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Saints down to $1.3 million in cap space, not counting Laurinaitis

The New Orleans Saints are wedged tighter against the salary cap than any other team in the NFL, according to details from ESPN Stats and Information and the NFL Players Association.

The Saints have an estimated $1.3 million in cap space, and that’s not even counting new deals with linebacker James Laurinaitis and safety Jamarca Sanford that haven’t been processed yet.

It’s possible both contracts will fit under the cap without the Saints making any other moves. Remember, only the top 51 salaries count against the cap during the offseason. So those deals will replace two others currently counting about $525,000 each. Technically that means the Saints have about $2.35 million in cap space for the two new contracts.

If Sanford qualifies for the veteran minimum salary benefit like he did last year, his deal should only be around $700,000 against the cap. It’s also possible Laurinaitis’ 2016 cap number will be less than $1.65 million, depending on how it’s structured.

Regardless, that doesn't leave New Orleans any more room to sign other players, such as running back Tim Hightower or free agent defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Jason Hatcher, whom they visited with last week.

Fairley, by the way, was on his way to meet with the New England Patriots on Monday, according to ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner.

The most obvious way for the Saints to create more cap room is to work out an extension with quarterback Drew Brees, which could potentially save them about $10 million or so against the cap, depending on the structure. I wrote last week about why it might be difficult to decide on Brees’ market value, since QB contracts around the league are escalating so rapidly. But the sense of urgency to get a deal done should be there now.

Another possibility is working out a simple restructure with safety Jairus Byrd, which could save more than $4 million against the cap, or smaller restructures with running back Mark Ingram, offensive tackle Zach Strief and cornerback Keenan Lewis, among a few others.

The Saints could also consider extending center Max Unger’s contract heading into the final year of his deal, which could create some cap relief.

There aren’t any obvious candidates to be released. General manager Mickey Loomis has said he expects both Strief and running back C.J. Spiller to remain with the team this year (and neither would provide much cap relief if they got cut, anyway).

The Saints will save another $2.25 million against the cap after June 1 when cornerback Brandon Browner officially comes off the books. That should help with signing draft picks or adding a veteran free agent later in the summer.