2021 Salary Cap

Can the New Orleans Saints Really Survive the 2021 Salary Cap?

The New Orleans Saints are in a load of trouble. Above all other teams, the Saints were truly in the most “must-win now” situation. Given the short window left with their Hall of Fame leader Drew Brees, the last thing the Saints needed was a significant reduction in the 2021 salary cap. With Brees probably gone in 2021 and many more quality players will be cut from the cap purge, the future is very bleak for the Saints.

The final number hasn’t been released for what the cap will be in 2021, but because of the impact of not having fans in the stands from COVID-19, we know it will be at least $175 million. Some project it to get as high as $185 million, but nowhere near the original pre-COVID estimate of $210-225 million. That possible $50 million difference in the cap will make it difficult for most teams to make serious acquisitions this off-season, but none more than the Saints. So, this raises the golden question, Can the New Orleans Saints really survive the 2021 salary cap?

Backloaded Contracts

Based on where the final cap ends up for 2021, the New Orleans Saints are projected to be at least $90 million over the cap. $90 million, also known as more than the payroll of 12 MLB teams, or $30 million more than the salary cap for the NHL. 

The reason for this? Backloaded contracts. Sign a player to a massive deal with a huge bonus, but make the later years more expensive than the more recent years. This can help sign superstars to massive deals, but keep the initial cost low so they can get other players. To be fair, most teams do this, based largely on the cap projected to get bigger and bigger every year. 

But with COVID possibly reducing the salary cap by $50 million, teams like the Saints that have many star players on these backloaded deals are going to be navigating a land mine field just to make it to 2021. 

Easy Cap Saving Moves

Drew Brees retiring would greatly help the Saints start eating into their $90 million deficit off the bat. Him retiring alone will free up $13.5 million, and possibly more if the Saints can get Brees to restructure his contract on the way out. All signs point to Brees retiring, and him knowing his favorite team’s financial situation might dimmer any dream he had of returning next year.

The next easiest move would be to cut linebacker Known Alexander, freeing up $13.4 million on the cap while taking no penalties in the process. While the Saints would miss him, given the high number he carries with the team’s depth at the position, it is a move the team has to make. 

Slightly Easier Moves

Two players are on the last year of their contract that the Saints would love to keep: Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk. Cutting them both would save a combined $22 million, but the Saints most likely want to keep these key pieces. What will most likely happen is offering these players extensions (ironically) backloaded and saving the Saints around $10-13 million in 2021 while keeping these players.

Sad part? That is about it for “easier moves.”

Next Cut/Trade Candidates

The problem with most other cuts is that, based on how the contracts are structured, there will be “dead money” on the cap from most players being released. So while the team might be saving money, they will basically be paying a fine for releasing (or even trading) most of their players.

There are still some options, though. Tight End Jared Cook is most likely going to be cut, saving around $9 million for the team. A tougher pill to take would be Malcom Brown, which would save around $5 million, but it would start the process of gutting the Saints defense. 

While it doesn’t save a lot of money, and it’s always rough letting draft picks walk away, wideout Tre’Quan Smith is another cut candidate. It would only save around $2.5 million, but at this point, the Saints need to start making moves.

What’s Not Going to Happen

Everyone has their opinion on how the Saints are going to reduce their 2021 salary number. Many easily say that “just restructure Michael Thomas, Taysom Hill, Cameron Jordan and possibly Alvin Kamara. That will get the team close to the salary cap level.”

Let me tell you why that’s not going to happen.

Every offseason, there are a few players who accept contract restructuring. These players are usually at risk of being cut if they don’t or just ones who are willing to help the team out and get a nice bonus in return. But on average, only a few players do this on a given team each year.

Stars want to get paid. Those players just listed off? They could get top dollar on the market. They would love to hit the open market by getting cut. The Saints are obviously not going to be a serious contender next year, so some of these players might see this as their ticket out.

Every time a player gets cut, the team and coaches always say, “this is a business, this is a business decision.” Remember, the players can make business decisions too. Don’t be surprised if we see some of these stars play hardball when negotiation time comes around.