NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints are roughly $10 million over the projected 2016 salary cap of $150 million, a number they will have to slice before the start of free agency on March 9.
This is the most painless and routine method. The Saints can convert roster bonuses or base salaries into signing bonuses, which would spread out the cap costs over multiple years.
The most likely example will be turning defensive end Cameron Jordan's $6 million roster bonus into a signing bonus, which would divide the cap hit into $1.2 million per year over the next five years. That would save $4.8 million against this year's cap.
New Orleans could do something similar with safety Jairus Byrd, who is due a $7.4 million base salary. Some other deals could save the team about $1-2 million each in cap space.
STRONGEST POSSIBILITIES FOR RELEASE OR PAY CUTS:
LB Dannell Ellerbe: Cap cost $5.9 million. Due $5.2 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $4.5 million in cap space if released before June 1.
WR Marques Colston: Cap cost $5.9 million. Due $3.2 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $3.2 million in cap space if released.
OT Zach Strief: Cap cost $4.6 million. Due $3.5 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $1.3 million in cap space if released before June 1.
LB David Hawthorne: Cap cost $4.51 million. Due $2.25 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $2.25 million in cap space if released.
Thoughts: It's unlikely that any one of these players will be back at their current salaries. But they could all be back if they agree to pay cuts. Ellerbe showed flashes of being a great asset at times in his debut season with the Saints. But the 30-year-old played in only six games because of nagging injuries.
Colston, 32, played a lesser role while also battling some injuries that limited him to 13 games and the lowest receiving totals of his career. He's so valued and respected that if he wants to keep playing, the Saints will probably make room for him -- but probably not at $3.2 million.
Strief isn't breaking the bank. But first-round draft pick Andrus Peat appears poised to take over as the starting right tackle, so this is a place where the Saints could save some cash. Strief has already hinted that he would accept a pay cut to remain in New Orleans -- even if he winds up playing a backup role.
OTHER NOTABLE SALARIES:
S Jairus Byrd: Cap cost $10.9 million. Due $7.5 million in salary and bonuses. Cap hit would increase to $11.4 million if released before June 1. If designated as a post-June 1 release, his cap hit would remain at $10.9 million until June 2, then drop to $3.4 million this year and $8 million in 2017.
G Jahri Evans: Cap cost $8.2 million. Due $4.9 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $3.1 million in cap space if released before June 1.
CB Brandon Browner: Cap cost $6.3 million. Due $5 million in salary and bonuses, including $2.75 million fully guaranteed. Can save $950,000 in cap space if released before June 1.
RB C.J. Spiller: Cap cost $4.5 million. Due $3.25 million in salary and bonuses, including $1.55 million fully guaranteed. Cap hit would increase to $5.3 million if released before June 1. If designated as a post-June 1 release, his cap hit would remain at $4.5 million until June 2, then drop to $2.8 million this year and $2.5 million in 2017.
P Thomas Morstead: Cap cost $4.45 million. Due $3.5 million in salary and bonuses. Can save $3.25 million in cap space if released before June 1.
Thoughts: The only two players on this list who would provide significant cap savings are Evans and Morstead -- and both would be hard to replace. But they are still worth monitoring as possible casualties. Also, it's worth noting that $3 million of Evans' salary and bonuses become fully guaranteed on Feb. 10, so we'll know his fate earlier than most.
The Saints wouldn't gain any immediate cap space by cutting Byrd -- but they would save $7.5 million in cash, which is no small thing. It will be interesting to see if they approach him about a possible pay cut. Or they might invest in him for at least one more year to see if a return to full health and an improved overall defense leads to a boost.
Browner and Spiller would both be in serious jeopardy if the Saints hadn't already guaranteed so much of their pay for 2016. Browner seems likely to stay since he was a full-time starter who showed flashes of being an asset when used properly. Spiller is a bigger question mark since he was barely used at all.
Unrestricted: TE Benjamin Watson, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, RB Tim Hightower, RB Travaris Cadet, RB Kendall Hunter, QB Luke McCown, QB Matt Flynn, G Mike McGlynn, OT Tony Hills, DT Kevin Williams, LB James Anderson, S Rafael Bush, S Jamarca Sanford, CB Kyle Wilson, CB Chris Owens, K Kai Forbath
Thoughts: This is a manageable list, which is the best news for the Saints. The most expensive guys could wind up being Robinson and Lelito if the Saints decide they need to tender them at the second-round compensation level (which would require a one-year contract worth roughly $2.5 million).
*-Contract information provided by ESPN Stats and Information