Why is Brees' deal cap friendly this year? Because his salary for 2012 is only $3 million. Yes, by virtue of signing the contract he makes $40 million in year one, but it's important to note that $37 million of that is a signing bonus. While the signing bonus is paid in one lump sum, the NFL allows it to be prorated for cap purposes over the life of the deal. Therefore, each season, Brees' cap hit will be his annual salary plus $37 million divided by 5 (5 year contract). That adds up to a $7.4 million cap hit for 5 years, even if they release him at any point prior to the end of the contract. Brees' salary is $10 million next year, so in 2013 he'll count $17.4 million against the cap (instead of $10.4 million this year). Hopefully the cap number continues to rise to help the Saints out.
Next year we'll see a number of veterans with salary inflations, but the Saints will also have a number of veteran contracts coming off the books. Those are:
Jermon Bushrod (counts $5 million against 2012 cap)
Sedrick Ellis (counts ~$7.8 million against 2012 cap)
Devery Henderson (counts ~3.5 million against 2012 cap)
Scott Shanle (counts almost $3 million against 2012 cap).
Those are the main contracts coming off the books and they add up to $19.3 million in cap space. Even if the Saints retain some of these four guys, you have to figure they'll re-sign to a cap friendly salary in year one which would reduce how much they cost against the cap compared to 2012. The Saints already currently have $8 million in cap space, so at first glance you're thinking $27.3 million of space should be more than enough to retain these guys. Not so fast. Of that $19.3 million the Saints will gain in space, Brees' salary hike will immediately bring that space down to $12.3 million. This is where it gets tricky. There's a number of Saints players that are due massive salary increases in 2013. They are:
Brodrick Bunkley ($3 million salary jump)
Marques Colston ($3.3 million salary jump)
Jahri Evans ($6.5 million salary jump)
Jabari Greer ($1 million salary jump)
Ben Grubbs ($4.5 million salary jump)
Malcolm Jenkins ($1.2 million salary jump)
Curtis Lofton (only a 400k salary jump, for another $1 million cap hit in roster bonus)
David Hawthorne (same situation as Lofton, about $1 million extra cap hit in 2013 due to bonuses)
Lance Moore ($1.7 million salary jump)
Will Smith ($8 million salary jump)
Jonathan Vilma ($3 million salary jump)
These are just the bigger salary jumps. Most guys under contract have salary jumps of at least 300k or so. That all adds up to roughly $35 million extra cap hits doing very quick math. So that $12.3 gained in space plus the $8 million in room they already had puts the Saints in the red for 2013 by just under $15 million. That's doesn't include the cap inflation, which will hopefully happen, but it also doesn't include the other salary hikes that probably add up to at least $5 million more.
So short story, the Saints are deep trouble for 2013. By admittedly very quick and probably somewhat inaccurate math, I believe they are probably around $20 million to $25 million OVER the cap before 2013 even starts. That's before re-signing key players (and you can add Thomas Morstead to that list above), free agency and the draft. Now, Jahri Evans and Will Smith have both re-structured their deals this offseason and it's unclear if their new deals have been updated in the contract list I referred to. There is a decent shot the Saints could save about $8 million on those two combined with the deals they re-structured, perhaps bringing them closer to around $12 million to $15 million over. You get the idea though, 2013 is not good, and it's going to be hard to retain any of the leaving key players (Ellis, Shanle, Morstead, Henderson, Bushrod) or make a splash in free agency. Besides Smith and Jonathan Vilma who will both be very possible cap casualties in 2013, I don't see where the Saints can really turn. Loomis is going to have to be very creative if he wants to keep most of this roster. The good news is he is just that, and I have no doubt if the Saints feel they have a shot at a title they will manipulate things to hang on to as many guys as they can.
The bottom line is this, though: any way you look at it, the Saints will be upwards of $20 million over the cap going into next offseason (depending of course on how much the cap goes up in 2013 compared to 2012). Don't get too excited for heavy inflation, though, because from 2011 to 2012 the NFL salary cap limit went up from $120 million to $120.6 million, a raise of just 600k. There is also a chance the cap number could go down slightly. My quick conclusion is the Saints are in cap hell as soon as 2013 and it only gets worse from there. Better win fast.