Saints: Who's on the hot seat?

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
11:57
AM ET
We’ll continue our look at which NFC South players could be on the hot seat because of salary-cap casualties with the New Orleans Saints.

At the moment, the Saints are under the cap, but that’s only temporary. They’re trying to re-sign quarterback Drew Brees to a new contract and that alone could put them over the cap. In addition to Brees, they also have key players Marques Colston and Carl Nicks that they would like to prevent from departing in free agency. They also have some lesser potential free agents in receiver Robert Meachem and cornerback Tracy Porter that, in a perfect world, they would like to keep.

But this isn’t a perfect world and the Saints are probably going to have to make some painful cap moves.

That means two prominent defensive veterans are candidates for release or restructure. Defensive end Will Smith is scheduled to count $10.15 million against the cap. Although Smith is their top pass rusher, the Saints could free up $6.15 million by releasing him. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the leader of the defense in recent years, is scheduled to count $7.6 million against the cap. The Saints could free up $3.6 million by releasing Vilma. The Saints might not be ready to part with Vilma and Smith, so restructuring is a possibility for each. But Vilma is coming off knee surgery and the Saints have all the medical reports. If Vilma's knee looks like it could be a lingering problem, the Saints might have to make the difficult move of releasing one of their team leaders.

Linebacker Will Herring is scheduled to count $1.7 million against the cap. He wasn’t much of a factor last season and seems to be a prime candidate for release because the Saints could free up $1.1 million by cutting him.

Wide receiver Devery Henderson would appear to be an easy release because he’s scheduled to count $3.6 million against the cap and the Saints could free up $2.8 million by releasing him. But that’s not a given. If the Saints lose Colston and Meachem, they’ll need to keep Henderson.

Two other players are long shots to be released, but they’re at least possibilities because of their high cap figures and the fact the Saints could be in crisis mode. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is scheduled to make $6.9 million and the Saints could free up $5.2 million by releasing him. Bushrod made the Pro Bowl last season and has grown into a solid player. He’s heading into the final year of his contract and one possible solution would be to extend his contract to knock down this year’s cap figure.

Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis is scheduled to count $7.6 million against the cap and the Saints could save over $5 million by releasing him. Ellis never has become the dominant player the Saints hoped for when they used a first-round pick on him. But, when healthy, Ellis has been decent and the solution here might be an extension for Ellis that would spread out his cap hit over a longer period of time.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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