Saints don’t franchise Bushrod; Bunkley restructures

The Saints will try to re-sign tackle Jermon Bushrod, believed to be the top priority among their 11 unrestricted free agents, to a new contract after they declined to tag him as their franchise player.

The deadline to designate franchise players was Monday, and the Saints were one of 24 teams that did not name one. Only eight teams used the designation this season after 21 teams used it a year ago.

If the Saints had franchised Bushrod, they would have had to pay him $9.828 million — a hefty price considering they have had to restructure the contracts of a handful of players just to get close to the salary cap of $123 million that goes into effect with the start of the league year Tuesday.

CBSSports.com reported the Saints were about $5.43 million over the cap as of Monday, but that was before defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley restructured the five-year contract he got last spring.

ESPN.com reported the Saints saved $2.2 million by turning $3 million of Bunkley’s base pay for 2013 into a bonus, which can be prorated over the final four years of his deal.

The Saints have to rework more deals, however, or release players to get under the cap and have enough money to re-sign some of their unrestricted free agents, possibly getting a long-term deal done with Bushrod, and tender offers to their four restricted free agents.