After a long offseason of twists and turns, the storyline of where Jadeveon Clowney will play in 2020 appears to have boiled down to a handful of suitors with the New Orleans Saints emerging as one of the favorites. The Saints already have a superb pass rusher in Cameron Jordan, but lack a proven commodity on the other side. Clowney would instantly improve the Saints pass rush, that is without a doubt. What is in doubt is whether the Saints could find a way to manage their cap space in order to create the room to pay Clowney enough to satisfy him.
However, the Saints are renowned around the league for their ability to create cap space out of nowhere. For a player of Clowney’s caliber, the effort required to do those cap gymnastics would almost certainly be worth the reward. Let’s investigate whether the Saints have the cap space to sign Clowney and how they could open up even more space if they desire.
How much would Clowney be willing to sign for?
This is a fascinating question and has been one of the biggest parts of this storyline. Back in March, it was reported that the Seahawks had offered Clowney as much as $18.5 million per year on a multi-year contract. However, that was reportedly lower than what Clowney felt he would command on the free-agent market. The big offer never came and now it is a case of whether Clowney would be willing to settle for less.
The top of the edge rusher marker was set earlier this offseason by Myles Garrett ($25M per year), but Clowney is now unlikely to be able to approach that figure this late in the offseason. A contract in the range of $15-18M is likely to be where Clowney is aiming. However, there is a chance he might be willing to take less in salary with incentives to bolster that number if it meant playing for a potential Super Bowl team.
How much cap space do the Saints have to play with?
At the time of writing (4 PM ET on September 4), the Saints have just under $7M in cap space according to Over The Cap. $7M is clearly not going to cut it in terms of salary for Clowney, so how can the Saints engineer more space to get the premier pass rusher on their roster?
Whose contracts can the Saints restructure?
The idea is reasonably simple – pay a player a lump sum now as a signing bonus, and then that money would be spread across the life of the contract in terms of cap hits. This is due to the NFL’s system of pro-rating signing bonuses across the life of a contract for up to five years. The problem is that other than Drew Brees, no Saints player has a cap hit above $10M this season, and many potential targets for a restructure already have big cap hits in 2021 and beyond.
One possible candidate is tight end Jared Cook, who is set to count $9M against the cap this season, but just $2M in 2021. If they could reduce that to a number around $5M in 2020, then they could shift the remaining $4M into the final year of his deal in 2021. Another name to watch is Demario Davis.
Is there anyone the Saints can release to free up cap space?
This is also a reasonably simple exercise in design but is not always that simple to execute. The highest cap saving the Saints could make with any single cut is $3.843M (Nick Easton). Therefore, the Saints would likely need to move on from at least two players to open up the required space. Cook, Davis, and Easton are all potential cut candidates, but Davis and Cook are currently slated as Week 1 starters and Easton offers valuable insurance on the interior of the offensive line.
Can the Saints use void years to help sign Clowney?
The Saints have used void years in the past in order to spread out big cap hits across multiple seasons. A void year would mean that a player is still counting against the cap despite not actually being present on the Saints roster. Teddy Bridgewater counting $4M against the Saints cap this season is a prime example.
The Saints also have two void years built into the back of Brees’ contract, so they would likely be open to this option. The only slight issue might be that the Saints are not exactly on firm footing when it comes to the cap in 2021, limiting how much money they could push into those void years if Clowney was only to sign for one season.
Can the Saints find a way to get Clowney on their roster?
Absolutely is the simple answer, because we have seen teams make space out of nowhere before. If they are willing to move on from one or two of Cook, Davis, or Easton, then they could offer Clowney over $10M on this year’s cap and push another $5M or so into the future in void years.
If $15M is still not enough, then it ultimately comes down to how much the Saints are all-in in 2020. If they are completely all-in, then Clowney could be a big help in their quest for a second Super Bowl victory, which would be priceless.