Every year we think it’s the Saints’ last chance at Super Bowl glory, at least in their current guise. And yet every year they find a way to keep the band back together. Now this year could finally be the year.
For one thing, Drew Brees is on a new two year contract, though in reality him playing is a year to year prospect. Certainly ensuring that Brees is playing at a playoff QB standard. While Brees is a Hall of Famer, it’s hard to argue that the Saints’ are getting value for money from his play on the field. Brees played only 11 games last season due to injury and while his yards/game was up on 2018 – potentially due to not suffering arm fatigue later in the season due to the earlier injury – it was still his second lowest season as a Saint. Brees had 270.8yards/game, way down on the 320+ yards/game we are accustomed to.
The Saints aren’t afraid of mortgaging their future. They’ve been aggressive in using draft capital to land veterans or blue chip rookies such as Brandin Cooks and Marcus Davenport. It’s not unreasonable as top end talent wins games. But it can’t work as a long term strategy. The Saints had just four picks in 2020 and five in 2019. Over the last five drafts, they have had 28 picks in total due to various trades.
Can the Saints afford one more player to put them over the top?
The latest reported big money move wouldn’t cost draft picks, though it would put further stress on the Saints’ cap space. By all accounts, New Orleans is all in on landing free agent Jadeveon Clowney. While they do have $6 million in cap space. Clowney has only ever been on fixed cost contracts, between his rookie deal and the franchise tag last year so this is the first time he could earn the market rate. Regardless, his cap hit was $8 million last year for the Seahawks, with a total cost of $15 million for the year.
This all implies that if the Saints were to afford him, it would likely be on a multi-year, backloaded deal. This all leads to the cap hell that the Saints are currently facing 2021, before Clowney is signed. New Orleans are currently projected to be $78 million over the cap of $175 million in 2021. Unlike in previous years, the cap is unlikely to rise next year given the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with limited stadiums capacities, if not empty stadiums.
Big money spread across the roster
The Saints focus on blue chip talent and veterans is starting to cost them. Eleven players will have a cap hit of $10 million or more next season, putting extreme stress on the Saints’ finances. The total cap hit for them is $173.5 million, nearly all of the cap space. That’s without a contract for Alvin Kamara, Marcus Davenport or Erik McCoy.
There are some easy fixes, for example I doubt both Brees and Taysom Hill will be together on the roster next year, with Jameis Winston available too. If Brees is still playing, surely that contract will be restructured, although the Saints will carry $22.65M for the Hall of Famer not to play anyway. The offensive line and wide receiver corps could be retooled with cheaper options. But in reality there are some tough choices ahead.
Saints Players with cap hit of $10M+ in 2021
QB Drew Brees $36.2M
DE Cameron Jordan $18.9M
WR Michael Thomas $18.8M
OT Terron Armstead $16.3M
QB Taysom Hill $16.2M
CB Janoris Jenkins $14.2M
OG Andrus Peat $11.6M
OT Ryan Ramczyk $11.1M
FS Marshon Lattimore $10.2M
WR Emmanuel Sanders $10M
NT David Onyemata $10M
There is one silver lining. The Saints picked up Jameis Winston in free agency. That offers a young, explosive passer to build the offence around if Brees hangs up his boots at the end of the year. But Winston is an error-prone signal caller with boom or bust potential. What’s more he needs talent around him, a luxury that the Saints may not have a year from now. While Winston is an exciting prospect under Sean Payton, he would need to be given the opportunity and support to succeed in the Superdome.
The Saints have been a very good team at drafting. Plus they’re aggressive in free agency and the trade market as well. To their credit, they have done a good job of extending their Super Bowl window. That’s never easy with a veteran QB at the back end of his career. Now though, the bill is due and it will take a miracle, or some very clever accountancy, to keep the band together beyond the end of the season. While they have a succession plan in place, I’m not sure Jameis be set up to succeed with a lot of dead money against the cap. Further moves could be made, such as Clowney but backloading deals may be something they regret in future. For 2020, the Saints have a roster to compete deep in the playoffs.
If it’s going to happen for the Saints, it has to be now.
Image: Saints Wire