After making moves this offseason that signified the New Orleans Saints viewed themselves as postseason contenders, those plans have not come to fruition. Entering Week 12, the Saints are 4-7 and sitting near the bottom of the NFC Standings.
Making the Saints’ current situation more difficult is the fact they are currently over $63 million over the salary cap for 2023. At least they should have an early draft pick, right? Well…not quite.
Let’s look back at how New Orleans got here and what they can do to improve going forward.
Saints 2022 Offseason Recap
The Saints made a massive move leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft when they completed a five-for-three draft picks trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. New Orleans got two of the Eagles’ first-round draft selections plus a seventh-round pick in 2022 (16 and 19 overall) and sent away the following package:
- 2022 first-round (18 overall)
- 2022 third-round (101 overall)
- 2022 seventh-round (237 overall)
- 2023 first-round
- 2024 second-round
That’s a lot of early draft capital to give up for a team that many thought would be better served to enter a rebuilding phase.
New Orleans also spent a decent amount of free agency money on “older” players like safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, both of whom received multi-year deals.
All of these transactions amounted to the Saints’ active roster having the oldest average age at 27.38.
Don’t forget that New Orleans was also in salary cap trouble heading into 2022, forcing them to restructure several contracts. This is how you end up being $63 million over the cap for 2023, which is over $14 million more than the Buccaneers, the next closest team.
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The 2023 Playbook
If I’m the Saints, here’s what I do for 2023.
- Replace Dennis Allen.
- Trade or release a handful of the following players: Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan, Andrus Peat, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore, Nick Vannett.
- Acquire cheap free agents.
- Trade back in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
- Commit to the process.
With Dennis Allen, I believe the scientific term is “He ain’t it.” Including his 36 games in Oakland, Allen is now 11-35 as a head coach. That’s a win percentage of .239.
If Thomas, Jordan, and/or Peat are traded or released with post June 1 designations, there is $43 million in cap space that could be freed up. Making the moves after June 1 also allows the team to spread out the dead cap hits between 2023 and 2024.
The three players after that are trickier and only make sense as post June 1 trade candidates. There’s an additional $39.5 million in cap space between Ramczyk, Kamara, and Lattimore.
Nick Vannett rarely sees the field and moving on from him frees up at least $2.6 million against the cap.
Obviously New Orleans won’t be moving on from all of the non-Vannett players, but that’s where the biggest impact will be both financially and in terms of draft capital. As long as the Saints can move some of those players, they can finagle the rest to get under the salary cap.
The 2023 free agent class isn’t the strongest group, especially in regard to what makes the most sense for New Orleans. I would look to take a shot on several cheap players and see what sticks. Guys like Devin Bush, Greg Dortch, Will Hernandez, and Derek Nnadi make sense.
With no first round pick in the 2023 draft and what is likely to be an early second round selection, I’m trading back to acquire more draft capital. You need more lottery tickets.
The most important part is to just sit back and commit to being bad. The Saints clearly need an answer at quarterback but with no first round pick and no money, there’s no answer in 2023.
Put yourself in a better position for 2024 where you’ll have more cap space and a first round pick to play with. No, it’s not fun for fans to watch a non-competitive product, but playing the middle in the NFL gets you nowhere fast.
AP Photo/Don Wright