Sean Payton declined to speak with reporters about next year, saying that the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the only focus for this week. That's what you would expect, but I have been looking ahead for a few weeks now. In particular I talking about the likely cuts due to the cap realities.
First lets look at the cap ceiling. I'm using the Salary Cap Calculator from Over The Cap. The 2015 cap is projected to be around $140 million. With the current players under contract we are about 20.6 million in the red. And the 20 players who are free agents next season are not included in that total. Some of these are recent additions caused by injuries to other players, and some are players whose contract is up. Notable of these are, Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet, Robert Meachem, Patrick Robinson, Shayne Graham, Bryce Harris, Luke McCown, and because I like them, Pierre Warren and Ramon Humber. You can find the total list of FAs at Over The Cap. Still money will either have to be found or created to bring any of these back.
My thoughts here are...
Mark Ingram is likely gone. The Saints have Khiry Robinson for slightly more than a half a million, and Pierre Thomas. Mark has had his best season this year, but it is likely too little too late. Of course he could be signed for a team-friendly, incentive-laden deal. It would likely depend largely on Mark's market value in free agency. As strapped as we will be I don't see us being able to offer Ingram much.
Travaris Cadet we could well sign. His cost in 2014 was a little more than a half a million and could be signed fairly cheaply.
Shayne Graham is likely gone as well. The feeling I get is that they will look for a replacement and may in fact have one on the practice squad. Shayne has been consistent, but he has been kicking for 14 years, and doesn't have the leg anymore for the 50+ field goals.
Luke McCown has always been there for insurance only, in case of need for a couple of games. Unless the Saints are seriously looking for Drew Brees' replacement and take one high in the draft, I would expect Ryan Griffin to take over the backup duties next season.
Robert Meachem and Patrick Robinson are likely gone. The rest could well be signed and the key word here is cheap. Pierre Warren for example only cost south of $150,000.
The Sacred Cows...
Drew Brees. Forget about it. Drew isn't going anywhere. Right? The numbers: His cap number is 26.4 million. Of that 14.8 million is dead money. We could add 11.6 million to the cap space, but someone has to be QB. Are you ready for Ryan Griffin to take over? Well are you? Discuss it below. I'm fairly sure Drew isn't going anywhere, but unlike the first 2 years of his contract, a restructure is very possible.
Jimmy Graham: I was against tying up this much in him before the season, and hoped someone would have given us the draft picks. Jimmy's cap number this year is $11 million. $9 million of that is dead money. The Saints would only gain $2 million in cap space, so I don't see Jimmy going anywhere unless in a trade. I'd sure take a trade and be happy to play Josh Hill.
Jairus Byrd: I sure hope Byrd comes back 100% because his cap hit is $10,300,000, and it would cost an extra $4,500,000 to cut him.
And while Junior Galette was the lone bright spot on the D-line, his contract makes him practically uncuttable. Junior's cap number is $15,450,000 and it would cost an extra $750,000 to cut him.
Starting to scare anyone yet. We've signed no one yet and saved nothing. Even with the best possible restructure of Drew's contract we are still likely over the cap.
Now for the prime candidates...
Cam Jordan: This is the biggest bang for the "cut" buck. All of his cap dollars, $6,969,000, are available for cap space. No dead money. This is one cut I'd make. His season has been a total disappointment.
Brodrick Bunkley: His cap number is $6,112,500 and we only add $2,887,500 in cap space with a cut. This could well be a possibility. His production wasn't all that much higher than John Jenkins, and he wound up a late season IR. It is unlikely he would be 100% to start 2015. Already restructured this season, we may just have to do the hard thing and absorb the lost dollars cutting him would entail.
Marques Colston: I have as much love for Marques as anyone here, but the facts are the facts. He has been a shadow of himself this year, and the younger WRs are starting to step up. Sadly we only add 4.3 million of his 9.7 million cap number back by cutting him, however we have cheaper options and sorely need the dollars.
David Hawthorne would add another $2,990,000 of much needed cap space and while we'd lose a little over 3 million in dead money, his play has been up and down as well. More down than up in my opinion, so I could see this cut, or at least a big reduction.
I mentioned Pierre Thomas up above, but he is also a potential cut. $2,565,000 is a very reasonable salary for a running back. Pierre is getting some miles on him as well. Even in the screen game his numbers are down this year. Now it could be argued through no fault of his, but the fact remains we could add $1,735,000 in cap dollars by cutting him.
With the above mentioned "Prime Candidates," we still aren't under the cap. I would expect a restructure of Drew's contract to add another $10 to $15 million, but doesn't leave us much to play with there. I don't remember how much of this season's cap we had left to carryover, but we probably used some of that replacing IR players.
Rafael Bush may not be ready for the 2015 season, and his cap number of $1,950,000 is free of dead money. An injury settlement could happen here.
So what are everyone thoughts? Are we in big trouble or does your faith in Mickey Loomis remain unshaken? Discuss below and play with the cap calculator and see what you can come up with.