At 4pm EST, 10 weeks and 2 days after the Saints final showing for the 2015 season - a 2016 January spoiler date with the Atlanta Falcons - NFL free agency officially opens up. While we'd like to be an active (and effective) player in free agency again this year according to Spotrac.com, the Saints (unsurprisingly) will be 32nd in total available cap space in 2016, with - $4,136,470.
More than $6 million less than what the Saints have this year. So, we start free agency not with any sort of splash, but rather with a rash. A rash precipitated by a storm or, if you prefer, rash of perilous and wanton contracts (see: Byrd, Jairus; Galette, Junior; Browner, Brandon) doled out by Mickey Loomis. A rash whose only ointment is the fervent purging of old-timers and under-performers.
Let’s have a look at the Saints 2016 projected cap casualties, according to ME.
Using Spotrac.com’s nifty "Salary Cap Manager" tool, I was able to joyfully ravage the team until I found a nice, sexy cap number with which to work. Don’t worry, people. I didn’t cut Thomas Morstead. Also, I can’t and won’t assume contract restructures because a) they can be confusing as #%&@, and b) it’s so much easier (and satisfying) just to trim the fat outright.
Dannell Ellerbe – The oft-injured linebacker has had neither the play nor the production to justify his wonking $5.9 million cap figure. His contract is team friendly for both 2016 and 2017, leaving 0 dead $. QDD loves 0 dead $. Cutting him brings us to.
Zach Strief – Poor play, an emerging Andrus Peat (ideally), old, and $3.5m in savings. Sign me up.
Brandon Browner – Second member of the defense released thus far. Well, one guy plus another who goes out there in a Saints uniform on game day and just accosts opposing receivers. Cutting a team captain after one season in New Orleans is not likely and doing so now is kinda untenable from a salary cap perspective. Contrarily, no longer allowing him into the building at least gives whomever our defensive coordinator at the time is an excuse not to have to worry about playing him. Also, I’m the Salary Cap Manager here and I’m miffed.
$7,513,530 – Dead money - $4,050,000. Shall I eat that with a spoon or chopsticks?
Ramon Humber – Ok, ok. I’m gutting our defense. Well. Maybe not. Ellerbe never seemingly plays, Browner is both hysterically and historically bad this year and, well, no one will really miss Ramon Humber, right? Ok. Nevermind. I’m not. This move is awesome and you should thank me for it. At only $167,000 in dead cap, this also is pretty straightforward.
Thomas Morstead – Man. Sorry. I couldn’t resist. He’s a punter who’s due to make $4.45 m next year. He’s good. Like, really good. But is he worth that kind of dough? He will very likely get a restructured deal, but since I’m not humoring those here – Release the MORSTEAD!
On the Fringe
Jahri Evans – Like Strief, Evans will be 33 come 2016. Unfortunately, Evans’ dead money falls by $5.3m between ’16-17 ($7.1m to $1.8m). If I don’t want Loomis to keep kicking the can down the road, let’s give the vet one more season before cutting ties. I think that’s fair (and fiscally responsible).
Drew "friggin" Brees – Greatest quarterback/human/Yahtzee player. Ever. If he were cut by the Saints this offseason (won’t happen), the team salary cap would skyrocket to $31,914,530 (with $10m in dead money). While that’s a lot of nuts, I’m pretty sure none of us fans would care to see a cent of that salary cap $ without the greatest quarterback/human/Yahtzee player ever under center. Keep your $, Drew. You’ve earned it. We all are excited for when you come back in 2016 and take the Saints to (and win) Super Bowl 51!
Marques Colston – A bit of a curious case. I nearly released him in my simulation – which would have brought our above total cap space to a plump $15,114,530. While he has hardly been his formerly industrious self, Colston is so much more than a player to this team. He was signed through to 2017 last offseason and he’s been, for most of his career, a bastion of the Saints offense. He will finish his career in New Orleans after the 2016 season. Sentimental, I know.
Maximus Unger – Max Unger has been solid. I think by many accounts the trade for him and the pick that became Stephone Anthony was worth it. The unfortunate fact here, though, is that he’s got just 2016 left on his contract with New Orleans, after which he’s an UFA. He’ll be 30 in the Spring, though that’s not super old for an offensive lineman. Releasing Unger would mean $4.5m ($1.5m dead cap), which would bring that above total to ~ $16.5m. But, since I’m clearly not a monster, I think/hope the Saints will work to re-sign the veteran center.
Re-sign these 2016 Saints Free Agents this Offseason
Rafael Bush – Injured early in the season, Bush has shown to be a competent, serviceable free safety. He’s 28 and despite his injury, teams may see the value in him and offer more than the Saints are willing to pay. Also, unlike last offseason when Bush was a RFA and we matched the Falcons offer sheet for him, he’s free to go wherever he so wishes. Hang around please, Regg – err– Raffy.
Benjamin Watson – I mean, he’s 34 in 2016, but Benny Wats has been quite nice this year. If we can re-sign him for a bargain, do it. Otherwise, JOSH HILL WILL FINALLY EMERGE!?!?!!
Michael Hoomanawanui – It appears as though he’ll probably hang around. The Saints just got him in a trade for Akiem Hicks and he’s been pretty adequate. He blocks decently and has a pair of TDs on 8 receptions this season for the Saints. At only 27, too, he’d probably not cost an absurd amount.
Khiry Robinson – He’s an RFA in 2016 and boy is he worth keeping around. Do whatever’s necessary to lock him up for another season at least.
Senio Kelemete – He hasn’t exactly been amazing, but he’s been a project for some time now. He’s a RFA guard so I don’t anticipate he’ll command untenable offer sheets. Let’s keep him around.
Kevin Williams? – I’m on the fence here. He’s been a solid run-stopper this season (for what that’s worth in this defense) but he’s not getting any younger (35 in 2016). Veteran’s minimum, I’m happy to have him.
Priority Re-signs Next Year for Long-Term Deals
Long-term deals and how they are structured will largely depend on what happens with Brees. If he is given a new deal (likely this offseason) or restructures, the Saints will likely be in a decent position going forward in terms of re-signing their most valuable assets to new, lucrative deals.
Terron Armstead – Uh. Duh. Arguably the most valuable asset on the team right now (who still isn’t even old enough to rent a car without paying an age premium). The last year of his rookie contract in 2016, Armstead is due to earn a whopping $705,000. I mean that literally. That’s a ton of money for someone like me. But someone like him is worth a whole helluva lot more.
Max Unger – Unger will also need to be re-signed sometime next year before hitting free agency (if possible). Though productive, his age may work in our favor and not break the bank too terribly.
Kenny Vaccaro – I don’t see a scenario where Vaccaro is simply allowed to walk. He was awesome his rookie year, had a pretty significant sophomore slump, but has been better this year. If he plays at a respectable level in 2016, expect to see the Saints making a bid for his services going forward.
The Fun Part
Ok, so, now that I’ve ransacked the Saints roster in a manner that is unlikely to come to fruition next year, I intend to SPEND OUR NEWFOUND MONEY ON FREE AGENTS!!! You didn’t think I’d just save it up ultimately to lend it to Woody Harrelson for his failed streetball hustling exploits, did you?
We know all too well Loomis certainly has no interest in any such plan. Be on the lookout for our follow-up "free agent wish list" posts. Until then, let us know who you’d drop a fat chunk of change on this offseason. And, no, Colin Kaepernick does not nor ever will qualify.