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Saints’ salary cap situation improves with $182.5M cap announcement

Good news in New Orleans as the salary cap is set to land for them over $10M better than originally arranged.

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Updated: March 10, 2021 9:15 AM

Things just got a little easier for the New Orleans Saints who simultaneously find themselves restructuring deals to shed cap and placing the franchise tags on a star player. While the rest of the NFL ponders how the Saints are going to get under the cap, they seem to have a very good plan in place.

The newest update on the NFL’s salary cap certainly helps their case. With the finalized number finally being set at $182.5M, that’s already a $7.5M increase from the original floor set in the negotiations before the 2020 season. Now, the Saints have a little bit less of a distance to close with their moves.

They also get an added bonus of about $3M carrying over from from the last league year. (There was an early projection of $4.1M as well from the NFLPA) That means the situation, regardless of their own cap relieving measures, has improved by nearly $11M from the original $175M floor, putting them at a $185.5M cap limit.

As outlined below, even just $10M goes a long way in New Orleans. That amount of money can easy be converted into three first-year totals on long-term deals, or extensions that in and of themselves create cap space as well, particularly in the cases of star players Marcus Williams (whose tag price is now finalized at $10.6M), Ryan Ramczyk, and Marshon Lattimore.

This just furthers the fact that New Orleans will not be left depleted and suffering after all is said and done this offseason. Their goal is to remain competitive, and now it’s $11M easier for them to do so than it was just a couple months ago.

Last month, the floor was moved up from $175M to $180M and now the cap is finalized at $182.5M. Those steady climbs may look like peanuts to some teams, but for the New Orleans, every penny counts. Here’s how they could use just a $10M increase to maintain or even bolster their roster.

Ask anyone outside of Louisiana and the Who Dat Nation and they’ll tell you that the New Orleans Saints are in dire straits due to the expected drop in salary cap next season. But Saints fans and those within the organization know very well that they have a better hold on the situation than outsiders anticipate. However, good news can still be had and that was the case Wednesday night.

Speculation is now that despite instituting a 2021 $175M salary cap floor in the COVID-19 economics plan agreed upon before the 2020 NFL season, the end result may be higher.

In a report by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, team officials seem to believe that the cap could be closer to $185M instead. The expected boost sounds like it would be contingent upon upcoming television deals and the soon-to-be 17-game season.

Only time will tell. But if this ends up true, that $10M difference is a big deal. The 2020 cap was set at $198.2M and originally an increase was expected. But due to the Coronavirus pandemic, locals sales, audience attendance, and therefore the future cap took a hit.

For the Saints, a drop to a $175M would have resulted in a deficit of just over $100M. Now, that cap hit would be lessened by $10M.

I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not a big difference.” You’re right, it’s not at first glance. But in understanding the way the Saints manipulate contracts and the cap, it’s meaningful amount of breathing room.

In order for us to really dig into this, we have to understand that the Saints are both equipped and prepared to deal with the salary cap drop. They knew it would be the case as they continued to sign contracts, extensions, and draft picks throughout the offseason last year. They have the mechanisms in place to maintain their roster and knock down their 2021 spending with restructures, extensions, the potential relief of an expected retirement, and yes, some cut candidates to finish the job. However, with an almost newfound $10M at their disposal, they could cut some of those cost-saving measures or carry on and use the new money elsewhere. The Saints’ options were already there, now they could have even more.

For instance:

Three of the Saints’ biggest free agency acquisitions from last season were wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, safety Malcolm Jenkins, and receiver/running back Ty Montgomery. Because Saints’ cap guru Khai Harley builds escalators (and de-escalators for that matter) into their contracts, they are able to maintain cap compliance.

2020 Saints FA Additions

Player 2020 Base Salary 2020 Cap Hit Total
Player 2020 Base Salary 2020 Cap Hit Total
Emmanuel Sanders $2,000,000 $4,500,000
Malcolm Jenkins $1,050,000 $3,800,000
Ty Montgomery $910,000 $887,500

All of a sudden, that $10M looks pretty good, right? Let’s go a step further. New Orleans will be looking at the potential of extending or re-signing some players on expiring or freshly expired rookie deals. Let’s look at the first year extensions and re-signed deals of some key contributors from last season, in order of cap hit.

Saints 2020 RE-Re-Signs and Extensions

Player 2020 Base Salary 2020 Cap Hit Total
Player 2020 Base Salary 2020 Cap Hit Total
Taysom Hill $841,000 $4,841,000
Alvin Kamara $833,000 $4,076,193
Janoris Jenkins $1,050,000 $4,050,000
Andrus Peat $1,000,000 $3,600,000

Yes, more than the $10M price tag difference we’re discussing. However, bear in mind that with early extensions come additional savings. Remember that two players that would be extended in this equation are tackle Ryan Ramczyk and cornerback Marshon Lattimore who are due around $11.1M and $10.2M respectively on their fifth-year options. Extending both of these players would allow the Saints (and Harley) to build an escalating deal with signing bonuses attached which could drop their combined hit around $10M.

All of a sudden, all four of the players listed above from 2020 fall under that new $20M umbrella with room to spare. About $3.4M to spare, actually. Which happens to be less than the amount that New Orleans is under the 2020 cap, which will rollover into 2021. Even more room to add in.

The bottom line is that for most teams, a $10M difference only has an effect if that moves them from red to black in the ledgers. But for the Saints, who retained or added Jameis Winston, Patrick Robinson, Justin Hardee, P.J. Williams, Zach Wood, Michael Burton, and D.J. Swearinger for only $1.6M more than the expected at least 10-million in savings.

This potential improvement in the NFL’s 2021 salary cap situation can aid in the Saints going from the expected cash-strapped and downtrodden team to the active, team-building contenders those in the know feel confidently they will be. It’s never too early to brace for the annual “How are they doing this?” tweets nor too early to prep your Loomis-matrix memes in the drafts.

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