The New Orleans Saints kicked off their bye week by filing a series of roster moves, releasing multiple players from their 53-man roster and practice squad while cycling in a couple of new additions. That paved the way for several starters to return from injuries in the next couple of weeks, but it also carried salary cap implications.
New Orleans was very, very tight to the cap before this. Now they’re estimated to have $1.87 million in cap space by Over The Cap and $1.13 million by Spotrac, with the NFLPA listing $1.3 million. That’s still not much to work with, but we need to remember cap relief is on the way as players get healthy.
In-season salary cap accounting must consider all 53 players on the roster as well as the practice squad and injured reserve lists. The Saints have $12.74 million tied up to players on injured reserve, with the largest cap hits committed to Marcus Davenport ($3.28 million), Wil Lutz ($2.96 million), Tre’Quan Smith ($1.43 million), and Nick Vannett ($1.3 million). Another $10.1 million goes to Michael Thomas on the PUP list with $5.33 million tied to David Onyemata, who is suspended for two more weeks.
Every one of those players returning to the 53-man roster will push another player off of it, freeing up cap space a couple hundred thousand dollars at a time. A few of them will return to the practice squad where cap hits are miniscule — for example, Kenny Stills’ cap number jumped from $238,000 to $661,111 after being promoted to the 53-man roster.
Here’s where things get interesting. The NFL’s trade deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 2, and if the Saints return all of the players we’re expecting from injuries and suspensions (while bringing a handful back to the practice squad) they’ll have close to $6.9 million in cap space at that time. That’s enough to make a move or two if they’re so inclined.
With two games to play before the deadline after a week of self-scouting, the Saints should have a good idea of where they can improve. In-season trades typically only account for a player’s remaining salary; for example, and this is purely a name I drew out of a hat, if the Saints were to acquire Odell Beckham Jr. at the trade deadline they’d be on the hook for roughly $7.6 million in his remaining salary for the year, which could be restructured slightly to better fit under the cap. The same mechanism applies to any other player they could trade for.
New Orleans still has plenty of draft picks in the next few years, with a number of compensatory picks expected to be awarded in the spring. It’s unclear how aggressively they’ll be in exploring the trade market, if at all, after having already made a trade for Bradley Roby early this season. But the salary cap shouldn’t be a significant hurdle at the trade deadline.
Let’s circle back with a schedule of key dates to know moving forward (remember, being eligible to return and being healthy and cleared to play are not the same thing):
Oct. 19: WR Michael Thomas eligible to return from PUP list
Oct. 20: Seven players eligible to return from injured reserve
Oct. 25: Saints at Seattle Seahawks
Oct. 26: DT David Onyemata eligible to return from suspension
Oct. 27: RB Tony Jones Jr. eligible to return from injured reserve
Oct. 31: Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nov. 2: NFL trade deadline