How the New Orleans Saints can defy the 2016 salary cap

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Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson (29) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Holding onto Assets

One of the first stages of free agency will be the Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender period.  Teams will be able to offer differently-valued tenders to players with the RFA designation.  If the RFA-designated players sign the tender they will play on a one-year contract at that amount.  If another team wants to sign the RFA to a long-term contract, the first team can opt to match it or accept compensation from the second team.

Next year’s RFA tender amounts will continue increasing in value.  The most-valuable tender (which is rarely used) is the First Round RFA Tender:  it will be worth about $3.474 million in 2016, and teams that want to counter it with a long-term contract offer will have to forfeit their first round draft pick in 2016.

The same is true of the more common Second Round RFA Tender, which should be valued around $2.478 million.

The option used most often is the Original Round RFA Tender, which projects to $1.664 million but forfeits a draft pick in whichever round that player was first chosen.  This works well for former undrafted free agents, as their suitors will not have to give up a draft pick while their first team will have the right of first refusal.  It is not ideal for the first team because they get no compensation if the player walks.

The Saints have a handful of notable players who will be RFA’s next spring:  interior offensive linemen Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete, halfback Khiry Robinson, fullback Austin Johnson, and tight end Josh Hill.  If the Saints were to issue Original Round RFA Tenders to all of those players, it would cost them about $6.65 million.  I do not expect all five to receive tenders from the Saints (for varying reasons), but probably three will.  That will be a salary cap charge of $4.9 million, which is much more reasonable.

Once that is added to the equation, we can see that the New Orleans Saints should have about $17.1 million in salary cap space with which to pursue veteran free agents from around the NFL.

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