The New Orleans Saints entered this past regular season with Super Bowl aspirations. A year removed from earning a playoff spot, Drew Brees and company seemed destined to control the landscape in the NFC South.

What followed was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent franchise history. New Orleans finished with a 7-9 record and in second place in a historically bad division.

Months removed from the end of the season, New Orleans faces one of the worst salary cap situations that we have seen around the NFL since Dwight Clark led the San Francisco 49ers into salary cap hell more than a decade ago.

The Saints are currently $23.3 million over the cap, and must get below the threshold before the new league year begins on March 10th. And unlike other teams who are currently at (or over) the cap, New Orleans doesn’t have a ton of flexibility here.

Courtesy of USA Today: Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham will combine to count $37.4 million against the cap in 2015.
Courtesy of USA Today: Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham will combine to count $37.4 million against the cap in 2015.

With four players—Drew Brees, Junior Galette, Jimmy Graham and Jahri Evans—set to take up a combined $60 million of the Saints’ cap room, some restructuring has to be in order here. Unfortunately for the Saints, those four players also have a total of $71 million in dead cap remaining on their deals. This means if New Orleans were to restructure their deals, the team would then be in an unsustainable cap situation moving forward.

An example of this would be Brees. Currently set to count $26.4 million against the cap in 2015, the future Hall of Famer also has $33.5 million in dead cap remaining on his deal. Let’s say the team were to lower Brees’ 2015 cap figure to $1 million. That means he’d then have nearly $60 million in dead cap entering the 2016 offseason.

Pushing cap numbers back year after year in order to remain viable during a particular offseason doesn’t equate to long-term success.

So how do the Saints overcome these issues without creating long-term cap problems moving forward?

Release “Key Veterans.”

The likes of Marques Colston, Curtis Lofton, Jahri Evans, Brodrick Bunkley and David Hawthorne need to be shown the door. Combined, these five players possess a dead cap total of $21.7 million. That doesn’t seem too appealing to general manager Mickey Loomis and company. However, the team can save almost $21 million against the cap by releasing these five.

New Orleans also needs to work long and hard on a contract extension for Cameron Jordan, who is its best all-around player on either side of the ball. Jordan is currently signed through the 2015 season with a cap hit of about $7 million. Fair-market value for Jordan would probably be similar to the four-year, $36 million extension Jurrell Casey signed with the Tennessee Titans last August. By agreeing to an extension with Jordan, New Orleans would be able to lower his 2015 cap figure while making sure to keep him on the team for the foreseeable future. Though, it must be noted that any extension looking to lower Jordan’s 2015 number would likely have to be longer than four seasons.

New Orleans is already in a less-than-stellar situation when it comes to Brees’ contract. The high amount of dead money remaining on his deal puts the team behind the proverbial eight ball. And while lowering his cap hit to near vet-minimum numbers would be foolish, the Saints will have to restructure his deal at some point this offseason. Lowering it to about $15 million would save the team $11 million against the cap and could very well help it target a mid-tier free agent or two in order to replace the players it will have to release.

There’s a reason why Loomis is considered one of the best general managers in the business. And in reality, he’s going to be put to the test big time this offseason. How he reacts to the Saints’ cap issues will go a long way in determining the long-term performance of the team on the field.

All cap numbers provided by Spotrac.com

Photo: USA Today