Next steps for the Saints after NFL sends 2024 salary cap to the moon

The NFL’s heightened 2024 salary cap brings a big boost for the New Orleans Saints. With the cap taking an unprecedented $30 million jump this offseason, the Saints are just a couple of moves away from reaching cap compliance — and then some. They’ll be able to clear enough room to make some noise in free agency and enter the bidding for talented veterans.

With the NFL announcing that this year’s salary cap is set at a record $255.4 million, the experts at Over The Cap estimate the Saints to be in the red by a little over $40 million. That’s less than half of the $83 million hole New Orleans sat in entering the offseason. But there’s more work to be done. Here’s how the Saints can clear their remaining negative cap space and open up more resources to take into free agency:

Restructuring their contract with Cesar Ruiz

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This move is already in the works, per ESPN, and it was easy to see coming — the Saints gave Ruiz an $8 million roster bonus for 2024 when he signed his extension last summer which can be converted into a signing bonus and paid out over multiple years. That’s going to lower his cap hit from more than $10.85 million to just $4.27 million, saving the Saints another $6.58 million against the cap this year. That money was already guaranteed. It’s just being paid out on a schedule that’s easier to manipulate for accounting purposes.

Saints cap space is now: $33,491,454

Restructuring their contract with Carl Granderson

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Granderson is next in line for a restructure — like Ruiz, the extension he signed last year included a heavy roster bonus (clocking in at $9 million) for 2024 which the Saints are clearly planning on converting to a signing bonus, which will save them over $7.23 million against the cap. That will lower Granderson’s cap hit from $12.45 million to a much-more-manageable $5.21 million. Granderson enjoyed the best season of his career last year and is going to be a big part of their plans moving forwards.

Saints cap space is now: $26,255,454

Restructuring their contract with Tyrann Mathieu

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Mathieu is another easy decision. He’ll turn 32 in May but he’s still playing at a very high level — he tied for the team lead with 4 interceptions last season (breaking up 9 passes in total) while tying for the fifth-most combined tackles (75, 50 of them solo). He currently has a cap hit north of $12.06 million which can be restructured down to a little over $6.22 million, saving the Saints more than $5.84 million. One complicating factor: Mathieu’s contract ends after this year, so if he isn’t re-signed in 2025 he would leave  behind a dead money charge of $13.53 million. So it might make more sense to extend his contract than restructure it, but the Saints can always circle back to that after putting out other fires. Mathieu finishing his playing career in New Orleans would be a great story.

Saints cap space is now: $20,412,954

5 tougher decisions to make

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Everything up until now has been easy — restructuring deals with players who are either performing at a high level, entering the prime of their careers, or both. But the next wave of decisions will be difficult either due to players’ injury histories, inconsistent performance, age, or some combination of all three. Let’s summarize each of their situations:

  • Ryan Ramczyk: Ramczyk is still relatively young for a starting right tackle, but his degenerative knee condition and $27 million cap hit are big concerns. He plans on returning for 2024 but the Saints must be mindful of the future beyond that. Restructuring his contract would save more than $11.8 million this year, would get them halfway to the finish line in this scenario.

  • Cameron Jordan: Jordan is coming off his worst performance since his rookie year, having lost a step off the edge and struggled to play through an ankle injury in the back half of 2023. He’s also due to count $23.2 million against the cap. Restructuring him was the plan (as seen by his $6.7 million roster bonus) but it may not be New Orleans’ best move to tie themselves closer to an aging pro coming off a down year. They may discuss a pay cut given his $6.3 million base salary, but a standard restructure saves $9.4 million.

  • Demario Davis: You could argue Davis’ situation is closer to Mathieu’s than Jordan’s, and that would be reasonable. But he’s the oldest linebacker in the NFL. He showed his age at times last season but still earned a second Pro Bowl nod. Like Mathieu, Davis is entering the final year of his contract, so another extension could make more sense. But a restructure would save almost $8.1 million if that’s the route New Orleans takes.

