Monday, 28 March 2016 14:55

New Orleans Saints nab Nick Fairley, Fleener as they bank on Brees

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by Jim W. Miller

The Saints are certainly doing a lot of wheeling and dealing for a team that reportedly doesn’t have any Salary Cap room left. The most recent example was the news Monday morning that the team has come to a one-year agreement with defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Reports said Fairley will be paid $3 million this season, which seems to conflict with other reports that say the Saints have as little as $273,000 remaining in their team cap. A few weeks ago, they signed TE Coby Fleener for a contract that will average $7 million per season, and they have agreed to a three-year contract with LB James Laurinaitis whose numbers have not been disclosed. 

Laurinaitis earned a base salary of $3,625,000 with the Rams last year. They have also re-resigned TE Michael Hoomanawanui, matched a restricted free agent offer to TE Josh Hill and signed some minor free agents. 

It’s to the Saints’ credit that they continue to add players they think can help, but how can they do it? The answer is as simple as walking up to your friendly ATM and making a withdrawal, although there is a little more to it in the NFL.

Since the Salary Cap period, teams that are close to their limits have learned to legally game the system by designating one or more of their higher-priced players as “the bank.” In other words, the Saints will be able to sign contracts with some of their new acquisitions after filling out the paperwork at the Bank of Brees. QB Drew Brees is due to receive $20 million this year in base salary and a roster bonus. The team has already begun discussions to turn most of that $20 million into a guaranteed signing bonus that, spread over two or three additional years, will provide the bulk of cap space needed to make their other moves. In past years, it has been common for the Saints and other teams close to the edge to renegotiate contracts with their higher-priced players in order to free up cap room. More likely than not, the maneuver is intended to accommodate rising base salaries and keep the roster intact. But the Saints have become extremely adept at using the renegotiations to keep key players and add free agents whom they believe are upgrades to key positions. 

It hasn’t always worked. Brandon Browner was a bust, and injuries have prevented Jairus Byrd from justifying the money spent, but as long as “the guy,” in this case Brees, is performing at a high level, you do whatever you can to beef up his supporting cast. There is an obvious downside, as we have written many times in this space, that renegotiations require a team to push today’s money into future seasons. That “dead money” limits the cap room you have in future years, so the moves had better be worth it. 

The Saints’ had less available cap space that any other team in the NFL in 2015 with about 23% of their Salary Cap paying for past renegotiations and decisions that did not turn out as expected. They are on the same pace now, as just under 20% of their 2016 cap is dead and unusable. That means that this season the team is investing heavily in the Bank of Brees, hoping for positive returns. But there is no FDIC in this business for protection or bail outs. At some point, the bank closes, or retires, and a foreclosure is sure to follow.

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