The New Orleans Saints are going hard after free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and could find the salary cap resources to sign him.
Could the New Orleans Saints land Jadeveon Clowney? They’re making a spirited effort according to reports from ESPN and NFL Network, aiming to get Clowney in the building with a week to spare before their Sept. 13 season opener against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But how can they afford Clowney’s services? Mike Garafolo reported for NFL Network that the Saints have reached out to agents representing their players already under contract about restructures, which would do a lot to increase their room beneath the salary cap (currently at about $7 million, per the NFL Players Association).
Those restructures have been a common tactic for the Saints, who frequently convert large chunks of guaranteed salaries into signing bonuses to spread cap hits over future years. It requires that a player already be under contract in the next fiscal year or two to pull off, but it’s a strategy that’s worked for New Orleans against the backdrop of an always-rising salary cap.
If Clowney is still set on a per-year salary of $15 million, the Saints could accommodate him with a one-year deal featuring “ghost years” to offset the salary cap charge. This is a contract model they pioneered with Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater that relies on automatically-voided future years that exist only for cap accounting purposes. It would allow Clowney to get the money he wants now while the Saints get billed for it later.
But it’s risky when teams know the cap will be as low as $175 million in 2021, a plummet to the tune of $23.2 million. Doing restructures and writing up voided years now limits what the Saints can do later to retain star talents like Demario Davis and Alvin Kamara, but those are problems for next year.
There’s a world where Kamara gets extended and Clowney brought on board right around the same time, but it’s the equivalent to walking a tight rope at 15,000 feet. One misstep could bring everything crashing down, as happened when contracts with Jairus Byrd and Junior Galette tanked for the Saints in the mid-2010’s. They survived that stint in the darkness, and must have learned enough to think it’s worth risking again. With their window to win a Super Bowl with Brees about to slam shut, they’re sparing no expense.
So the tools are there for the Saints to make a huge splash at the end of training camp. The question seems to be whether they can successfully outbid (or at least out-recruit) competitors like the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and maybe Clowney’s last team, the Seattle Seahawks.