New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and his salary cap mismanagement has been a joke around the NFL community for a couple of years now. Restructuring contracts as with defensive end Cameron Jordan and punter Thomas Morstead, trading young assets like tight end Jimmy Graham and wideout Kenny Stills, and releasing veteran starters like linebacker Curtis Lofton has almost been an annual tradition.
However, that’s over in 2017. I ran the numbers, looked through archived reports, and found a great conclusion: the Saints are, relatively speaking, in a totally different salary cap situation this year than the last three. In fact, their projected salary cap space for 2017 is nearly double the last three years combined.
In 2016, the Saints entered free agency on March 10th with about $8.9-million in available cap space. They used that to sign tight end Coby Fleener linebackers Nate Stupar, Craig Robertson, and James Laurinaitis, plus defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Laurinaitis was released midseason, while the others played significant snaps. Fairley’s impending contract extension - with the Saints or elsewhere - is a hot topic of discussion.
The cupboard was even more bare in 2015. A flurry of opening day trades and releases put the Saints at roughly $4.92-million to work with. Cornerback Brandon Browner and tailback C.J. Spiller headlined a free agent class that included center Max Unger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and cornerback Kyle Wilson. Unger and Ellerbe happened to be trade acquisitions rather than legit free agent signings, and they also happened to be the only ones out of the group to play in the past year.
I don’t know how the Saints were competitive in 2014. With just $2.5-million in salary cap space, they let Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd sell them some swampland in Florida while locking up right tackle Zach Strief and quarterback Luke McCown, who both play critical roles in today’s offense. This was a year to forget, but Strief is still one of the league’s top right tackles. McCown proved to be a capable backup for Brees and is instrumental for the development of any young quarterbacks the Saints bring on board.
So if we add those numbers up, the Saints had a combined $16.32-million in salary cap space from 2014 to 2016. The experts at Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com anticipate the Saints to kick off the 2017 fiscal year with $28.7- to $29.5-million in cap space, based off of a $168-million salary cap. I’m projecting a salary cap of $169.7-million, but won’t be shocked if the NFL decides to make it an even $170-million.
Jairus Byrd ($11.7-million cap hit) accepting a pay cut should be a simple fix to double the Saints’ combined three-year cap space, or he could be outright released and free up $3.7-million. Stay tuned.
Either way, Saints fans can look to free agency and the official start of the 2017 NFL season with hope, rather than the sense of impending doom that has characterized the last few offseasons.