How Saints, $42 million over salary cap, can free up space

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints are projected to be about $42 million over the 2024 NFL salary cap of $255.4 million.

The new salary cap ceiling was officially announced on Feb. 23. It is an increase of $30.6 million from 2023 and more than $10 million over salary cap projections from January.

That's good news for the Saints, who have started their annual work to get salary cap compliant. They must be under the new cap by March 13 when the new league year begins. New Orleans typically becomes compliant each offseason through a series of restructures, releases and pay cuts. The Saints will also need to free up more space to sign free agents and draft picks, put together a practice squad and function throughout the regular season.

Only the top 51 contracts count against the salary cap in the offseason, and the Saints currently have about $297.5 million in contract commitments for the 2024 offseason.

Here's how they can get under the cap:

Moves the Saints have already made

Restructured DT Nathan Shepherd - Feb. 24, 2024

The Saints restructured Nathan Shepherd's contract on Feb. 24, a source told ESPN's Field Yates.

By converting most of his 2024 base salary into a signing bonus, the Saints saved $2.82 million against the 2024 salary cap.

Savings: $2.82 million

Restructured QB Derek Carr - Feb. 23, 2024

The Saints restructured Derek Carr's contract on Feb. 23, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Carr is entering the second season of the $150 million contract he signed last year and his $30 million base salary was already guaranteed.

By reducing his 2024 base to the veteran minimum and spreading it out, the Saints can save $23 million against the 2024 salary cap.

Savings: $23 million

Restructured C Erik McCoy - Feb. 21, 2024

The Saints reduced McCoy's $9.6 million base salary to the veteran minimum, added a 2028 void year and converted his $500,000 roster bonus to a signing bonus, spreading it out over five years.

Savings: $7.18 million

Temporarily restructured CB Marshon Lattimore - Dec. 29, 2023

The Saints temporarily freed up $11 million in space by turning $13.79 million of Lattimore's 2024 base salary into an option bonus.

That frees up $11 million for the Saints to use in free agency and gives them the flexibility to trade Lattimore if they wish, although any move would likely not happen until after June 1 for more cap savings.

Lattimore will get his full base salary in any circumstance, as his converted contract calls for him to get the remaining $13.79 million whether or not the option is exercised.

Savings: $11.032 million

Moves the Saints could make

Restructure Ryan Ramczyk

Ramczyk's knee injuries are certainly concerning, but unless he chooses to retire after June 1, then the biggest avenue to open up cap space is to restructure it and hope they can find a solution to the problem.

A full restructure would save $11.8 million against the cap this season. The Saints could also add another void year to spread out the money even more, but that seems unlikely with Ramczyk's health status uncertain.

Savings: $11.84 million

Restructure Cameron Jordan

Jordan will be 35 going in the 2024 season and coming off a difficult season where he had only two sacks and several injuries. His $27 million cap hit is the second-highest on the team in 2024, so the Saints have to find some way to reduce that number.

Jordan has a $6.7 million roster bonus due this year in addition to his $6.3 million base salary. Converting both to signing bonuses and spreading out over five seasons will open up $13.8 million.

Savings: $13.8 million

Restructure Demario Davis

Davis will turn 35 this season, which could make extensions tricky at this point in his career. This is the final season of Davis' contract, with three void years left.

If the Saints do a simple restructure, they'll turn most of his base salary and his $2 million roster bonus into a signing bonus and spread it out over the remaining void years. The Saints can also add another void year for more savings.

Savings: $8.095 million

Restructure Carl Granderson

Granderson has a $9 million roster bonus due after the league year begins. That can be converted into a signing bonus, spread out over five years and lower his cap number from $12.45 million to $5.25 million.

Savings: $7.2 million

Restructure Cesar Ruiz

The Saints purposely built in an $8 million roster bonus when they signed Ruiz to an extension last year. That will be converted into a signing bonus and spread out over five years, knocking his 2024 cap hit down from $10.85 million to $4.45 million.

Savings: $6.4 million

Release S Marcus Maye

Maye has played in only 12 total games since he signed with the Saints as a free agent in 2022. Maye is due $7 million in base salary in 2024, the final season of his contract, which is significant for his age (30), performance and availability.

The Saints could save money by releasing Maye and moving on to a younger player, like 2023 fifth-round draft pick Jordan Howden.

Savings: $1.1 million

Extend Andrus Peat

Peat took a pay cut in 2023, reducing his $11.825 million base salary to $1.5 million and receiving a roster bonus of $4 million, for a total pay reduction of $6.3 million. That saved the Saints $9.5 million against the salary cap.

Peat's contract is set to void in the offseason, and it will cost the Saints $13.6 million against the salary cap if it does.

While Peat initially lost his starting job at left guard after returning on the reduced contract, he proved he still has value after subbing in at left tackle when Trevor Penning was benched.

If the Saints were able to re-sign Peat on a one-year deal at the same salary ($1.5 million, $4 million signing bonus), they could reduce his salary cap hit to $9.846 million, saving $3.792 million and keeping him on the roster.

There would be a lot of variables involved, such as what position Peat plays in 2024 and how much the Saints value keeping him vs. letting him test the market.

Additionally, they could structure the contract in different ways, so this number is just an estimate.

Potential savings: $3.792 million or more

Trade or restructure Alvin Kamara

Kamara turns 29 at the beginning of the season and is coming off a year in which he had the fewest yards from scrimmage (1,160) total of his career. His average salary of $15 million a year ranks second in the NFL behind San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey.

If the Saints restructured Kamara's contract this offseason, it will free up $8 million but result in a significant dead money hit in 2025 if they choose to move on next year.

Trading him would free up his $10.2 million base salary and $1.6 million in bonuses, but would only save $1.5 million against the cap. It would also leave the Saints in a precarious situation at running back after rookie Kendre Miller spent most of the season hurt and Jamaal Williams averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

Potential restructure savings: $8 million

Potential trade savings: $1.5 million

Release Michael Thomas as a Post June 1 cut

The Saints won't be able to use a Thomas or Winston release to get compliant at the start of the new league year, as they'll both have to be on the roster that day to be labeled Post June 1 cut. However, they can use the cuts to open up space for later moves.

If Thomas is designated as a Post June 1 cut, the Saints will get his $1.21 million base salary back after that date.

Savings: $1.21 million

Release Jameis Winston as a Post June 1 cut

Winston recently restructured his contract in a way that would allow the Saints to release him as a Post June 1 cut and spread out his salary cap hit. He said that he still wants to be a starting quarterback somewhere, and it doesn't look like there's a path to doing that in New Orleans.

The Saints will get Winston's $1.21 million base salary credited back after June 1.

Savings: $1.21 million

Other savings: A pay cut for Taysom Hill?

Approaching players for pay cuts has been part of the Saints strategy for a while. Peat, Thomas and Winston both took pay cuts to return in 2024. Former kicker Wil Lutz took a pay cut in the 2023 offseason, but he was traded after training camp that year.

Players who take pay cuts are usually players who would be released at their current salary and would not be able to find similar compensation elsewhere.

Hill is still highly productive in his unique role for the Saints, and he has led all players (other than the starting quarterbacks) for the last three seasons.

The Saints could likely open up several million in cap space if Hill agrees to a pay cut to return in 2024.