As cap crunches go, the Saints have found themselves in the middle of a big one. And they’ve been working diligently to get out of it.
The biggest chunk came from Drew Brees‘ reduction of his salary from $25 million to the minimum of $1.075 million. That move initially was regarded as a device for keeping Brees on the roster until June 2, at which time an official retirement would limit his 2021 cap charge to $11.15 million. (It remains unclear whether he’ll actually retire; if he doesn’t, his cap number will be $12.225 million.)
Other moves have been made, from cutting players (like, most recently, linebacker Kwon Alexander and receiver Emmanuel Sanders) to restructuring contracts (like defensive end Cam Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis).
More are surely coming. Cornerback Marshan Lattimore has a cash and cap number of $10.244 million in the option year of his 2017 first-round contract. The payment becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the league year; the Saints can avoid all of it by cutting him.
The surprising decision to apply the franchise tag on safety Marcus Williams, at $10.612 million, complicates the situation for the Saints. However, at any point before he accepts the franchise tender, the Saints can rescind it and wipe out the cap charge completely.
The Saints also could create a net gain of $7 million by cutting or trading cornerback Janoris Jenkins. More than $6.5 million in net savings would be realized by cutting or trading tackle Terron Armstead.
One guy who likely won’t be traded is received Michael Thomas, because a pre-June 1 trade would result in a cap charge ($20 million) that exceeds his 2021 cap number ($18.8 million). (After June 1, a Thomas trade would generate $12.6 million in cap savings.)
However they do it, the Saints have no choice but to do it, one restructuring, release, or trade at a time. Whether they have enough talent left to be competitive this year remains to be seen.