No team has more work to do in managing their salary cap commitments than the New Orleans Saints this offseason — depending on where you source your information, they’re in the red by margins of between $53 and $57 million. That means some talent is going to be leaving in the spring as the Saints look to cut costs, get younger, and frankly get more bang for their buck.
We’ve already listed the team’s biggest salary cap hits for 2023. Here are five areas where the Saints could free up some resources and look for upgrades:
QB Jameis Winston
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a real shame that things haven’t worked out better for Winston in New Orleans. He’s worked so hard to recover from injuries and assert himself to a new locker room, and he’s handled things the right way despite being dealt a bad hand by showing up early, leaving late, keeping a good attitude and doing everything he can to support his teammates from the sidelines. Dennis Allen’s reluctance to put him back into games after he stopped being listed on the injury report suggests a split is coming.
2023 cap hit: $15,600,000
Savings if released before June 1: $4,400,000
Savings if released after June 1: $12,800,000
LG Andrus Peat
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Peat missed more time with injuries in 2022, being limited to 11 games after playing just 6 games in 2021. He never played a full season before the NFL expanded its regular season to 17 games, and durability has continued to be a concern for him. The Saints can get younger, healthier, and more affordable at this guard spot. Peat may have some trade value but the most cost-effective path would be designating him a post-June 1 cut so they can receive a heavy cap credit later this summer. That would also give Peat his pick of landing-spots around the league.
2023 cap hit: $18,371,000
Savings if released before June 1: $1,387,000
Savings if released after June 1: $11,825,000
K Wil Lutz
Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Lutz returned from a yearlong absence due to injury and put up his worst season as a pro, connecting on just 74.2% of his field goals and missing 8 kicks; for context, Lutz never completed fewer than 82.1% of his field goals in a single season prior to that core muscle injury. He did make all 33 of his extra-point attempts for the first time in his career, but the Saints can’t roster him at this salary. He’s got to perform like a top-tier kicker to justify his contract the way it stands now.
2023 cap hit: $5,620,000
Savings if released before June 1: $3,700,000
Savings if released after June 1: $3,700,000
WR Tre'Quan Smith
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
Smith was an afterthought on offense even after injuries took Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry out for the season; he ran fewer than 5 routes in all but one game from Weeks 10 to 18. The Saints still value Smith for his blocking ability, but his lack of contributions in the passing game have turned his presence into a tell that telegraphs their intentions to the defense. He didn’t get much attention in free agency last year. If Smith isn’t willing to accept a pay cut, the Saints could let him go and get similar production out of someone playing on the league minimum salary.
2023 cap hit: $3,400,000
Savings if released before June 1: $1,900,000
Savings if released after June 1: $2,900,000
WR Michael Thomas
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
At this point it would be a surprise if the Saints don’t part ways with Thomas. After restructuring his contract to create some cap flexibility for the spring, he would cost more than $60 million against the cap in 2024 if he plays in four or more games in 2023. So their options are to touch his contract again after reaching cap compliance or let him go with a post-June 1 designation. It’s disappointing that things have gotten to this stage, but back-to-back foot injuries have derailed his career, and it may be best for both Thomas and the Saints if their paths split soon.
2023 cap hit: $13,158,588
Savings if released before June 1: -$13,015,764
Savings if released after June 1: $1,165,000