Mickey Loomis: Saints not content at 7-9, have cap space to be aggressive

MOBILE. Ala. -- Mickey Loomis shares the optimism of others in the New Orleans Saints organization. Yes, he agrees, this most recent 7-9 felt a little more promising than the previous two 7-9s.

But the Saints’ general manager didn’t try to sugarcoat it.

“We’re still 7-9,” Loomis said. “We are where we are. Our record is 7-9. And so that’s not good enough to make the playoffs. And we’ve gotta find a way to improve, and we will.”

When asked how owner Tom Benson feels about the state of his team, Loomis gave a similar response.

“Well, look, he’s not happy with 7-9, that’s for sure. But he also understands the building process,” Loomis said. “So he’s been nothing but supportive.”

Despite that dose of reality, there are some legitimate reasons for optimism surrounding the Saints right now. They have gradually been rebuilding the young talent base and locker-room culture after both areas crumbled in 2014. And they were a lot more competitive in 2016, with seven of their losses coming by six points or less. They still had the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense, and their defense showed signs of progress despite injuries.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism, though, is that the Saints finally have some significant salary-cap space to play with this offseason. They are currently projected to have around $25 million in cap space once free agency kicks off, with more room possible, depending on contract restructuring.

“I don’t know if relief is the right word. ... It will be nice, though, to have a little bit of room and some flexibility,” said Loomis, who later added, “We know we’ve got work to do. And we’ll attack it and be aggressive about it. You know, when you have cap room, you can be a little more aggressive.”

It’s worth noting that the Saints haven’t completely escaped the salary-cap constraints that have burdened them the past several years.

They created much of this space by structuring Drew Brees' contract in a way where $18 million of his cap costs won’t hit the books until 2018, even though 2017 is the final year of Brees’ deal.

Nevetherless, it suggests that the Saints wanted to set themselves up to be aggressive and make a strong playoff run in 2017, particularly while Brees is still thriving at age 38.

Loomis downplayed that notion, however.

“No, I wouldn’t say that. I think it was more of an issue of last year’s planning and where we were at last year,” said Loomis, who smiled when asked if the Saints plan to spend big to rebuild their defense like the New York Giants did last offseason.

“I don’t know yet,” Loomis said coyly.

Loomis, however, did acknowledge that the Saints believe in free agency as a building tool.

The Saints have had some big swings and misses in free agency in recent years, including safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Brandon Browner, running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker James Laurinaitis.

However, Loomis said, “we value free agency," both when it comes to paying big for a starter or two and when it comes to supplementing the roster with depth signings, as the Saints did with veteran linebackers Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar last year.

“We like to be aggressive in free agency and we like to supplement our team,” Loomis said. “We value it in terms of building our roster, creating depth, as opposed to just going out and signing necessarily one or two guys.”