Cap Analysis: Saints

Updated: March 1st 2016

New Orleans Saints

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A lot of the Saints players, coaches, and personnel department have turned over during the last two or three years, but Drew Brees, Sean Peyton, Mickey Loomis remain constant. There’s been an ugly intrafamily ownership battle taking place for the last year, but last week judges determined owner Tom Benson to be competent, allowing him to keep control of the Saints and Pelicans. It seems unlikely that the Saints would be able to unseat the Panthers at the top of the division in 2016, and more likely that the Bucs or Falcons could end up as surprise contenders.

Projected 2016 Team Salary$148.9M (not including escalators and NLTBE* incentives) *Not Likely To Be Earned

Projected 2016 Cap Room: ~$7.77M (~$155.27M Estimate; ~$1.4M Rollover)

Situation: Weak 

The Saints have very little cap space, thanks in large part to a monster $30M cap figure for Drew Brees. That could change if Brees, 37, and the Saints agree on some sort of a new “lifetime” contract.

Some of the space they have was created by the release of Jahri Evans. The Saints will probably create some more space a day or two before Free Agency with the release of additional veterans.

Notable Free Agents:

Saints FAs

The Saints released Jahri Evans after 10 seasons, 153 starts, and $51.8M – which is among the all-time leading hauls for a guard.

A brief tangent as I poor out a little Gatorade and wonder “What could have been?” for Ben Watson’s career (see similar paragraph on Josh McCown’s story). Watson is an athletic freak, owner of one of my favorite plays of all time, and a smart dude (he started his career at Duke and recently wrote a book on race relations in the U.S.). He’s also had an interesting career: Watson transferred to Georgia, which made him a 24-year old rookie after the Patriots selected him in first round in 2004. He spent all but one game of his rookie season on injured reserve (but got a super bowl ring as consolation). Watson had 441 receiving yards in 15 games in 2005 and 643 receiving yards in 13 games in 2006 while splitting time with Daniel Graham, whom the Patriots had drafted in the first round just two years earlier than Watson. In 2007 the Moss/Welker madness began, and it didn’t stop until after the 2009 season. Even though Watson only started in just over half of the games from 2005-2009, he was the Patriots leading tight end in each of those seasons. In 2010, at age 30, he joined the Browns just in time for the Colt McCoy era – he led the Browns in receiving posting 68 receptions, 763 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. In 2011, Watson suffered 3 concussions, but still managed 37 catches and 410 yards in 11 starts. In 2012 he tallied 49 receptions and 504 yards with Brandon Weeden. In 2013, he joined the Saints, and played behind Jimmy Graham (who in 2013 had one of greatest seasons of any tight end, ever) for two years. Then, finally, in 2015, at age 35, Watson was back in the mix as one of the primary options for a great quarterback – and he promptly posted his best season as a pro – 74 receptions, 825 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. How can you not wonder what could have been for Watson if his career had a different arc?

Top Projected Cap Hits:

Saints Top Cap Hits

This list won’t contain Brandon Browner when the season starts, and it might not have Marques Colston on it either. **Editor’s Note: Marques Colston was indeed released on Monday February 29th. 

Any one player taking up nearly 20% of your salary cap in a sport that requires 53 active roster players is not a good thing (maybe I would concede on J.J. Watt if you really wanted to argue). Drew Brees is still a great quarterback, but his $30M cap charge is the highest in the league, and he’s not the best player in the NFL. More on this later…

Cap Casualty Watch List:

Saints Cap Cas

I expect the Saints to release everyone on this list.

As mentioned (and linked to) above, the Saints are reportedly planning to release Brandown Browner and Marques Colston on March 9. Browner had a dreadful year. Even though they’ll pay him his $2.75M base salary regardless, and even though his release will bring a $5.35M charge to the Saints 2016 cap, they’re going to do it anyway to avoid up to $2.25M in roster bonuses.

Colston had the worst year of his career, and he will be 33 in June. Still, there’s a chance he could be back on a reduced contract.

Extension Watch List: 

Saints Ext Watch List

The Saints will likely exercise Kenny Vaccaro’s fifth year option, pushing his expected free agency to March, 2018.

The Saints need to extend the rest of the players on this, and they need to do it in 2016. They traded Jimmy Graham and a fourth round pick for Max Unger and a first round pick. I assume they would like to keep Unger through 2020 or so. Unger has the seventh highest APY$ among centers at $6.5M, but could be due for a raise if he’s allowed to reach free agency.

Sean Payton said he wouldn’t trade Terron “4.7 forty” Armstead for any left tackle in the league, which might be hyperbole, though I tend to believe him. The Saints consider Armstead a key building block for the future. Armstead, a third round pick will make approximately $1.7M in base salary in 2016 from hitting escalator provisions in his rookie contract, but will be among the lowest paid starting left tackles in the league in 2016.

The Saints will have a hard time extending Unger, Vaccaro, Armstead, or Jenkins without first creating cap space with a Drew Brees extension. Brees is a few years older than Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Tony Romo, but compares favorably to each when examining their passing stats. If Brees stays healthy in 2016, he will have multiple suitors in free agency in 2017, even at age 38. He could very well sign a “team-friendly” contract in the $17-$18M range, but his cap figure gives him leverage, especially if the team isn’t willing to release him, so it’s more likely his next contract – likely his last – will be for $20-$21M per year.

Position Needs: 

Linebacker, Offensive Line, Corner, Wide Receiver, Tight End.

Sleeper Watch: 

It’s going to be hard for him to get any meaningful touches with the dollars the team has invested in Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, but I would really like to see Vick Ballard be in consideration for comeback player of the year.

Matt Papson (@RealitySportsMP) formerly worked in football administration for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the President, co-founder and creator of Reality Sports Online, a fantasy front office platform that enables fantasy owners to build and manage their fantasy team like a professional sports general manager. The Reality Sports Online platform has been featured in Fortune, on Bloomberg TV, and was the 2012 Fantasy Sports Trade Association Rookie of the Year.

Sources: Spotrac, Pro-Football Reference, and Rotoworld

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