Saints, Mickey Loomis know what they’re doing when they kick the can down the road
We seem to hear the same thing about this time every year.
It is spoken on television and radio as well as in friendly conversations.
It is written about on the Internet and in newspapers.
“The Saints can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” the warning begins.
Then comes the dire prediction: “One year soon the bill is going to come due and it’ll take them years to recover.”
Chicken Littles have been saying this for at least a decade.
But it sure looks like the Saints can indeed kick that can down the road.
And keep kicking it.
They have won four consecutive NFC South titles, so they haven’t eaten any balloon payments recently.
It’s true that this recent run was preceded by three straight 7-9 seasons (2014-2016), but the primary causes of that drop-off were poor drafts (Stanley Jean-Batiste, Stephone Anthony, Garrett Grayson, etc.) and misses on some high-priced free agents (Jairus Byrd, Brandon Browne, C.J. Spiller, etc.).
Sure, along the way the Saints have had to make personnel decisions that they would have preferred not to make just because they needed the savings to get under the salary cap.
That’s true of all good organizations.
Any organization that is routinely tens of millions of dollars under the salary cap is going to field one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Really good NFL players are expensive. The really good organizations spend what is necessary to get and retain enough of them to have the kind of success the Saints have had since Sean Payton arrived in 2006.
The job of executives and coaches is to spend what is practical and necessary to be successful in each season. That requires carefully handling the current needs without mortgaging the future.
The Saints are good at this.
Sure this off-season is especially challenging for the Saints as it is for everyone else because of economic difficulties borne of COVID-related reductions in revenue.
The salary cap this season went down 8 percent compared to the norm of going up about 7 percent annually.
So everyone has significantly less room under the cap than they anticipated when they made their money decisions a year ago.
For the Saints that meant getting rid of more than $100 million in cap dollars before the start of the new NFL year next Wednesday. They are 80 percent or so of the way there.
They have lost important players who will be difficult to replace without a significant drop-off – Janoris Jenkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Thomas Morstead, Jared Cook, Josh Hill, Kwon Alexander, perhaps Malcolm Brown and probably others to come.
Loomis has placed the franchise tag on Marcus Williams and adjusted the numbers of several players such as Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Andrus Peat, Wil Lutz and Malcolm Jenkins.
Certainly several of these transactions would have been necessary even if this were an ordinary cap year. That’s the price of doing business perennially pressed up against the cap.
The relief gained from those adjustments and others will have to be addressed in the next year or two.
The can has been kicked down the road again.
That’s how this thing works.
The Saints have a lot of work to do if they’re going to have an opportunity to win a fifth consecutive division title.
It’s not just because the reigning Super Bowl champion in Tampa Bay is in the NFC South and because Drew Brees likely will retire before next season.
It’s also because even though the Saints have managed to avoid gutting the roster, they do have to replace several significant contributors and replace others in order to complete the roster.
That will require them being judicious and astute in signing free agents because they won’t have much money to spend.
It will require smart drafting and perhaps finding multiple hidden gems among players who go undrafted.
It will require effective player development so that young players are able to thrive in expanded roles that inevitably will be thrust upon them next season.
All of that will fall on the personnel staff and the coaching staff, both of which have pretty good track records.
But as for getting the salary cap in order, we can stop the wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth and clutching of pearls.
If you have to kick the can down the road – which is essentially unavoidable to remain among the perennially most successful teams in the NFL – it’s good to have Mickey Loomis leading your team.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…