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CAP MASTER: An In-Depth Look at New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis’ Road Ahead in 2015

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Feb 6, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton (right) watches court side with general manager Mickey Loomis (center) and owner Tom Benson (left) during the second quarter of a game between the New Orleans Hornets and the Phoenix Suns at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you don’t know about New Orleans Saints‘ GM Mickey Loomis, you better ask somebody.  The man is a financial genius, conquering the team’s salary cap issues every offseason.

The NFL is a business, and Loomis is one of the top dogs in the league when it comes to that aspect of the game.  For those whining about the questionable draft picks, look to the scouting department, which may see some major changes after Saints’ Director of Player of Personnel Ryan Pace took the job as Chicago Bears‘ GM Thursday afternoon.

Before Pace took over that position two years ago, he was the Director of Pro Scouting for the club, assisting in the discovery of some serious talents during and after the drafts.

Back to Loomis, the brilliant budget brain of the organization may be facing one of the toughest challenges of his career this offseason.  The 2015 Saints have around $161 million committed to their cap, which is more than any other team in the NFL.

The club will take a cap hit of $26.4 million by QB Drew Brees alone.  Followed by LB Junior Galette ($15,450,000), TE Jimmy Graham and G Jahri Evans ($11 million each), and Jairus Byrd ($10.3 million), the elite free safety signed by the Saints in 2014, but spent a majority of the year on injured reserve.

Dec 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) is congratulated by quarterback Drew Brees (9) after a touchdown in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The league’s base salary cap will come in around $140 million in 2015.  Ouch — New Orleans could be in a pretty serious predicament this year, but it’s Loomis to the rescue.

The Saints’ GM spoke with the media via his 2014 end of the season press conference Tuesday morning and of course, the salary cap was a hot topic.  The Black and Gold are indeed in a tough spot after an already disappointing 7-9 performance this year, but looking at players’ contracts, Loomis thinks the team is in a better position than it was a year ago.

“There’s some mechanisms in the current contracts that really, that $26 million, $25 million that we’re over right now isn’t really that amount,” Loomis said.  It’s hard to get a precise understanding of what that really means — he was beating around the bush about almost every issue that was brought to life in that conference room Tuesday morning.

However, I think I can sum it up for you — expect to see a crowded list of cuts and various contracts restructured over the next several months to get the club back on track so they can begin making moves when free agency hits in early March.

The bright side of the Saints’ salary cap affair is that they don’t have many awaiting free agents that will do excessive damage to the team’s financial situation, and if need be, the team can simply move on.  In fact, RB Mark Ingram is really the only player who should be a priority – the rest of the guys are expendable, so in actuality, it may be not that difficult to get under the cap.

Dec 21, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) carries the ball as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) defends during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at New Orleans’ free agents for the upcoming offseason:

Unrestricted:

CB Patrick Robinson, 2014 CAP – $2,804,333

RB Mark Ingram, 2014 CAP – $2,359,875

C Jonathan Goodwin, 2014 CAP – $635,000

QB Luke McCown, 2014 CAP – $635,000

LB Ramon Humber, 2014 CAP – $635,000

LB Parys Haralson, 2014 CAP – $635,000

WR Robert Meachem, 2014 CAP – $570,000

K Shayne Graham, 2014 CAP – $570,000

DT Brandon Daedrick, 2014 CAP – $570,000

S Jamarca Sanford, 2014 CAP – $300,588

LB Moise Fokou, 2014 CAP – $201, 176

Restricted:

RB Travaris Cadet, 2014 CAP – $571,667

DE Tyrunn Walker, 2014 CAP – $571,000

OT Bryce Harris, 2014 CAP – $570,000

Again, aside from Ingram, these guys are dispensable — none of them will be a burden on the team’s budget.  However, it is vital that the front office finds a way to accommodate Ingram financially.  Nobody has rushed for more yards in a single season (2014) for the Saints since Deuce McAllister did in 2006.  Mark’s departure to another franchise, which is highly possible, would be a major blow to the offense.

Now, if things do work out, the Saints likely will begin looking towards the free agent market to repair a defense that ranked 31st in the NFL this season.  This without question is one of the most culminating free agent classes we’ve seen in a long time.

The cornerback position comes to mind — that would be the best route for New Orleans rather than gamble on a potential “day-one starter” in the draft.  Obviously, guys like Darrelle Revis and Tramon Williams are out of the question.

However, there is some very affordable talent in there that could bring major triumph to Rob Ryan’s struggling unit.  The most notable ones, in my opinion, are Perrish Cox of the San Francisco 49ers and Byron Maxwell of the Seattle Seahawks (both unrestricted).

Dec 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox (20) intercepts a pass intended for San Diego Chargers receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (16) at Levi

Cox, who is 27-years-old, finished the season first on the 49ers and fifth in the NFL with five interceptions.  He also tallied 53 combined tackles and 18 passes defended.  His cap hit in 2014 was only $695,000.  That will certainly go up in 2015 as he is well deserving of a generous contract, but he should still be affordable for Mickey Loomis and the Saints.

Maxwell, 26, completed his 2014 regular season campaign with 39 combined tackles, two interceptions, 12 passes defended and a forced fumble in just 13 games played (12 starts).  He will likely be even more affordable than Cox.  Regardless, both have intriguing upside as long-term options in the Big Easy.

Oct 6, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell (41) lines up against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In my opinion, cornerbacks are one of the toughest positions to fill via the NFL Draft.  Why?  Because, cornerback is the toughest position to master, and Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and the rest of the front office know that.  That’s why looking towards free agency for a proven talent will be key this offseason.

But, first thing’s first — the salary cap problem must be solved.  It will get complicated, it may get ugly and it could break some hearts, but that’s all part of the business.  There lies a tough road ahead for Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans Saints, but the players and fans are lucky to have him in their company.  It will indeed be an interesting offseason for the Who Dat Nation.

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