Sacrifices are made on the road to salary-cap compliance. Others save themselves.
Pierre Thomas already was left a few mile markers back, and now Curtis Lofton has been chucked over the side, forced to cut his own path to the 2015 season.
After shopping him around to find a potential trade partner, the New Orleans Saints made the decision to part ways with Lofton, a source told The Advocate on Monday, ending his three-year tenure with the team.
The linebacker was due to count $9.25 million against the salary cap. Releasing him will save the Saints $4.25 million in cap space.
On the other side of the coin, pass-rusher Junior Galette might have ended talk about him ending up on the chopping block by converting his $12.5 roster bonus into a signing bonus, which clears $10 million in cap space. The move unofficially puts the Saints below the $148.3 million threshold required by the league.
It will not be known where the team officially stands until receiver Marques Colston’s and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley’s restructured deals are filed with the NFL.
Lofton was released with a “failed physical” designation. He had a shoulder scope in January and will be cleared for action in a few weeks, NFL Network reported.
Lofton was one of the team’s more productive players on defense last season. He led the team with 145 tackles and was one of the captains on defense. In an offseason when the team brass has pointed to a lack of leadership as a prime reason for last season’s 7-9 finish, this decision might raise some eyebrows.
Though the team’s cap situation might have played a role in making the decision on Lofton, it’s important to note there were other ways to get under the cap while keeping him on the roster at his current salary. To some degree, this was a football decision.
The Saints likely determined that his overall cap charge did not make business sense. If he had been retained, Lofton’s cap hit would have been the fourth-highest among NFL inside linebackers and 12th among all linebackers.
Previously sitting atop that list was New Orleans linebacker Galette, who carried a cap charge of $15.45 million before converting his roster bonus. Linebacker David Hawthorne, guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and cornerback Corey White also could have their deals reworked if the Saints need to clear additional cap room.
Galette was considered a potential candidate to be released after some struggles on the field and an offseason arrest for domestic violence. The case against him has since been dropped by police, but he could face a suspension from the league if it determines he acted inappropriately.
It’s not clear what this move means for his future with the Saints. The team reportedly shopped him to other teams, a sign that it was willing to move forward without him, but this transaction could firm up his place on the team.
Lofton joined the Saints in 2012 as a free agent after spending the first four seasons of his career in Atlanta. He recorded at least 120 tackles in each of his three seasons with the Saints.
His release creates another hole on a roster that has several to plug. It’s not immediately clear who the internal option would be to fill Lofton’s role. The team also has Parys Haralson, Kyle Knox, Ronald Powell, Jerry Franklin and Hawthorne on the roster at linebacker. Galette and Kasim Edebali also are on the roster, but they serve in a role different than other players on the depth chart.
If New Orleans looks outside the organization for linebacker help, history suggests they will dive into the free agency pool. Lofton, Haralson and Hawthorne were signed via free agency or acquired through trade.
The Saints have not drafted a linebacker higher than the third round since coach Sean Payton came to town in 2006. Those players include Khairi Fortt (fourth round), Powell (fifth), Martez Wilson (third), Nate Bussey (seventh), Stanley Arnoux (fourth) and Marvin Mitchell (seventh).
This could change in the draft and raises the question of what happens next. So far, the Saints have created more holes on the roster while retaining running back Mark Ingram and safety Jamarca Sanford. The only players they’ve been linked to during the so-called “legal tampering” window have hooked on with other teams.
The team still needs to locate a cornerback to play opposite Keenan Lewis, shore up the pass rush and decide what to do with the interior offensive line. And, on top of that, now there’s a need for a middle linebacker.
The only thing that is currently clear is that, when the 2015 season opens, this team will look different than it did last year. And now, after Monday’s moves, that means one of its biggest leaders no longer will be anchoring the middle of the defense.
It’s too soon to know if that will be a good thing or a bad thing until the roster is assembled. What we know for sure is that things will be different.