The New Orleans Saints face a salary-cap crisis in 2021, according to several NFL salary cap experts and negotiators who have studied their payroll, undoubtedly leading to numerous difficult roster decisions next year.
The Saints currently stand $68M over a cap of $198M, which, if not for a pandemic, would have been a reasonable projection for the 2021 cap. The NFL Management Council is still using that number in its database for 2021 cap projections but sources with the league and NFLPA believe there is no chance the cap is that high, which only further exacerbates the Saints' issues. Multiple general managers and salary cap execs told me this week that they would be very surprised if the actual cap ends up being much higher than $175M in 2021.
At best, most presume, the 2021 cap will be $185M; the Saints are currently $81M above that figure according to the league's figures. If the cap is in fact $175M, then New Orleans currently stands $91M above that threshold, obviously a substantial figure.
The salary cap experts agreed that, regardless of what the actual cap is, and regardless of what Drew Brees decides in terms of his playing future, that there is no chance he is back with the Saints on his current contract in 2021, with New Orleans able to save $13.5M by moving on from him.
It was obvious to these experts as well that tight end Jared Cook ($11.1M savings), corner Janoris Jenkins ($10M savings) and linebacker Kwon Alexander ($7M) won't be back. But even that doesn't get them close to where they need to be in order to even sign their draft picks much less add any free agents.
"Man, I don't know what they do after this," one cap manager said. "This is about as bad as anything I have seen. They are really all-in with no wiggle room."
Another cap manager said: "I mean this is a case where you might want to keep restructuring and pushing (cap charges) back because you have a good roster, but now that the cap is flat, or worse, the next few years, that can really end up just compounding the problems. They have a lot of work to do in 2021."
The good news is the Saints have secured young stars like Alvin Kamara and Mike Thomas well into the future, though it remains to be seen how they progress with recent high picks like Marshon Lattimore, Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport. The cap guys I spoke to anticipated a significant shakeup to the roster that would likely include several of them being moved, given that it will be difficult to extend them in this climate and with the need to shed salary in the present and immediate future.
Change is a constant in the NFL from year to year, but it might be far more extreme than normal in New Orleans next year.