Payton sees Vilma, Harper, Smith staying, but . . . .

AP

With the Saints trying to clean up a cap mess, they may have to part ways with some players who have been a big part of the team’s recent success.

For now, coach Sean Payton doesn’t think he’ll be without linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith, or safety Roman Harper in 2013.  But Payton adds an important caveat.

“First off, I do envision those guys in a Saints uniform, and yet I’m also realistic and understand that every year since the beginning of free agency the percentage of players on your roster that turns over is different than it used to be,” Payton told WWL-AM on Tuesday, via Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  “There was a time where you had your draft.  What two or three rookies were going to beat out the veterans on a roster?

“It’s different now.  There’s an economic factor to it. It’s as simple as a household budget.  If you’re going to have cable and you’re going to have heat, you might not be able to have something else.  So you’ve really got to look closely at your production, you’ve got to look closely at your cap.”

The Saints have restructured several contracts.  But they’re still slightly over the cap — and they’ll need to create more space if they want to sign any of their free agents or anyone else’s.

For Vilma, Smith, and Harper, the cap space will come from revised deals that entail the players making less money or, if they won’t agree to the requested pay cuts, terminated contracts.