The Saints’ flurry of moves at the start of the league year — including trading Jimmy Graham and Ben Grubbs, cutting Curtis Lofton and Pierre Thomas, and restructuring the contracts of Jairus Byrd, Marques Colston and Junior Galette — were aimed at getting the team’s precarious salary cap situation under control. And yet heading into the second week of the league year, the Saints remain in terrible cap shape.
Although the Saints did manage to get under the salary cap, they’re still dead last in the NFL by a large margin in their available cap space, according to Spotrac.com. (The Saints are actually over the cap on the Spotrac list because it hasn’t yet been updated for the restructured contracts of Keenan Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe.)
The reason is that while the Saints have been shedding salaries, they haven’t gone into full-on tanking mode, the way the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers have. New Orleans is still trying to win, which is why the Saints have made moves like signing running back C.J. Spiller and cornerback Brandon Browner, and acquiring center Max Unger in the Graham trade. It’s not that the Saints are totally shedding all their expensive veteran contracts, it’s that the Saints are making just enough moves to keep themselves under the cap.
And that approach means the Saints don’t have a lot of cap relief coming in the future. Which is why, as noted in today’s Monday Morning Quarterback, next year could be very interesting in New Orleans. The 2016 season is the last year on the contract of Drew Brees, and his cap number will be more than $27 million. This year Brees is one of the only players the Saints aren’t shopping. Next year could be the time that the Saints decide it’s time to move on, and get what they can get for Brees in a trade.
Ultimately, the Saints are going to be in bad cap shape as long as Brees is on the team. Brees has been a great player in New Orleans and deserves the money he makes, but the contract he signed in 2012 is enormous, and it was structured so that the cap hits at the end of the deal are huge. This year, the Saints have chosen to do what they can with the rest of the roster while keeping Brees and staying in bad cap shape. Next year, the Saints may decide it’s finally time to get the cap under control, and trade Brees’s huge cap hit to another team.