Since they have no money to sign any player in free agency, the best bet would be to move down, acquire as many picks as you can and try to absolutely destroy the undrafted free agent market after the draft is over. They will have needs, and I am not exaggerating, at every single position on the field. The reality is that regardless of who Sean Payton brings in as a coordinator, this team is just not going to be good.
If they are foolish enough to retain the 12th overall selection, they are in the “best-player-available” mode. The strategy last season of trading the best offensive weapon on the team for a draft pick and salary cap space (Jimmy Graham dealt to the Seattle Seahawks for a first round pick which was used on LB Stephone Anthony) clearly had an impact on the team, look for them to get whatever they can out of what they are currently stuck with.
See all the reasons above. The signings they make will of undrafted free agents and league minimum contracts.
A Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)
On the Clock: 2015 New Orleans Saints