The New Orleans Saints are sitting somewhat comfortably under the salary cap after their flurry of offseason moves. They have about $3.6 million in space, though they will still need to save about $2 million to sign their draft picks. Remember, only the top 51 salary-cap figures count against a team during the offseason.
Here is a breakdown of where the Saints are allocating their resources this year on offense:
Percentage of salary-cap space: 16.34
Total cap charge: $19.53 million
NFL average: $11.67 million
Biggest cap hit: Drew Brees, $18.4 million
Biggest bargain: Ryan Griffin, $495,000
Thoughts: Brees’ five-year, $100 million deal was worth every penny two years ago, when he became the highest-paid player in NFL history. Now that he’s the fourth highest-paid quarterback in the league, it’s even more worth it. ... Heck, with the league-wide salary cap finally starting to grow, Brees is practically a bargain.
The Saints obviously aren’t investing heavily in their backups. They’re intrigued by Griffin’s potential -- (possibly the next Chase Daniel?) It’s still too early to invest heavily in a future replacement for Brees since he should remain at a high level for at least three or four more years.
Percentage of salary-cap space: 9.43
Total cap charge: $11.27 million
NFL average: $13.56 million
Biggest cap hit: Marques Colston, $8.3 million
Biggest bargain: Kenny Stills, $543,613
Thoughts: The Saints have suddenly become very young at this position with Colston as the only veteran on the roster. At age 30, Colston is still playing at a high level, though he had more quiet stretches last season than ever before. The Saints will certainly monitor his progress closely to see how well he ages, since he’s due another $7 million in salary and bonuses in 2015 and $7.8 million in 2016.
Chances are, the Saints will draft another receiver in the early rounds this year as they continue to reload their depth at the position.
Percentage of salary-cap space: 7.71
Total cap charge: $9.22 million
NFL average: $6.12 million
Biggest cap hit: Jimmy Graham, $7.035 million
Biggest bargain: Josh Hill, $496,666
Thoughts: Graham will likely sign a mega-deal this summer worth upwards of $10 million per year. And he’ll be worth it as the Saints’ most dangerous offensive weapon. His 2014 cap figure shouldn’t be affected much. In fact, it could even decrease, depending on how the Saints structure the deal.
The Saints like Hill’s potential after he played a minor role as an undrafted rookie last season. If he shows significant growth, he could compete for a No. 2 role in the future -- a job currently manned by affordable veteran Benjamin Watson.
Percentage of salary-cap space: 5.06
Total cap charge: $6.05 million
NFL average: $7.75 million
Biggest cap hit: Mark Ingram, $2.36 million
Biggest bargain: Khiry Robinson, $495,333
Thoughts: The Saints are loaded with candidates for the “biggest bargain” category here, with Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet also costing less than $2 million against this year’s cap. That depth is why they decided they could afford to trade away veteran Darren Sproles this offseason.
I didn’t love the Sproles move because I think he’s such a unique talent. But there is no doubting the amount of talent still on the roster, and it’s understandable why the Saints didn’t want to spend too heavily on this position group.
Ingram will have to prove he can build on last year’s strong finish as he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Thomas signed a three-year deal this offseason (that included a slight pay cut for this year) after he arguably had his best season to date in 2013. But he’ll also be evaluated on a year-by-year basis since he turns 30 in December.
Percentage of salary-cap space: 21.13
Total cap charge: $25.26 million
NFL average: $21.45 million
Biggest cap hit: Jahri Evans, $11 million
Biggest bargain: Terron Armstead, $679,359
Thoughts: The Saints are devoting a ton of money to guards Evans ($7.5 million in salary and bonuses this year) and Ben Grubbs ($6.1 million in salary and bonuses; $9.1 million cap cost). They were both Pro Bowlers in 2013 after strong finishes. But the Saints need them to keep playing at that level consistently since they’re both under contract through 2016.
The Saints also re-signed veteran right tackle Zach Strief through 2018. But it will be essential for them to develop future replacements across the board -- starting with second-year left tackle Armstead and second-year center/guard Tim Lelito.
I think the Saints can field a solid starting five with that core this year -- and maybe even the exact same starting five next year. But there is a little more uncertainty surrounding this group than usual.