Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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Seven moves.

That's nearly the number it takes to get the Saints within striking distance of the being at or under the expected 2013 NFL salary cap by the March 12 deadline.

Let's travel back a bit to see how they did it.

But first, some nuts and bolts:

When the offseason began, the Saints were north of $144 million in promised salary cap dollars.

Now they're down to $128.2 million. And factoring in a $2.7 million cap adjustment, the Saints sit at $125.5 million in dedicated cap dollars. The cap ceiling will reportedly be $123 million and that puts New Orleans about $4.4 million over while only $2.5 million over.

The Saints aren't alone, obviously. And as's Pat Yasinskas points out, the NFC South could be a microcosm of the country itself, with the middle class disappearing.

Now for what the Saints have done to get here, using both cuts and restructures (moving money to bonus in one way or another). These are all salary cap numbers, not actual salaries.

It all started on Feb. 15 when the Saints restructured linebacker Curtis Lofton's contract, pushing some money to bonus, spreading the cap hit over the length of his contract and lowering it in 2013 from $7.1 million to $3.1 million.

Four days later, tight end David Thomas and cornerback Johnny Patrick were let go, slashing $2.16 million from the cap. In the offseason, only the top 51 contracts count against the cap (that changes once the regular season kicks in) and this is where releasing Patrick helped.

While Thomas' cap number went from $2.2 million to $500,000, Patrick's went from $741,345 to nearly $273,000. Patrick's cap number, however, isn't high enough to count against the top 51 so the team gets relief in that way, too.

And then this week's heavy lifting of contract re-workings.

Pro Bowl right guard Jahri Evans gave the team $3.12 million in savings this year, his cap number moving from $9.86 million to $6.74 million. Left guard Ben Grubbs did the same thing, going from $7.3 million to $4.3 million.

Linebacker David Hawthorne, meanwhile, helped the Saints by going from $4.76 million to $2.51 million and receiver Marques Colston reportedly went from $6.6 million to $4.5 million.

That all adds up to savings of nearly $16.9 million over a two-week period and puts the Saints within striking distance of at least being at the salary cap.

Yet, that's not what they need. New Orleans needs to be under the cap to be able to fit in several restricted and unrestricted free agents.

Here's a refresher on those players (who aren't counting against cap right now):

(RFA) Center Brian de la Puente, long-snapper Justin Drescher, defensive end Junior Galette, running back Chris Ivory

(UFA) Left tackle Jermon Bushrod, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, offensive tackle Will Robinson, receiver Courtney Roby, linebacker Scott Shanle.

Certainly the Saints won't re re-signing all of those players. But there's enough that likely will find their way onto the roster that New Orleans will still be searching for cap relief.

Teams can begin negotiating with agents of free agents on March 9 and free agency begins March 12 at 2 p.m., New Orleans time.

The Saints have reportedly submitted to defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma offers that will be less restructures and more about them taking less money.

As it stands, the two combine for nearly 181/2 percent of what the Saints have dedicated to the cap. That's much too expensive for players on the downside of their careers and whose production levels have vastly decreased since their contracts were originally signed.

The good news, depending on who you are, is that there's still some work that can be done.

Safety Roman Harper is set to cost the Saints $7.15 million against the cap. Running back Pierre Thomas would cost the team nothing if the team let go of him before the league year begins. Linebackers Chris Chamberlain and Will Herring also could find themselves in precarious waters as releasing them could save the Saints nearly $2 million in cap space.

Cutting ties with players isn't the best solution but sometimes it's the only one.

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