  • Alvin Kamara: The Saints have Kamara down for an $18.7 million cap hit, which can be reduced by nearly $8.7 million with a restructure. But like Jordan he’s coming off the least-productive season of his career, and Kamara hasn’t quite looked like himself for a few years now. The Saints have to be hoping that Klint Kubiak’s offense and improved blocking scheme will revitalize his career, but there’s an argument for looking to get younger at this position instead. If Kamara is released in 2025 the Saints will be paying as much as $10.1 million in dead money.

  • Marcus Maye: Maye has been an underwhelming free agent pickup — he’s missed an entire 17-game season’s worth of time with injuries and a suspension through his first two years. When he has been available, he hasn’t been the capable Marcus Williams replacement the Saints cast him as when they signed him, intercepting just two passes in 17 games. He’s a restructure candidate (doing so would save $4.3 million) but his contract ends next year and another restructure would leave up to $10.6 million behind in dead money if he isn’t re-signed.

Other candidates for restructures or pay cuts

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The decisions involving these players don’t involve as much money as the others we’ve discussed, but they’re still important. It isn’t enough for the Saints to reach cap compliance. The team must keep it going and open up more resources to spend on veteran free agents and eventually sign their rookie draft class.

So here’s a quick look at some names to know:

  • Taysom Hill: Hill has a $15.7 million cap hit, which can be reduced by $6.5 million with a restructure. But he’s a candidate to take a pay cut. He’s always been a team player and his $10 million salary doesn’t line up with his production. Converting much of that into an incentives-based bonus could be a compromise.

  • Juwan Johnson: Johnson is entering the last year of his contract after signing a two-year deal last summer — he has a $7 million cap hit, $5.5 million of which is coming from his salary. He’s unlikely to accept a pay cut and a restructure (which could save $3.6 million) would leave dead money on the books if he leaves next year. He wasn’t as strong a fit with Derek Carr last season as hoped.

  • James Hurst: The Saints chose to not restructure Hurst’s contract when they could have last year, and now he’s due to count $6.5 million against the cap. That number can be cut in half with a restructure but the Saints can save more by just releasing him. Whether or not he’s viewed as a starter has to factor in heavily to this decision.

  • Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders: Shepherd’s $5.1 million cap hit is modest but he is a restructure candidate if the Saints really need the money (saving up to $2.2 million). Saunders is even more of an afterthought at $4.4 million with a restructure yielding minimal savings. The Saints are probably hoping to avoid touching these deals if they can help it.

Elephants in the room

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

These are some veteran players who should be discussed separately. They’re either on their way out or trending in that direction, or carrying heavy cap ramifications if let go.

  • Marshon Lattimore: The Saints restructured Lattimore’s contract in a rare move that makes it easier to trade him — later this summer, after the draft, and after the return would help them most this season. If there’s no mending what’s fractured between him and Dennis Allen, the Saints could trade Lattimore before or during training camp and save $3.9 million this year while eating $20.6 million in dead money next offseason.

  • Andrus Peat: Peat’s contract will expire at the start of free agency (and because the Saints reworked it last summer to shave off a year, they won’t get any compensatory draft picks if he leaves), leaving behind $13.6 million in dead money. Signing him to an extension would help balance that out, but what is he worth? Is it a better play to let him test the market again before cutting a deal? That’s a hard sell when doing so would be so expensive, and there’s the chance he’ll leave anyway.

  • Michael Thomas: Everything is set up for Thomas to be released and processed as a post-June 1 cut, one of two designations the Saints can make this spring. That would save them $3.4 million this year (which wouldn’t become available until June, right on time for signing their draft picks) but leave $9.1 million in dead money on the books for 2025.

  • Jameis Winston: Winston is in the same situation as Thomas after the Saints reworked his deal, so he’s expected to be their other release with a post-June 1 designation. That would result in $4.5 million in savings this summer while costing $10.6 million as dead money next year. There’s a chance Winston could return but he wants to compete for a starting job, and that won’t happen with Allen backing Derek Carr in New Orleans.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire