The New Orleans Saints are over the most optimistic 2023 salary cap projections by tens of millions of dollars, but their approach to getting under the cap should be more typical of what we see around the league. General manager Mickey Loomis and football administration vice president Khai Harley have both expressed a desire to manage their cap commitments less aggressively than when Sean Payton was leading the organization as head coach, which makes sense.
You can’t push all of your chips in forever. You lose depth and put a ton of pressure on your rookies to contribute right away. Your margin for error is razor-thin. If a couple of signings or draft picks don’t meet expectations, and if you don’t have a Hall of Fame quarterback and/or coach to pick up the slack, well: you go 7-10 and get left on the outside looking in during the playoffs.
Now with that said: contract restructures will always be a part of how the Saints work around the cap. It’s a common tool around the league. Now, we may not see the Saints routinely restructuring deals with nine or ten players each spring, but four or five smart reworkings should be expected. And here are six possible restructure candidates to watch out for in the weeks ahead:
CB Marshon Lattimore
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Lattimore has one of the team’s highest salary cap hits at $22.4 million, which is almost certainly going to be lowered through a restructure. The Saints can reduce his base salary from $14.5 million to the league minimum and convert the difference into a signing bonus (just like they did last year), saving a little over $10 million against the cap if they max it out. He’s still a foundational piece of New Orleans’ defense despite having been limited to just seven games in 2022 due to injury.
DE Cameron Jordan
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Jordan’s salary cap hit of $25.7 million leads the team, so something needs to be done. And the only ways the Saints make real savings here are by restructuring his contract, signing him to a true extension, or by releasing him with a post-June 1 designation (or trading him after that date). Letting him go doesn’t feel like a possibility given his importance to the team. Jordan turns 34 this summer and may not have too many years left to play, so a restructure is the likeliest solution. A max restructure could save more than $10 million.
RT Ryan Ramczyk
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Ramczyk has caught some flak from fans for not meeting expectations after signing his contract extension, but he’s still a cornerstone of their offensive line and he won’t be going anywhere any time soon. He has a big salary cap hit at $21.4 million, but the Saints would have to pay even more money to release or trade him before June 1. Cutting him with a June 1 designation would only break even, though trading him after that date saves $14 million — which wouldn’t help the Saints during free agency in March. A restructure is the simplest solution, which could save the team up to $9.6 million.
C Erik McCoy
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McCoy just signed an extension last year, and like many multiyear deals the Saints have primed it for a restructure in the second year of the contract. He is already playing on a veteran’s minimum base salary but his $10 million roster bonus puts his cap hit at $12.6 million. The Saints can convert that single-season roster bonus into a multiyear signing bonus and save $8 million, which should be an easy decision. Hopefully McCoy’s health improves after he missed some time in both 2022 and 2021.
RB Alvin Kamara
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Kamara is in a curious spot. He’s probably going to be suspended for multiple games in 2023 once his Las Vegas battery case is resolved, and the game checks lost will come out of his base salary. He’s also coming off of maybe his worst year as a pro with just 1,387 scrimmage yards and as many fumbles as touchdowns scored (4). The Saints could be thinking about moving on in a year or two, but for now it makes sense for both sides to restructure his base salary into a signing bonus. That saves the team over $7 million and gives Kamara some security since the league office couldn’t forfeit it like weekly game checks if he is suspended.
TE Taysom Hill
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Could Hill be playing wherever Sean Payton is coaching in 2023? We can’t rule it out, but that feels like a move that would have to be delayed. Moving Hill prior to June 1 only saves the Saints $50,000 (in a trade; releasing him costs an additional $9.8 million on top of what they’re already paying). Trades can’t carry the post-June 1 designation like cuts can, so if Payton does want to trade for Hill this summer he’ll have to wait. And that would save the Saints $9.9 million. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Odds are Hill will be asked to restructure, lowering his $13.9 million cap hit and saving the Saints a little over $6.6 million.