Saints kick off 2024 salary cap gymnastics with Marshon Lattimore contract restructure

So this is interesting — the New Orleans Saints are getting an early start on their 2024 salary cap maneuvering by restructuring their contract with Marshon Lattimore. Per ESPN’s Field Yates, the Saints reduced Lattimore’s $15 million base salary (which was already guaranteed for injury) down to the veteran minimum and are paying out the difference in a $13.79 million option bonus.

That quick move saved them more than $11 million against the cap next season. The Saints must reach salary cap compliance no later than March 13, the start of free agency, so it makes sense to get a jump on it now.

But is this the only move left with Lattimore in mind? Injuries have limited the all-star cornerback to just 17 games over the last two years, and his backup Isaac Yiadom has played at a very high level opposite Paulson Adebo (who will be up for a contract extension in the next year or two). Alontae Taylor has had a rough year playing out of position in the slot, so moving Lattimore could either keep Yiadom in the lineup or move Taylor back where he’s played his best football. For a team that has plenty of talent in the secondary and few draft picks, trading Lattimore might make sense.

So how would a trade work? Trading Lattimore before June 1, 2024 isn’t an option after this restructure; they would be paying more than $30.4 million in dead money by trading him so soon. But trading Lattimore on or after June 2 would defer some costs to 2025. The Saints would only save $1.2 million by trading him (the veteran’s minimum salary, which his new team would pay) but they would be left with dead money hits of $13.4 million in 2024 and 2025.

If that still sounds like a lot of money (and, sure, it is), look at the Los Angeles Rams. They traded star cornerback Jalen Ramsey (two years’ Lattimore’s senior) to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a player and a third-round pick while paying $19.6 million in dead money this season. Maybe the Saints view this as a similar situation where they can get better compensation for a younger player at the same position.

Of course the catch is that the Saints would have to keep Lattimore on their roster through free agency and the 2024 draft with his new $14.6 million cap hit before trading him. They wouldn’t get any current-year draft compensation for trading him to a new team. But they could get a pick in 2025, and rostering him through the spring at $14.6 million is easier to work around than the $30 million-plus figure he had before this restructure.

Does the mean the Saints are for sure going to trade Lattimore? Probably not. They had to restructure his contract regardless of his future with the team just to help reach salary cap compliance. This move was coming anyway. But there are enough other factors at play — the lack of draft picks, the abundance of options at cornerback, and his injury history — that we can’t rule it out right away. It’s something to monitor in what’s shaping up to be another busy Saints offseason.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire