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Saints’ future is bright under projected 2018 NFL Salary Cap

Things looks good even with Drew Brees’ contract situation up in the air.

METAIRIE, LA:  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) chats with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis during a lull in training camp practice at the team’s Oschner Sports Performance Center.
METAIRIE, LA: New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) chats with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis during a lull in training camp practice at the team’s Oschner Sports Performance Center.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s collective ownership are meeting in Dallas, Texas this week to review finances and offer projections for the future. Business is booming for pro football, and that’s reflected in another bump towards the league’s salary cap. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that the salary cap is expected to leap from $167-million to as much as $178-million or more:

That’s a significant increase, and great news for the New Orleans Saints. But it isn’t unprecedented; the NFL heightens the salary cap every spring to account for increased revenue, mostly from sold broadcasting rights.

CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry, a former agent and veritable capologist, expects this reported projection to be even lower than what we’ll eventually see:

Corry wrote elsewhere that 2017 was the first year the salary cap was set inside its projected range - it’s usually two-percent higher than the expectation. If the 2018 salary cap increased at the same rate as the 2017 number, it would be $179.62-million.

The great crew at have so-far operated with a more conservative projection of $178-million. Per their tracking of player transactions and in-house calculations, they describe a nice situation for the 2018 Saints:

  • Effective Cap Space: $33,480,417 (ranked 16th out of 32)
  • Dead Money: $6,965,970 (ranked 5th out of 32)
  • Players Under Contract: 49 (ranked 8th out of 32)

Tweak it a bit and that looks even better. A crucial piece of team-building is the number of players rostered for the following year. The fewer you have ahead of time, the more you’re relying on your draft picks and undrafted signees to fill holes on the team. You’ll also be overpaying guys just to hit the 90-man offseason roster limit.

That isn’t where the Saints are sitting. They’re in the top third of the league in players contracted thanks to hitting on almost all of their recent draft picks and free agent signings, as well as some nicely-valued contract extensions. The average team has 44 players contracted for next year, and the Saints are a little ahead at 49.

Sure, the status of quarterback Drew Brees is concerning. At this moment he is on the team for next year with a $6-million salary cap hit. But a trigger in his contract (as it is written) means he will be a free agent in March, accelerating his $6-million 2019 and 2020 cap hits into the 2018 fiscal year.

So that means the Saints would have 48 players under contract, not 49, and $21,480,417 in available cap space, not $33,480,417. That’s still good for the 6th-most cap space and tied for the 8th-most active contracts. Not great, but still good in context of the rest of the league. I anticipate the Saints will re-sign Brees and not find a way to not wreck their cap situation.

That Brees example just serves to illustrate how fluid this all is. The numbers will change dramatically between now and next March as the cap is raised and locked-in, and as the Saints trim the roster of cap casualties. The unfortunate Nick Fairley ($6-million freed up if released) and Coby Fleener ($4.8-million) each come to mind as possible early cuts, but hopefully they see upswings in health.

Anyway, the Saints have managed the salary cap very well in recent years. Look at the success of recent signings like defensive end Alex Okafor, linebacker Craig Robertson, right guard Larry Warford, and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Even smaller names like linebacker Manti Te’o and fullback Zach Line have made positive impacts. With so many rookies playing so well on the cheap, look to the Saints to again be active in next year’s free agency period.