Mickey Loomis says reported cap change won’t alter Saints’ plans

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham makes a catch in against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin last season.
Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham makes a catch in against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin last season.

INDIANAPOLIS — Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis on Friday wasn’t sure whether the NFL’s 2014 salary cap indeed will be several million dollars higher than it was initially thought to be, as was reported a day earlier.

So, as far as he’s concerned, that story won’t much alter the Saints’ immediate plans. Though the Saints recently cut high-priced defensive veterans Jabari Greer, Roman Harper and Will Smith to create much-needed cap space, the trimming is not over, Loomis said.

So Loomis, who stepped away from activity at the NFL Scouting Combine in Lucas Oil Stadium to speak with Saints reporters on a number of topics, confirmed what many outsiders suspected.

“I haven’t heard anything about a change in the projected salary cap,” said Loomis, referring to an ESPN story that the cap would be about $130 million, as opposed to a previous estimate of about $126 million.

The Saints’ cap figure as of Friday was about $125 million. The salary cap will be set in the coming days, and teams need to be under it by the start of the league year, March 11.

“We have an expectation of what the number is going to be, (and) there’s been nothing to change that expectation other than all of a sudden there’s this report, which I don’t even know where that got generated,” Loomis said.

Asked whether he anticipated parting ways with more veterans, Loomis rattled off the three ways to free up cap space: restructure deals on the books, make trades or terminate players under contract.

“We’ve got some work to do,” he said. “What form that takes remains to be seen.”

These days, hardly anything can be written about the Saints without mention of the salary cap. Being some $5 million under the cap — as opposed to about $1 million — would make things slightly easier for the Saints to accomplish their primary offseason goal: scrounge up the dollars to re-sign All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to a new long-term contract or, failing that, use the franchise tag on him.

It’s anticipated that Graham, who spent most of his time in 2013 lining up out wide for the Saints, will file a grievance to be classified as a wide receiver, not as a tight end, for purposes of the franchise tag. That designation is likely to be worth about $5 million more for a wide receiver than for a tight end.

Loomis declined to comment on the negotiations with Graham, who is at the end of the contract he accepted from the Saints as a rookie in 2010.

Other topics Loomis touched on:

He said the Saints don’t yet know who they’ll invest the No. 27 pick in May’s draft in or what aspect of the team it will address. He reiterated that the Saints will attempt to shore up the team as much as possible during free agency to pick the best player still on their board.

Many draft experts argued that the Saints should draft an offensive lineman in the first round after quarterback Drew Brees was sacked a career-high 37 times in 2013. Others say they shouldn’t, pointing at the success Payton and the Saints have had picking offensive linemen in the middle and late rounds.

Four-time first-team All-Pro Jahri Evans was a fourth-rounder in 2006. Guard Carl Nicks, now with Tampa Bay, was All-Pro for the Saints in 2010 and 2011 after being drafted in the fifth round by New Orleans in 2008.

But Loomis said they’d never rule out taking an offensive lineman in the first round.

“If one of the left tackles that were taken at the top of the draft had been there last year when we picked (around 15),” he said, “we might’ve taken one of them.”

While he spoke highly of Greer, Harper, Smith and free agent-to-be Jonathan Vilma, who all helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, Loomis had particularly kind words for Smith. He applauded the 2004 first-round pick for going through the 3-13 season following Hurricane Katrina and then toiling through the 2012 campaign marred by the bounty scandal.

“We’ve been through a lot with Will Smith,” Loomis said. “He’s been a warrior for us on the field. ... He’s ingrained in Louisiana and New Orleans.”

Loomis said the Saints cut ties with Greer, Harper, Smith and Vilma when they did to give them as much time as possible to seek other opportunities.

“They’ve got tread left on their tires,” Loomis said. “It’s the fair thing to do.”