It’s time for New Orleans Saints fans to ready their “the cap doesn’t exist” and “what salary cap?” tweets. The Saints and their never-to-be-counted-out front office were already down nearly a third of the team’s salary cap overages less than a week removed from Super Bowl LV.
Drew Brees - Re-negotiates Contract ($24M)
After restructuring Drew Brees’s contract and freeing up $24M immediately from their 2021 expenditures, it was clear the process would move quickly. New Orleans and Drew Brees had a couple of different ways to handle his earnings should he decide to retire. They could have awaited his announcement and immediately pushed the transaction which would have saved $13.5M or so, they could have saved $25M if they pushed his retirement transaction to post-June 1.
With this re-negotiation, the team gets the cap savings of option two at the expedience of the first. This is important because NFL clubs have to be compliant with the salary cap by the first day of free agency; which is obviously before June 1st. Now, with the 24 million dollars already off the tab for New Orleans, they can designate Brees’s expected retirement as a June transaction, where the remaining $1.075M will become available.
Saints cut Nick Easton ($5.87M)
But New Orleans didn’t stop there. Before Valentine’s Day weekend, the Saints went on to make three move moves to free up space; all cuts. The Saints moved on from the contract of offensive linemen Nick Easton, saving around $5.87M in additional cap room. With the signing of James Hurst last year, the Saints may have found their new swing offensive lineman without taking up the money they had invested in Easton’s deal. Assuming James Hurst is re-signed, he should be retained on less than nearly $6M.
This isn't an "OMG we have to get under the cap" move. It's a "production no longer justifies a rising salary" move.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) February 12, 2021
The other two cuts the Saints made came down to players some might not have even realized were still on the roster. Tight ends Jason Vander Laan and Cole Wick both opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-related reasons. The way the NFL allowed opt outs came down to medically higher-risk players and voluntary decisions. In both cases, the 2020 contracts “tolled” (or “delayed”) to 2021. However, the finances were handled differently.
Jason Vander Laan - Voluntary Opt Out (~$525K)
For Vander Laan’s voluntary opt out, his contract tolls to 2021 as we discussed, but he was given an advance of $150,000. That advance is taken out against the original contract, which had $675,000 left to pay out. Meaning the cap savings with his cut in 2021 should be around $525K.
In some cases where bonuses are present, playing voluntarily opting out also received those when they made the decision. No such bonuses were arranged for Vander Laan.
Cole Wick - Medically Higher-Risk Opt Out (~$750K)
For Wick, the opt out came down to his asthma condition. A condition which has put him, and millions of others, at high-risk throughout this pandemic. The higher-risk opt out is handled slightly differently than the voluntary option. The entire contract tolls, no bonuses are paid out, but a stipend of $350,000 is paid to the player. The major difference here is that the stipend is not an advance against the delayed salary.
This means that Cole Wicks entire 2020 salary of $750,000 (all base, no bonuses) was just saved here in 2021 with the decision to move on from the young tight end.
Total savings: ~$31M
Those two contract combined total an additional $1M+ saved against the 2021 salary cap. Combined with Easton’s $5.87M and Brees’s roughly $24M and the Saints have shaved off nearly a third of their debt with essentially only three cuts as they await the decision of Drew Brees.
On top of all of this, New Orleans has several options still ahead in regards to how they want to manage their cap situation. They may also be aided by the apparent 10-year television deal that could be completed soon. That deal could potentially impact the 2021 salary cap for all teams, perhaps even boosting it from the recent estimations of about $180.5M. Every penny above a $175M salary cap is good news in the Big Easy, considering how easily this team maneuvers the cap in the first place.
The Saints have always been known for doing a lot with a little. They’ve continued to do with the cap, with not-so-household names, and now they have they’ve shown they can free up a lot of space, with a few little moves.
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