The Salary Cap Blues

Did you know Alex Brown is due $5.5 million in 2011? Will/should Loomis actually pay him that much? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After hearing the news that a new CBA is imminent, the next bit of info I came across was the amount the salary cap for the 2011 season is estimated to be.  Before the lockout began, the estimate (according to the out-going CBA) was at $150 million. 

In 2009, the cap was at $123 million with certain stipulations that raised it to $128 million. In 2010, the cap would have been between $130 and $135 million, depending on who you ask.  2011 was estimated to be between $140 to $150 million under the old CBA structure. 

Many of us believed, if anything, the cap would stand still.  We all speculated it would be around $140 million.  Many teams extended players, got inventive with salary structures and planned for big cap hits last year in preparation for the new CBA.  Others went as young and cheap as possible, and hardly spent anything.  That link shows you what teams spent last year, this one shows you what teams have committed to the 2011 salary cap as of February -- the number may be different today.

Below we'll discuss what the new cap number is "going to be" and how this affects the Saints' options in free agency.

Per multiple sources, the new salary cap will be between $120 and $123 million for 2011. So how did we go from an estimated $140 million down to $120 million?  Here's what happened: in years past, only salaries were against the cap.  Benefits such as 401K, insurance, annuities, etc. were something the owners provided in addition to the 60% players got in the form of salary cap.  

But here's the (rumored) rub:  If the player's new percentage (whatever that may be) of the total revenue is set to come out to $140 million, subtract the roughly $21 million teams pay in player benefits and what remains is the salary cap.  You could almost say players are now paying their own benefits.

So how does this impact the Saints?  Back in March, we were all convinced New Orleans would have about 30 to 40 million to play with -- resign players, extend Drew Brees, sign rookies and maybe add a few value free agents. The Saints were rumored to have had $99 million committed to 2011 salaries, but after signing Shaun Rogers, Pierre Thomas and Garrett Hartley, that has to have changed some.  In February, Pat Yasinskas had the Saints at $105 million.  He had Atlanta with $102 million, Carolina with $73 million and Tampa Bay with only $60 million committed to player salaries in 2011 (which is downright criminal and sick).

Let's roll with the high estimate of $105 million.  Obviously, the $12 million that Reggie is getting will come off that, reducing the number to $93 M.  Randall Gay won't be getting the $3.5 million he's due.  I'd be surprised if Alex Brown got the $3 M base salary he's in line to make. Will Smith  ($6M base) needs to take a pay cut as well.  All these speculative moves would give the Saints wiggle room in bringing back players they feel essential, like Roman Harper or two-thirds of the offensive linemen set to be free agents. Or Lance Moore and Dave Thomas.  Teams are rumored to be getting a one-player exemption:

Because a 2011 salary cap of $120 million could cause problems for teams such as Dallas, Pittsburgh and others that currently spend more than that, one of the provisions being discussed is a one-player cap exemption for each team, according to a source. That exemption would be a $3 million credit in 2011 that would count against benefits paid out, a source said. That exemption, which could drop to $1.5 million next year, could save the jobs of players.

 I'm not sure how this will help the Saints, but it can't hurt.  We'll have to wait for the final draft of a new CBA to be released and a few lawyers to interpret the sticky points for us, but there exists a school of thought that the number teams are estimated to have committed to 2011 salary caps won't accurately reflect the 90% cash floor.  If you take anything away from this writing, just know that the Saints will have to be very creative to add any quality free agents; they'll have a hard enough time keeping everyone they wish to keep. 

In conclusion, it's really crazy that in a year where twice the normal amount of free agents will be available, the salary cap took a two year step back.  You have to think with the market flooded, value will decrease and it will help the Saints to secure players at a discount.  Here's an up to date list of every player on the Saints roster

Who do you think will be a cap casualty?  If the $105.2M number is accurate and it doesn't cause concern considering all the players we must resign this year, look a little closer at the list and you'll see all the players whose contracts end this year.  Next off-season, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Tracy Porter, Robert Meachem, Carl Nicks, and Shaun Rogers will all be without a contract, among others.

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