Compared to recent years, the New Orleans Saints are actually sitting kind of pretty under the salary cap.
They don't have a ton of room to work with. But they are roughly $10 million under the cap with the new league year and free agency set to kick off on Wednesday. And they could potentially carve out millions more by extending quarterback Drew Brees' contract at some point.
Better yet, the Saints' list of unrestricted free agents is very manageable.
They should be able to bring back anyone they want from last year's roster without breaking the bank, while still having enough space left over to add one or two mid-priced free agents from other teams.
Here's the full list of New Orleans' unrestricted free agents, starting with the key players:
TE Benjamin Watson: It's hard to imagine the Saints won't bring back Watson, even at age 35, since he has proven to be such a good fit in both the offense and the locker room. Watson had a career season last year with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns, while also being named a captain and a NFL Man of the Year finalist.
It's possible the Saints will consider upgrades on the open market, since there are a lot of intriguing mid-level tight ends available (including Dwayne Allen, Ladarius Green, Zach Miller and Coby Fleener). But the Saints could potentially bring back Watson and add one of those guys. New Orleans' top three tight ends from last season are unsigned (Michael Hoomanawanui is also an unrestricted free agent, Josh Hill is a restricted free agent).
RB Tim Hightower: It appears even more likely the Saints will bring back Hightower now that a source revealed they don't plan to tender restricted free agent RB Khiry Robinson. Hightower, 29, was one of the NFL's biggest surprises and feel-good stories of last season when he returned from more than three years out of the NFL because of a knee injury and ensuing infection. He ran for 327 yards and four touchdowns over the final four weeks, while adding another 129 receiving yards in those four games.
DT Kevin Williams: I expect the Saints to try and upgrade with younger talent at the 3-technique tackle position, either through free agency or the draft. This is one of multiple areas where they need a more dynamic pass rushing presence. But it's possible they could bring back Williams, 35, in a part-time role after he was so solid in his first year in New Orleans. The six-time Pro Bowler started 14 games and averaged 33 snaps per game, even more than coach Sean Payton said he anticipated. He had 32 tackles, two forced fumbles and two batted passes.
S Rafael Bush: It's hard to figure where Bush fits in the Saints' plans since he suffered a season-ending chest injury in Week 1 last year. But he has been highly valued for years as a part-time starter and special teams standout, so I expect him back. The 28-year-old has played in 40 games with 14 starts and 118 tackles since 2012.
QB Luke McCown: McCown showed last season why the Saints have trusted him for so long in their backup role, nearly leading them to a Week 3 win at the Carolina Panthers when Brees was out with a shoulder injury. I expect him to return, as long as he's recovered from the back surgery that landed him on injured reserve last November. The Saints will likely give second-year QB Garrett Grayson a shot to win the backup job in training camp, but so far McCown has been hard to unseat.
Others: LB James Anderson, S Jamarca Sanford, CB Kyle Wilson, CB Chris Owens, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, RB Travaris Cadet, RB Kendall Hunter, G Mike McGlynn, OT Tony Hills, QB Matt Flynn, K Kai Forbath.
Restricted free agents:
G Tim Lelito, RB Khiry Robinson, TE Josh Hill
And, really, the list is down to just two, since we know the Saints don't plan to tender Robinson.
As I wrote Friday, that decision is mildly surprising since Robinson has shown so much potential over the past three years. But it's understandable since they have so many other backfield options and so many greater needs at other positions. That doesn't mean they won't feel regret if Robinson succeeds elsewhere, like former backup Chris Ivory with the New York Jets.
Lelito has to be the top priority on this list, since he now has the most starting experience of any guard on the roster after the Saints released veteran Jahri Evans last month. And Hill seems likely to come back since they feel he is so solid and versatile as a pass-catcher, blocker and special teamer.
The only question is whether the Saints will tender them at the minimum qualifying amounts ($1.67 million with no draft-pick compensation, $2.55 million with second-round compensation) or try to work out cheaper deals with them.