2016 Cap Outlook: New Orleans Saints

Through the 2015 NFL season, Pro Football Rumors will be looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, gauging the salary cap situation for each of the league’s 32 teams. The cap for 2016 hasn’t been set yet, but we can still assess the salary commitments made by a club and determine whether or not that club will be in good financial shape going forward.

In addition to evaluating each team’s overall cap situation, we’ll focus in on a few key players who may be candidates to be extended, restructured, or released by their current teams. These lists aren’t comprehensive, and depending on a player’s 2015 performance and health, he could drop off one of these lists – or be added to one – as the season goes on. For now though, these are some players to watch.

Using data from Over The Cap, we’ll make our way through the 32 NFL teams in order of total salary commitments for 2016. As such, we’ll get underway today by examining the Saints, who have the most salary committed to ’16 for now.

Let’s dive in….

Top 10 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Drew Brees, QB: $27,400,000
  2. Cameron Jordan, DE: $12,800,000
  3. Junior Galette, OLB: $12,100,000 (dead money)
  4. Jairus Byrd, S: $10,900,000
  5. Jahri Evans, G: $8,200,000
  6. Keenan Lewis, CB: $6,350,000
  7. Brandon Browner, CB: $6,300,000
  8. Max Unger, C: $6,000,000
  9. Marques Colston, WR: $5,900,000
  10. Dannell Ellerbe, LB: $5,900,000
    Current 2016 cap number for top 51 players: $151,532,625

Over the Cap’s data assumes that 2016’s cap will sit at exactly $150MM, which is a reasonable estimate for now, though I’d expect the actual number to be even higher. Using that figure, the Saints are the only team already projected to be over the cap, with an excess of about $1.532MM for just 41 players.

Part of the problem for the Saints is the amount of dead money on the 2016 cap — even before making next year’s cuts, the club is already carrying nearly $15MM in dead money, with the majority of that coming from Galette’s contract. New Orleans parted ways Galette so soon after he signed a new extension that he counts for $5.45MM in dead money against the team’s 2015 cap, plus another $12.1MM against the 2016 cap. That’s not good.

Candidates for extension:

While the Saints would probably love to lock up Armstead, a 2013 draft pick that has worked out splendidly for the team so far, doing so in 2016 as he enters the final year of his rookie contract could be tricky. Extensions can often reduce a player’s current-year cap number, pushing the larger cap hits to later years of the new contract, but Armstead’s 2016 cap hit will be just $859K. If he gets extended and gets any sort of signing bonus, his ’16 cap number will increase, not decrease.

That’s what makes it so important that the Saints figure something out for Brees. The veteran quarterback is already battling a shoulder injury this season and will turn 37 in January, but he has still led the league in passing yards in three of the last four seasons, and has earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl nods. Does the club intend to keep him as its starting quarterback beyond 2016? If so, he needs to be extended in order to reduce his massive cap hit.

Currently, Brees is set to earn a $19.75MM base salary in ’16, with a cap hit of $27.4MM. With, say, a two-year extension, those figures could be massively reduced, with Brees getting a decent chunk of guaranteed money and some longer-term security, giving him a chance to finish his career with the Saints.

Depending on how the 2015 season plays out, we might be talking about Brees as a release candidate rather than an extension candidate, or New Orleans simply may simply let his contract expire and move onto a younger, cheaper signal-caller for 2017. Whatever the team chooses, Brees represents a key figure in making sure the cap situation doesn’t get any messier moving forward.

Candidates for restructure:

Byrd and Evans had their contracts reworked this past offseason, and if the team intends to keep them beyond 2016, those deals may have to be tweaked again. Byrd’s cap hit jumps up to $10.9MM next year, and there’s still so much bonus money on it that it doesn’t really make sense for New Orleans to release him unless he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut.

As for Evans, he’s in a similar boat — the Saints are extremely unlikely to keep him at his current $8.2MM cap number for 2016, but dropping him would result in $7.1MM in dead money, so a restructure or a pay cut seems more likely at the moment.

Jordan’s contracts looked like a candidate to be restructured in 2016 from the moment it was signed, since he has a $6MM roster bonus due next year. It would be shocking if that isn’t turned into a signing bonus, prorating it over five years and creating $4.8MM in cap space for ’16.

Meanwhile, as effective as Morstead has been in New Orleans, no cap-strapped team should be carrying a punter with a cap charge of $4.45MM, so that will certainly be reduced in some way.

Candidates for pay cut or release:

Colston and Hawthrone were viewed as release candidates for the Saints this past offseason before they agreed to take pay cuts. The same could be said for Ellerbe and Unger before they were traded by the Dolphins and Seahawks, respectively. All four players earned another year on their current contracts by taking a pay cut or getting traded, but the reprieve could be brief.

All four players are slated to count against the cap for at least $4.5MM next season, with Unger at $6MM, and Colston and Ellerbe not far behind. Once again, their 2015 performances will play a significant role in what the Saints decide to do with them in the offseason, but it’s unlikely that any of these veterans still has his best days ahead of him.

Contract information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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