Now that any remaining questions about Sean Payton’s future have been answered definitively, the most pressing problem the New Orleans Saints face this offseason is a familiar one.
New Orleans once again has work to do to get under the salary cap. Heading into the offseason, the Saints have $155,861,293 committed in contracts, and the salary cap is expected to land somewhere around $150-153 million, forcing the Saints to do some work to give themselves a little wiggle room to improve their roster.
For some fans, the problem is starting to feel perpetual. New Orleans has faced this situation four years in a row now, and general manager Mickey Loomis has always been able to navigate the problem by converting roster bonuses into salary bonuses and cutting ties with aging veterans whose performance no longer matches the pay.
But Payton believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’m not really good with the cap number, and I know that there will be that time where as we sit down, as Mickey sits down, each year we have been able to look and maneuver,” Payton said Wednesday.
Payton admitted the Saints have some regrets about the salary-cap issues of recent years — particularly the players who’ve counted against the cap, even though they aren’t on the roster.
For example, the Saints carried more than $30 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, including massive dead-money hits from Jimmy Graham, Junior Galette, Ben Grubbs and Curtis Lofton. Too many times, New Orleans has moved on from a player, only to deal with the ramifications of the player’s contract after his is gone.
Galette, released just before the start of training camp last summer, will still count $12.1 million against the salary cap in 2015.
“I think that the regrets are hindsight, and they would always be money that would be considered dead money,” Payton said. “Hopefully there are less of those examples.”
Whatever regrets the Saints might have, Payton and the rest of the organization remain optimistic about the salary-cap situation going forward.
“I think the discussion and the focal point has not been like, ‘How are we here?’ ” Payton said. “It has really been like, ‘OK, where are we going? And how are we going to put ourselves in a position next year when we’re discussing playing a home playoff game or an away playoff game, or the opponent that we’re playing in this first round?’ We’ll do that as passionately as Day 1 in 2006.”
Eliminating dead money is one step to leaving the salary-cap problems behind in 2017. New Orleans also has to extend Brees’ contract and bring down his cap figure for 2016 without simply pushing the problem into future years, thereby leaving the Saints in the same position again in the future — a policy that also applies to potential extensions for other core players nearing free agency, as well as any free agents New Orleans might sign this offseason.
The cap situation may seem dire.
But Payton believes the end of those problems is near.
“I think much like a family that is climbing out maybe (of) some college debt or climbing out of some loans, I think that we’re one year now away where (those problems will clear),” Payton said. “And as the (NFL’s overall) cap rises, we’ll manage that.”