The New Orleans Saints need to trim nearly $22 million from the books by March 10 to be in compliance with league rules.
The NFL on Monday informed teams that the salary cap for the 2015 season will be $143.8 million, according to the league’s network. That means the Saints have a little more than a week to trim an estimated $21.9 million.
If that number seems large, it is. But General Manager Mickey Loomis has structured several contingencies he can work with. Junior Galette ($12.5 million), Jimmy Graham ($5 million), Jairus Byrd ($6 million) and Curtis Lofton ($4.5 million) have roster bonuses in their contracts that can be converted to signing bonuses to create immediate relief.
By shifting the bonuses owed to those four to signing bonuses, New Orleans can immediately save around $17 million against the cap.
That would mean more finagling would be needed down the road to manage future cap situations, but the Saints are already well down this road.
And more money could be saved for next season if some of these players’ base salaries are converted into signing bonuses while this process is taking place.
How Galette’s contract is handled is yet to be determined. Police are no longer pursuing a domestic violence case against him, but the pass-rusher could still face punishment from the league office.
The team could also look at the contracts of Marques Colston ($9.7 million cap charge), Lofton ($9.25 million), Brodrick Bunkley ($6.1 million), David Hawthorne ($6 million) Jahri Evans ($11 million), and Ben Grubbs ($9.6 million) to create relief by reworking those deals or outright releasing them.
Another contract that could be looked at belongs to quarterback Drew Brees, who is scheduled to count $26.4 million and $27.4 million in each of the next two seasons. But team brass said at the scouting combine last month that they are not currently looking at the quarterback’s deal.
The league has seen the salary cap surge in recent years. Ten years ago, the league’s salary cap resided at $85.5 million. Since last season alone, it jumped $10 million from the $133 million cap set in 2014.
It’s expected to grow in upcoming seasons as more television money rolls in and the value of the league continues to increase.
Right now, the Saints need to clear enough space to get in compliance with this year’s number. They eventually will trim more space to sign this year’s crop of rookies. They also will look to create enough flexibility to sign a free agent or two.
New Orleans was in a similarly tight situation last season but still managed to sign Byrd to a six-year, $54 million deal. But to free up the space to make that move, the team had to part ways with wide receiver Lance Moore and trade running back Darren Sproles to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Before that, the Saints parted ways with longtime veteran defensive players Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Jabari Greer. All of the players were aging or fighting injuries. But those players have been pointed to often when discussing a lack of leadership that led to New Orleans’ 7-9 finish last season.
The Saints have not started executing their offseason plan, but similar hard decisions will start being made in coming days.