How the New Orleans Saints can defy the 2016 salary cap

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Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints owners Gayle Benson and Tom Benson with general manager Mickey Loomis before a preseason game against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve heard the same story for almost five years now:  the New Orleans Saints are locked in the deepest circles of NFL “salary cap hell.” General manager Mickey Loomis cleverly manipulated contracts to account for the rising salary cap to sign players to groundbreaking deals.  This ran against the conventional wisdom of putting guaranteed cash in the earlier years rather than later.

Loomis compounded this with annual restructures to “kick the can down the road”, increasing those salary cap charges as time wore on.  So as long as players were performing at a high level and the team was winning games, it was fine and following his plan.

This all blew up in our faces when bad behavior (Junior Galette), ill-timed injuries (Jairus Byrd), poor play (Ben Grubbs, Curtis Lofton), and locker room negativity (Jimmy Graham) turned into bad investments and huge amounts of dead money.  The Saints are paying tens of millions of dollars to players no longer on the team or who have missed time to injuries.  Some of it is bad luck, but most of it is due to miscalculating risks.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the front office in New Orleans has struggled to communicate with the coaching staff.  Look at all the rookies who were drafted as developmental projects that stalled and went nowhere like Stanley Jean-Baptiste (now with Detroit Lions), Rufus Johnson, Akiem Hicks, and Rob Ninkovich (New England Patriots), Corey White (of the Dallas Cowboys), and even Patrick Robinson (a San Diego Charger) and Malcolm Jenkins (starting for the Philadelphia Eagles).  Rather than coach up these young players and get them in position to win, this team has squandered draft picks.

That looks to have changed now that Jeff Ireland is in the building; the respected talent evaluator had to have questioned Sean Payton about why so many mediocre veterans were given such high snap counts.  That’s changed in 2015 with five rookies in the top eleven leaders in defensive snaps.

Next: Getting out of Salary Cap Hell