AFR: Potential Saints' salary cap casualties

AFR: Potential Saints' salary cap casualties

According to NFLPA records, the Saints roster stands at 52 players with their salary cap at $158.1 million. Projections have the cap in 2016 in the neighborhood of $150-$153 million. Thus, as of today, the Saints sit around $5-8 million north the cap. To get below the threshold the Saints will have to do their normal offseason moves of either releasing, restructuring or extending certain players.

In this entry, we examine who could be on the salary cap chopping block. (credit:

CJ Spiller

Cap Number: $4.5M

Dead Money: $3.75 M

Cap Savings: $750,000

Spiller is just not the fit the Saints thought he would be for this offense. However, his contract puts the Saints in a very tight spot in letting him go. Spiller also has a $1.55 million roster bonus meaning the Saints could shave down his 2016 cap hit by about a million or so if they convert that to a signing bonus.

Prediction: Spiller's contract allows him to survive one more year.

Zach Strief

Cap Number: $4.53M

Dead Money: $3.3 M

Cap Savings: $1.3M

Strief has $2.4 million available to him in roster/gameday bonuses in 2016. There's a reason that was placed there. Clearly, they wanted to make sure he was still capable at age 32 of doing the job. On one hand, I can understand if the Saints decided it was time to part ways with the ten-year veteran with Andrus Peat waiting in the wings. However, Strief wants to finish his career here in New Orleans. Of all the potential moves, he would be the one player I could see taking a substantial paycut to return to New Orleans and return back to his old '64 reports eligible' role.

Prediction: Strief understands the reality of the business. He realizes the club's future plans and will return to the Saints at a reduced rate.

Jahri Evans

Cap Number: $8.2M

Dead Money: $7.1M

Cap Savings: $1.1M

Another 2006 player who may be close to the end with the only team he's ever played for. Evans has been banged up a lot this year and while he's been a perennial all-Pro and Pro Bowl player, it's clear his best days are behind him. However, the dead money is seven times the actual savings they would gain by cutting him. Thus, I think he survives one more year.

Prediction: Evans' dead money is too high. He returns in 2016.

Brandon Browner

Cap Number: $6.3M

Dead Money: $5.35M

Cap Savings: $950,000

Another bad fit and bad signing.  However, do the Saints really want to take on $5.3 million in dead money just to save 950K? I don't see it. Browner has up to $2.25 million in roster/gameday bonuses available. Should the Saints keep him, they could consider converting that into a signing bonus to spread over the final two years of the deal to trim his cap number. A post- June 1st cut is always an option as well.

Prediction: Fans may not like it, but I think Browner returns in 2016.

Dannelle Ellerbe

Cap Number: $5.9M

Dead Money: $1.4 M

Cap Savings: $4.5 M

A player that made a true impact when he was on the field. But therein lies the problem. He only played six games. The Saints can gain significant cap space if they jettison his contract.

Prediction: Ellerbe does not return in 2016.

Thomas Morstead

Cap Number: $4.45M

Dead Money: $1.2M

Cap Savings: $3.25 M

Morstead has been a weapon for this team since he arrived in 2009. The problem is his price tag balloons significantly in 2016 and one can reasonably think they can get somewhere close to his production at a much cheaper price. I don't think this is a slam dunk decision but I think it's a consideration. A base salary conversion where the Saints convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus and spread it out over the final three years of his deal is also an option.

Prediction: Too close to call. I think Payton truly values Morstead's skill set, but there are financial issues with his contract.

Marques Colston

Cap number: $5.9M

Dead Money: $2.7 M

Cap Savings: $3.2 M

Colston's body has taken a beating in his ten years in New Orleans. In fact, I was told on the final blow he took against Jacksonville, he was spitting blood on the field. He posted career lows in receptions and yards in 2015. With a $5.9M cap hit, he'll be tough to bring back in 2016.

Prediction: Toughest cut of all. Colston does not return in 2016.

David Hawthorne

Cap Number: $4.51M

Dead Money: $2.26M

Cap Savings: $2.25M

Hawthorne has battled health issues and wasn't very productive when he was healthy. Hawthorne took a pay cut to remain with the Saints in 2015. He likely won't have that same option in 2016.

Prediction: Easiest call of this group. It's time to part ways with Hawthorne.

Final Analysis:

Unlike last year, I don't think we'll see a major offseason shakeup from the Saints.  Reading between the lines at Sean Payton's press conference, it appeared to me the Saints will not be taking on a ton of dead money nor will they be kicking the can down the road with a lot of restructured contracts. Modest cuts/restructures will be made with an emphasis on the draft and bargain-shopping free agency.