Saints' 2015 cap is loaded -- but worth it

The New Orleans Saints just got themselves a $7 million bargain by exercising a fifth-year option on defensive end Cameron Jordan for 2015.

Jordan, 24, is worth every penny. And the Saints will pay him even more than that when they lock him up with his next long-term extension in a year or two.

Sure, the Saints are facing even more salary-cap constraints in 2015 and beyond. They now have $134 million counting against their 2015 salary cap for just 42 players, according to ESPN Stats and Information. And that doesn't include the looming new mega-deal for tight end Jimmy Graham.

So the Saints will have to continue to make tough choices when it comes to releasing veterans or demanding pay cuts from them when they feel like their skills are in decline.

But what the Saints won't do is let core players like Jordan and Graham get away.

As I've written several times this offseason, the Saints have done an outstanding job of making calculated decisions on how to invest their cap space -- while still aggressively adding new core players like safety Jairus Byrd this year and cornerback Keenan Lewis last year.

The Saints had to backload the salary-cap charges on recent deals for Byrd and Lewis and quarterback Drew Brees, among others, to make them fit under the cap. But the Saints have proven that they can keep pushing those charges back.

And now they're starting to benefit from the fact that the NFL's salary cap is finally rising significantly -- possibly above $140 million next year and $150 million in 2016.

Some teams prefer not to live so close to the salary-cap edge. But the Saints are proving it can work -- as long as they keep making the right personnel decisions.

As general manager Mickey Loomis said earlier this offseason, those cap constraints lower the margin for error on each decision the team makes.

ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles personnel director Louis Riddick echoed that sentiment.

"With that kind of philosophy, what you better be doing in the interim is being able to draft and have young players contribute and have cheap affordable labor that is playing at a high level," Riddick said. "New Orleans, they have guys like [2014 rookies] Kenny Stills and Khiry Robinson and Kenny Vaccaro. And Cameron Jordan (a bargain up to this point).

"So far they've been OK because they've still been able to fill in the other parts of their roster with good quality draft picks and cheap free-agent signings. That's a testament to Mickey and Sean [Payton] and the rest of the scouts down there. ...

"Teams that can't do that, you see what's happened to Dallas. They've had salary-cap issues, and then had those players either not perform or get old on them. And they haven't been able to hit on young, good, cheap, affordable players who have been able to balance them out and keep them competitive."

2014 Cap Update: Meanwhile, the Saints are about $3.5 million under the 2014 salary cap after signing receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year contract worth $920,000 (including a $65,000 signing bonus). Since Meachem signed for the veteran minimum, it only counts $635,000 against the cap.

At this point in the offseason, only the top 51 salary-cap costs count against a team's cap figure.