Regardless of how you feel about how the Saints conduct their business, you have to give Mickey Loomis and the brass credit for finding ways to add players to the roster.
The creative accounting the team likes to use reached its peak — or at least what one has to assume is the peak — with the contract it gave to Nick Fairley earlier this week.
The defensive tackle is under contract for only a year — a fact so certain it was announced by the team earlier this week — but when The Advocate obtained the details of his contract, it showed three years on the deal worth $4.69 million.
But the fine print states the deal voids if Fairley is still on the team 15 days before the start of the 2017 league year. In other words, it is actually a one-year deal worth $3 million.
So why have what is essentially two fake years on the deal? It allows New Orleans to prorate his $2.235 million signing bonus over three seasons and absorb a cap charge of only $1.51 million in 2016.
Fairley can also earn up to $1.75 million in incentives this season based on playing time and sacks. When he departs, it will leave $1.49 million on the books in the form of dead money.
Negotiating a deal that is destined to leave behind a dead money charge and eat up some of the future cap is not ideal, but it was the only way the Saints were going to be able to fit the defensive tackle under the cap without making another move it could grow to regret.
New Orleans had to restructure the contracts of punter Thomas Morstead and defensive tackle Cam Jordan to even be in a position to sign Fairley.
Morstead converted $2.1 million of his base salary into a signing bonus, and Jordan did the same by converting $2.735 million of his base salary into a signing bonus. These moves allowed the Saints to push the money down the line with both players while clearing more space this season.
It’s the kind of can-kicking that causes many salary-cap analysts to clutch their chests when looking at how New Orleans goes about its business. But in the case of Jordan, his charge will jump only about $500,000 per season moving forward, and Morstead’s goes up $700,000.
In the case of Morstead, it’s not ideal that his cap charge next season will be $4.7 million, the second-highest figure among NFL punters and $1.3 million more than the third guy on the list, but this is what had to happen to sign Fairley.
The Saints have been forced into this situation by playing tight to the cap the past few seasons, and a lot of the reason for that is the team is carrying close to $30 million in dead money, $12 million of which remains from the Junior Galette deal.
So where does that leave the Saints? Added together, they should have a little more than $2 million in remaining salary-cap space once all the beans are counted.
Considering New Orleans will get back another $2.25 million on June 2 after Brandon Browner’s charge is split into two seasons, New Orleans could theoretically have enough money to make it through the rest of the offseason with the money it has.
It shouldn’t cost more than about $2.75 million to sign the draft class. Browner’s contract should subsidize that expense. So while it might not be wise, New Orleans could probably squeeze in another free agent and find a way to survive.
Chances are, if the Saints want to do some more tinkering, they will continue to seek ways to free up cash. One option would be restructuring the contract of safety Jairus Byrd. Another one would be to sign center Max Unger to a contract extension.
The other major domino that could fall this offseason is if the Saints sign Drew Brees to a contract extension. The quarterback counts $30 million against the cap and is entering the final year of his deal.
Getting a deal done is something all parties have expressed interest in, yet the situation continues to linger. If a deal is struck, the Saints could easily clear $10 million in space this season.
The feeling here is that New Orleans is not in a rush to agree to something it will grow to regret and is willing to take its time to make sure whatever is agreed to is beneficial to all sides.
But until that happens, if more moves are needed, you can count on general manager Mickey Loomis and cap guru Khai Harley to find creative solutions.