The New Orleans Saints need to release Brodrick Bunkley. There I said it.
Come on! You were thinking it too! Between Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins and a potential later round draft pick, the Saints will have more than enough beef to hold up in the middle of the defensive line in 2014.
Mickey Loomis is a cap wizard—and if we’re being honest, probably something closer to a thief. That he was able to bring in former Bills safety Jairus Byrd and still pay the three-time Pro Bowler his desired $9 million per year is the epitome of wizardry.
Still, the move left the Saints tighter against the salary cap limit than skinny jeans on a hipster. There is almost literally zero wiggle room. It was reported Wednesday that Byrd’s 2014 cap figure will be the exact $3.25 million that the now departed Darren Sproles’ would have been.
Sproles is now gone, having been sent to Philadelphia in exchange for a fifth round pick as first reported by CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora. The Saints obviously don’t have much leverage since teams knew they could sign him once he hit the open market, without giving up anything for his services.
The educated fan knows the Saints were rather desperate to trade him, as that would chop off all of Sproles’ cap figure. Releasing him would have forced the Saints to carry some dead money on their cap in 2014.
But in some ways the result does not matter. With the move the Saints guaranteed themselves they are under the cap. But either way, Bunkley will still need to be released or significantly restructured. The defensive tackle’s 2014 cap hit is $6.12 million. In fact, it is that same figure for the next three seasons.
Unfortunately for Bunkley, he simply isn’t worth that much money. As with a release of Sproles, cutting Bunkley would leave some dead money. Keeping him at say $1 million per year in capped salary would do two important things.
It would allow the Saints to get adequate production from a backup at a good price. As important is the fact the Saints would regain $5 million in cap space which it could use likely to combine for two players—either a potential No. 2 cornerback to team opposite Keenan Lewis, a rotational pass-rusher to play the rush linebacker spot such as former Rob Ryan protégé Anthony Spencer and/or to re-sign Zach Strief or a wide receiver to take Joseph Morgan’s spot.
In other words, the Saints made themselves a better football team by bringing in Jairus Byrd; there is no doubt. But holes are still aplenty. Truth be told, restructuring the contracts of overrated guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans (Evans being the more overrated of the two) seems mandatory, even if a Bunkley restructure is done in the way I’ve proposed.
Evans has a cap hit of $11 million this year. Considering he shouldn’t have even been a Pro Bowler this past season, that is exorbitant. Grubbs’ $9.1 million isn’t much better, though of the two he is the better player right now. In my mind, both need to come below the $8 million range, which would save the Saints an additional $5 million in 2014.
With approximately $10 million extra in cap space (and believe me I realize it’s more complicated than I’m making it sound), a rotational outside linebacker, corner to compete for a starting spot, re-signing Strief and bringing in one more offensive weapon actually seems dare I say it, doable.
Then again, the Saints would be wise to simply rely on the draft—especially in a year which most analysts believe the class is as deep and talented as any in recent memory. There will be good starters to be had in round three. Yes, there are always are a few in each draft. But teams will be expecting a lot from some third rounders come opening day 2014.
Because the new CBA caps rookie salaries, yet maintains a rookie cash pool for teams, the draft is a great place to find immediate starting talent without taking a cap hit. In 2013 the Saints did a great job of that in the draft.
Mickey Loomis, Ryan Pace and the rest of the Saints scouting department will be looking to replicate their success once again. Because let’s face it, restructuring the aforementioned contracts would be ideal, but may not come about. And even if it does, it may be too late to bring in the right players as free agents who are a good fit for Sean Payton’s and Rob Ryan’s schemes.
All salary information provided by spotrac.com.