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Help still wanted: Can Saints afford to upgrade at CB, WR, DT?

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will create about $300,000 in salary-cap space when Drew Brees' retirement is officially processed after June 1.

That may not sound like much. But every bit helps for a Saints team that is essentially searching for cap space under couch cushions at this point.

The Saints currently have less than $1 million in cap space. They will eventually need to create nearly $2 million in space to sign their draft class. And they still have more roster holes to fill than usual at this late stage of the offseason.

That includes glaring question marks at the starting cornerback, wide receiver and defensive tackle positions -- among others that were depleted during their salary-cap purge.

General manager Mickey Loomis said last week that he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see New Orleans add to the roster. And he suggested that June 1 “matters to us” because of some of the salary-cap breaks associated with that date.

But Loomis and vice president of football administration Khai Harley still have their work cut out for them, to say the least, if they want to target a top available player like cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Steven Nelson or Bashaud Breeland.

Where Saints can find cap space

The main reason June 1 matters around the NFL is because teams can now spread out salary-cap hits over the next two years with any players who officially get released, retire or get traded.

It’s unlikely that the Saints have been waiting until June to release a player, since they could have done that earlier in the offseason and designated it as a “post-June 1” transaction (essentially what they did with Brees' retirement). And it’s unclear if they are considering any trades, which would obviously create a roster hole somewhere else.

Still, even if they don’t subtract anyone from the current roster, the calendar should help spur some action around the league with veteran free agents who have been waiting to sign deals or new players becoming available. And New Orleans could be waiting to see which bargains shake out.

Only the top 51 salaries count against a team’s cap in the offseason. So the Saints could sign a player at the veteran minimum rate without affecting their current cap situation at all. And they could probably make room for a salary up to $3 or $4 million if they use voidable years to reduce the 2021 cap charge to $1.5 million or so. But they’ll need to create more room if they want to sign anyone more expensive than that -- and will still need to make room for the rookie class before the start of training camp in late July.

The Saints could also create cap space by reaching long-term extensions with players such as offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, cornerback Marshon Lattimore or safety Marcus Williams -- all of whom are heading into the final year of their contracts. But that’s easier said than done. Last year, the Saints didn’t get similar extensions done with stars Alvin Kamara and Demario Davis until September.

Where Saints could spend it

Cornerback: Sean Payton identified cornerback as a “must” before the draft, with the Saints still needing a No. 2 starter to replace veteran Janoris Jenkins on the outside. And the team backed up his words by trying to trade all the way up from No. 28 into the top 10 to select Jaycee Horn or Pat Surtain II.

The Saints did wind up drafting Stanford’s Paulson Adebo in Round 3. And they have experienced veterans Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams on the roster, but both of them have performed better in the slot or at safety during their careers than on the outside.

Sherman has talked to New Orleans and would be an obvious fit with new Saints secondary coach Kris Richard, who coached him for years in Seattle. But Sherman has hinted that the Saints aren’t a front-runner for his services. He told ESPN’s First Take that the Saints would be a “hand in glove” fit, but said, “I just don’t think they have the need that people think they do.”

Sherman has also talked about considering a reunion with either of his former teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.

There are still a number of intriguing options at the position, though, including Nelson, Breeland, Brian Poole, Josh Norman and Gareon Conley. ESPN analyst Matt Bowen recently identified Breeland as the best potential fit.

Wide receiver: The Saints have some good young depth at the position behind starter Michael Thomas. But after releasing veteran Emmanuel Sanders, they’re counting on fourth-year pro Tre’Quan Smith, third-year pro Deonte Harris or undrafted second-year pros Marquez Callaway and Juwan Johnson to make tremendous leaps in production.

A veteran slot receiver like Golden Tate, Danny Amendola or Dede Westbrook could make a lot of sense if the price is right.

Defensive tackle: The Saints lost about 60 snaps per game from starting nose tackle Malcom Brown and former starting 3-technique Sheldon Rankins. And there are a ton of familiar names still available in free agency (Sheldon Richardson, Kawann Short, Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey, Damon Harrison among others).

But the Saints have decent young depth behind standout starter David Onyemata -- including new DEs Payton Turner and Tanoh Kpassagnon, who could potentially slide inside on passing downs. And they do a lot of rotating at the position. So this might not be a spot where they’re looking to spend big.

Linebacker: The Saints drafted Ohio State’s Pete Werner in Round 2 after drafting Zack Baun in Round 3 last year. So they have decent candidates to replace departed veterans Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander. But it’s worth noting that Alexander appeared to be a great fit last season after the Saints acquired him in a midseason trade. And he remains unsigned while recovering from a torn Achilles. So a potential reunion is always possible.

Tight end: It’s hard to imagine the Saints spending big here since second-year pro Adam Trautman appears primed for a bigger role and they already added veteran blocking specialist Nick Vannett in free agency. But it belongs on the list because of the sheer volume of snaps they lost by parting ways with both Jared Cook and Josh Hill.