While the New Orleans Saints are still in the middle of their playoff push, the team could look drastically different in 2021. Due to numerous Saints players becoming free agents in 2021, New Orleans faces a tumultuous upcoming free agency period. The issue will be the dire straights the team has placed itself in regards to the NFL salary cap.
New Orleans needs to go for broke before free agency hits in 2021
The window for the New Orleans Saints is closing fast. Ending the season 12-4 as the second seed in the playoffs, they need to win and do it now.
There is a legitimate chance that longtime QB Drew Brees could be playing in his final season. Having turned 43 on Friday, Brees has shown a rather noticeable decline this season. Having held the team’s position for 15 years, Brees leaves a gaping hole on the offensive side of the ball should he leave.
Head coach Sean Payton has suggested multiple times that the next QB is “in the building,” likely referring to do-it-all athlete Taysom Hill. The Saints went 3-1 with Hill under center between Week 11 and Week 14.
Amazingly, potentially losing a first-ballot Hall of Fame QB isn’t even the biggest issue facing the team. It’s the salary cap crisis of 2021.
New Orleans has the worst projected cap space in the NFL for 2021
General manager Mickey Loomis and vice president Khai Harley have become masters of pushing cap costs into future years. A practice that benefited the team, thanks to a cap that increased by more than $10 million per year in the past seven years. However, they did not prepare for the odyssey of 2020 and its impact on the salary cap for 2021.
As of now, the NFL’s salary cap is projected to drop to $176 million for the 2021 season. According to Over The Cap, the New Orleans Saints are estimated to be over the 2021 salary cap by $95 million. A figure that is as high as the next three teams combined.
Drew Brees renegotiated his contract this offseason to reduce his salary to the league minimum ($1.075 million). Therefore, his current cap hit is $12.225 million entering the 2021 league year. Brees retiring before the new league year would actually increase the Saints’ salary cap by $10.425 million. This is because the prorated bonus ($5.75 million per year) in his void years would accelerate onto the salary cap in 2021. In contrast, if the Saints do not designate Brees as retired until post-June 1, they would save $1.075 million in 2021. The Saints would then be left with $11.5 million in dead money in 2022.
Several players could find themselves cap casualties in 2021. CB Janoris Jenkins and LB Kwon Alexander seem to be obvious cuts for the Saints. Combined, they would save around $20 million in cap space.
Because of the cap constraints, the Saints are limited in what they can do with their current players becoming free agents in 2021.
The Saints need to find a way to bring back some key players in free agency
Just because things are bleak does not mean that New Orleans can sit on their hands and do nothing. The free agency period in 2021 will be critical for them to maintain the success they have seen that led them to the playoffs for four-straight seasons.
The Saints need to bring back 2021 free agent Trey Hendrickson
Hendrickson must be a top priority for the Saints to re-sign after the season comes to an end. Playing in 15 games, Hendrickson led the team with 13.5 sacks, tied with Aaron Donald for second in the NFL. Additionally, he was first on the team in QB hits with 25. Paired with Cameron Jordan, the duo has been incredible off the edge, and one of the reasons the Saints are in the position they are currently.
At only 26 years old, Hendrickson can get a multi-year deal, and the Saints don’t need to worry about the latter-half production. A franchise tag could be an option, but the best case for both sides is a longer deal. If they can work out a way to get this done in the 2021 free agency period remains to be seen.
Even if not “the guy,” Jameis Winston shouldn’t be lost in the 2021 free agency shuffle for the Saints
The last thing any of the 31 other NFL teams saw was Jameis Winston throwing a pick-six on his final play of the 2019 season. On that final throw, Winston made history. He became the first QB to throw for 30 interceptions in a season since Vinny Testaverde threw 35 for the Buccaneers back in 1988. That might end up being a good thing for the Saints.
Hear me out on this one. In those four games where Drew Brees was out while dealing with 11 broken ribs, what would have happened if they put in Jameis Winston and he played well? Would teams think that he got his master class from Payton and Brees and was a reformed passer? How much could that have increased his value as he only signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal to join the team?
Winston could end up being a free agency bargain for the Saints. No one in the NFL knows how much Winston has improved than the Saints. Having a QB who knows your system and can maintain momentum is a precious commodity.
Don’t get me wrong, Winston turned the ball over a ton, but he also threw for 121 touchdowns and 19,737 yards in five seasons. With Drew Brees likely hanging it up, keeping Winston in the fold needs to happen. In the NFL, the most successful teams win with underpaid quarterbacks (in most circumstances). No one needs an underpaid QB who can perform more than the New Orleans Saints.
New Orleans Saints 2021 Offensive Free Agents
- TE Jared Cook, 34
- QB Jameis Winston, 27
- RB Ty Montgomery, 28
- FB Michael Burton, 29
- RB Dwayne Washington, 27
- T James Hurst, 29
- WR Bennie Fowler, 30
- C Cameron Tom, 26
- WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, 23
- WR Jake Kumerow, 29
New Orleans Saints 2021 Defensive Free Agents
- DT Sheldon Rankins, 27
- LB Craig Robertson, 33
- CB P.J. Williams, 28
- S Marcus Williams, 24
- CB Justin Hardee, 27
- CB Johnson Bademosi, 31
- S D.J. Swearinger, 30
- CB Ken Crawley, 28
- DE Noah Spence, 27
- LB Alex Anzalone, 26
- DE Trey Hendrickson, 26
- S J.T. Gray, 25
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