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They took a long, winding road to get here, but the New Orleans Saints have done it: they’re finally in the clear against the 2021 salary cap. And they’re doing well. Right now, Over The Cap ranks the Saints 15th leaguewide with $11,379,424 in open cap space — a figure that places second-best among last season’s NFC playoff teams.
Only the Washington Football Team has more resources ($16,651,600) to work with, and they barely count. Remember, they won the sorry NFC East with a 7-9 record and were quickly bounced out of the wild-card round. As for AFC playoff squads, the Pittsburgh Steelers ($13,139,993), Indianapolis Colts ($14,283,749), and Cleveland Browns ($20,599,863) have more cash to throw around. Only the Steelers won their division last year.
So what should the Saints do with all this unused cap space? They should wade into the free agent market and start adding veteran talent at a discount, much like the Steelers, who have signed former Chargers pass rusher Melvin Ingram and ex-Cowboys offensive lineman Chaz Green. Both of those additions are adding experienced depth to the roster, and it’s a model the Saints should adopt.
Especially given New Orleans’ vulnerabilities. They needed help at defensive tackle even before David Onyemata was suspended for six games, and they still don’t have anyone they can start with confidence at cornerback opposite Marshon Lattimore (or in relief for him, if he’s suspended following an offseason arrest). Another receiver to help replace Emmanuel Sanders would be welcome, too. There are some options available out in free agency but they are, by and large, more like one-year Band-Aids rather than long-term fixes. The Saints can improve; fans just need to keep expectations limited.
And with just 85 of 90 offseason roster spots filled, the Saints can add help without cutting anyone. That flexibility is going to be important once training camp kicks off and the veteran free agents still looking for work begin to accept below-market deals. It’ll be easier for New Orleans to pick up players than rival teams who have to let go of others to make room.
So it’s interesting to note that the Saints and Steelers are the only teams in the NFL to win a dozen or more games last year (and their divisions) while going into training camp with $11 million or more in cap space. Like Pittsburgh, New Orleans has kept its starting lineup largely intact. Let’s see if they can find more ways to improve before the first practice session.