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Mouton: Salary cap plunge after COVID killing Saints in 2021

The team still had the front line pieces to compete, but the drop off when key players got injured was more pronounced than in recent years.

NEW ORLEANS — There was some good news for the saints on Monday. In the first injury report of the week, Taysom Hill and Mark Ingram were both ‘full go’ at practice.

Alvin Kamara and Ryan Ramczyk were both limited but all four are expected to play Thursday night – at least as of right now.

My first takeaway from the Thanksgiving loss to the Bills is obvious.

1/ The Saints were just undermanned: Sean Payton is still an elite coach, but when the talent disparity is great enough, coaching really doesn’t matter. My point is there is no offensive concept that was going to enable the Thanksgiving lineup the Saints fielded to move the ball against the Bills. They just weren’t. And, you could tell that Sean Payton knew it. Twice in the first half he tried to steal a possession on fourth down and twice he failed.

Once, Tony Jones got stopped and once he had the punter try to throw a pass that was painful to watch. Along those same lines, we said last week that it was time to change quarterbacks.  

2/ It does appear now that the Saints will make the change. The NFL reported Monday that Taysom Hill is getting first team reps this week. Opponents have figured out what Trevor Siemian can do. Buffalo overstacked the box and dared the Saints to throw and they couldn’t.

And, in their careers, Taysom Hill actually has better passing stats than Siemian, plus he can run.

3/ Thanksgiving’s loss is not on the defense. Sure, Buffalo scored 31 points and that’s too many, but, at halftime, the defense had two turnovers and even with no help from the offense, they had given up just 10 points. The defense kept the offense in the game – at least for a while. But, it also raises the hope that if this foursome can elevate the offense just a little, the Saints can be competitive again.

4/ And my last takeaway from the Thanksgiving game is that the 2021 season is being defined by the salary cap. In the offseason, the Saints couldn’t afford to keep Emmanuel Sanders or Jared Cook or Latavius Murray or Sheldon Rankins or Malcolm Brown or Janoris Jenkins and their replacements, while cheaper, are not as good.

So when the Saints lost their elite pieces, the drop off was huge. Here’s what happened. Back in 2014, the NFL salary cap was $133 million. In 2015, it was $143 million. That’s up 7.7 percent. In 2016, the cap went up another $12 million or 8.4 percent. In 2017 it went up 7.5 percent. So, as you were making your budget for next year and you’re following the trend, the last three years up 6.1, 6.2 and 5.3 percent, so, as you’re budgeting for 2021, it makes sense that the salary cap would go up in the five to six percent range. But, then the pandemic hit and the NFL’s revenue took a pretty substantial hit and the salary cap went DOWN almost eight percent.

So, from five or six percent up to eight percent down means a 13 to 14 percent flip and the Saints have always had a relationship with the salary cap that is like someone trying to walk a tightrope between two tall buildings.

Some teams did spend big and it paid off for New England and Cincinnati, but the Saints had the best record in the NFL over the past four seasons by walking that tightrope and the 13 percent flip killed them.

For now, it defines the losing streak and the middle part of the season, but the hope is that when those key pieces of the offense come back, they can change the script in the final six games.

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