The New Orleans Saints went into free agency in March with virtually no cap room.
They were able to pull this off because of two things: 1) they backloaded the money in Byrd’s contract, which could be crippling down the line, but lets them stay under the salary cap this year, and 2) they traded, cut, or let a number of role players leave in free agency.
The Saints went all in. They decided Drew Brees only has a few years left, the roster is good enough now to compete for a Super Bowl, and the window for this team to win it all is rapidly closing. So they went for it and signed Byrd, salary cap be damned.
Now they’re 1-3 after getting destroyed by the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. History says 1-3 teams miss the playoffs 85% of the time. To make matters worse, some of the role players they were forced to let go of are playing exceptionally well.
Here are the main guys they let leave. Some of them are tearing it up elsewhere:
- Darren Sproles, running back (traded) — Traded for a 5th-round pick. Now ranks 6th in the NFL in total yardage for the Philadelphia Eagles, with three touchdowns.
- Malcolm Jenkins, safety (free agency) — Signed with the Eagles for three years, $US16.5 million. Has three interceptions in four games and a touchdown.
- Lance Moore, wide receiver (cut) — Signed with Pittsburgh. Injured for much of training camp but he’s making his way back.
- Brian de la Puente, center (free agency) — Signed with Chicago. Started three of four games.
- Roman Harper, safety (cut) — Signed with Carolina. Started all four games, with one touchdown.
They lost depth and productivity at a number of key positions. None of these guys are stars (although Sproles is playing like one now), but they matter. It hurts that they have to play Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas when starting running back Mark Ingram got hurt instead of someone like Sproles.
There’s also an opportunity cost here. Safety wasn’t exactly the most pressing need for New Orleans going into the offseason, cornerback was. Instead of keeping Jenkins and paying a starting-level cornerback a decent salary, the Saints paid Byrd $US54 million and took a flyer on Champ Bailey. When Bailey was promptly cut, they were left with a hole at one of the league’s most important positions.
Because of the way the Byrd deal is structured, the Saints are going to be in salary cap hell for the foreseeable future. They already have $160 million in cap dollars committed for 2015, and $US140 million committed for 2016. For better or worse, this is the team they have to work with for the next few years.
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