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It’s a race to $182.5 million, give or take a couple million dollars. And the New Orleans Saints are well on their way to reaching salary cap compliance after restructuring contracts with several of their cornerstone players. They already moved some money around in deals with Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis, as well as Wil Lutz and David Onyemata, but now the bigger names are starting to get involved as the Saints make a final push ahead of free agency.
Remember, these are not pay cuts. The players are getting a nice bonus check now instead of when they expected it in the fall. There are real, long-term risks involved in restructuring contracts for short-term cap relief. That hasn’t stopped the Saints before, and it isn’t slowing them down now. After issuing the franchise tag to pending free agent Marcus Williams, New Orleans had to work overtime to get back on track.
Michael Thomas is a big restructure, reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, lowering his 2021 salary cap hit from $18.8 million (highest on the team) to about $10.1 million. The Saints did this by converting a large chunk of his $12.6 million base salary and his preexisting bonuses (a $200,000 workout bonus and a lucrative $6 million from his initial signing bonus) into a new signing bonus, which raises his future cap hits and gives him more job security. Consider that a rebuttal to the speculation that he could be traded or that there’s bad blood between him and the team after a frustrating down year in 2020. This move ties him tighter to the team, meaning they won’t be able to get out of his contract until at least 2023.
This follows a series of salary cap cuts after the Saints parted ways with veteran players like Kwon Alexander, Janoris Jenkins, and Emmanuel Sanders. After all of those moves and this restructured deal with Thomas, the Saints are somewhere between $16.8 million and $20.9 million over the cap (it’s hard to pin down an exact number with so many ongoing transactions). They’re flying very close to cap compliance, and extensions with Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, and Marshon Lattimore should get them there — if not below the cap far enough to start signing new free agents.