METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have become masters at manipulating the salary cap in recent years to keep pushing cap charges into the future.
The practice has drawn plenty of criticism for being short-sighted -- like signing up for a new credit card to pay off an old one. But the way the Saints figure it, they can catch up whenever Drew Brees is no longer on the books. They'll probably be in rebuilding mode then, anyway. And this allows them to stay competitive while Brees is still behind center.
Well, the Saints just doubled down on that theory with Brees' new contract. ... More like quadrupled down.
By structuring Brees' deal in an unusual way (the Saints added three automatically-voiding years from 2018-2020), the Saints pushed $18 million of Brees' salary-cap costs into 2018 -- even if he's no longer on the roster.
In the meantime, the Saints are now on pace to enter the 2017 offseason with more than $30 million in salary-cap space.
Here's how it works:
Brees' 2016 salary-cap figure dropped from a NFL-high $30 million to $17.25 million. The Saints won't be able to spend that money this season, but they can carry over whatever space they don't use into next year.
Then next season, Brees' cap cost is only $19 million.
As of now, the Saints are on the books for about $140 million in cap costs for 2017, with 48 players under contract, according to ESPN Stats and Information. They will likely carry over more than $10 million of cap space into next year. And the projected salary cap is about $160 million (maybe even higher).
Of course there is a catch.
If Brees and the Saints part ways in 2018, he will still count $18 million in "dead money" against their salary cap. Or if they re-sign him to another extension, they will probably find another way to push back the salary-cap costs again. At some point, they will eventually have to settle their debts, though.
I'm actually fine with the idea. Keep going "all-in" to win while Brees still gives you a chance to win. And settle up whenever you go into rebuilding mode with a new quarterback for one year when Brees is gone.
Plus, the Saints don't have to spend all $30 million next year if they don't want to -- and they can carry the savings over into 2018. This just gives them the option.
The bigger problem for the Saints is that they have wasted most of the money they've created in recent years with poor spending decisions (Junior Galette and Brandon Browner went bust, among others, and the jury is still out on Jairus Byrd, C.J. Spiller and Coby Fleener, among others).
If the Saints had a better batting average in free agency, they might even be lauded for their creative accounting methods.
Here’s how Brees’ contract breaks down, according to ESPN Stats and Information:
Total value: Two years, $44.25 million, all fully-guaranteed
Signing bonus: $30 million
2016: $1 million base salary, $250,000 workout bonus. Salary-cap figure $17.25 million.
2017: $13 million base salary, no bonuses. Salary-cap figure $19 million
2018: The remainder of Brees' contract automatically voids. If his deal is not extended, the Saints will be charged a salary-cap cost of $18 million.