It wasn’t a big surprise when we learned today that the Saints have asked LB Jon Vilma and DE Will Smith to restructure their contracts to help make room in the team’s salary cap.
However, here’s a common misconception by some fans: A players’ full salary is not the same total amount that counts against the salary cap. For instance, Drew Brees will make $20 million this year, but the NFL salary cap formula shows that $17.4 million of that amount is what counts toward the cap.
Will’s Smith’s cap # is not far behind: $14.5 million. Jon Vilma’s number is $8.68 million, and Jahri Evans’ cap # is $9.86 million.
Players who agree to a restructuring don’t necessarily stand to lose money in the deal. Take for instance Curtis Lofton, where he agreed to take a roster bonus and instead make it a “signing bonus” that would not count against the cap. It’s almost like shuffling cash around in the “real world” to avoid taxes.
Some fans have grumbled on social media that Drew Brees should also consider restructuring his deal to give the Saints some breathing room. Drew almost certainly would not be taking a pay cut if he agreed to a restructuring.
On the other hand, a restructuring for Vilma and Smith, on the back-end of their careers, will absolutely mean the two will agree to less money overall. So, they have to choose between taking less cash for the guarantee of being with a contending team for at least one more season…or walking away without anything, and hoping to get picked up by another franchise.
The clock is ticking. The new league year starts March 12, and that is the date of the start of free agency...So, that's effectively the deadline for a decision to be made about restructured contracts.
Will they stay or go? I wouldn’t be surprised either way. Of the two, my educated guess is that Smith is the more likely candidate of the two to stay. At 31, Vilma has lost a step, and he’s said in the past that he’s not fond of the 3-4. On the other hand, although Smith turns 32 this year, he would play a different role in this 3-4 scheme, and could be worked into the new defense a lot easier than Vilma.