METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints created more than $10 million in salary-cap space by restructuring quarterback Drew Brees‘ contract — which has become almost an annual ritual for a team that is routinely slammed tight against the cap.
Brees, 40, will still earn $23 million in salary and bonuses this year, and he is still scheduled to become a free agent after this season.
But as the NFL Network first reported, his 2019 cap hit will drop from a league-high $33.5 million to $22.7 million. The catch is that the Saints will now have to account for a total of $21.3 million in “dead money” against the salary cap after Brees is done playing instead of just $10.5 million in dead money.
The Saints entered this offseason with somewhere between $4 million and $10 million in cap space. And they’ll need more if they’re able to land some of the big fishes they’re still considering in free agency — including Brees’ potential successor, Teddy Bridgewater.
The Saints and Miami Dolphins are competing for Bridgewater’s services after the 26-year-old quarterback visited Miami on Wednesday. The Saints also have visits scheduled with the top tight end on the market, Jared Cook, elite pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah and defensive lineman Mario Edwards, according to sources.
To carve out the additional cap space in Brees’ deal, the Saints added a automatically voiding year to the end of his contract in 2021 (they already had an automatically voiding year on the deal for 2020). And they converted part of his 2019 base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus.
The Saints have been operating this way with their salary-cap accounting for years because they have essentially been in “win-now” mode during Brees’ Hall of Fame career. The thinking is that they can catch up whenever he is done playing — though that will be harder to do in the near future, with so many young stars approaching the end of their rookie contracts. Receiver Michael Thomas, in particular, is in the final year of his deal and will likely seek close to $20 million per year in his next one.
So far this offseason, the Saints have signed veteran backup running back Latavius Murray as a slightly cheaper alternative to Mark Ingram, who left for the Baltimore Ravens. They also re-signed restricted free agent kicker Wil Lutz to one of the richest kicker contracts in NFL history and re-signed core special-teams players Craig Robertson and Chris Banjo.