The Saints already do not have a lot of cap space, and that's why we could see defensive end Will Smith leave the team in 2012.
The Saints brought in Steve Spagnuolo as the new defensive coordinator, and it's likely that he will improve the defense in New Orleans greatly. In fact, I think that he could even do it without the Saints' best defensive end.
Smith was chosen by the Saints in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft, and he has been a great player for New Orleans over the years.
His best season came in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl. Smith tallied up 13 sacks that year and was among the top pass-rushers in the league.
However, Smith has been a fairly inconsistent pass-rusher throughout his eight-year NFL career.
He has posted double-digit sack seasons only two times in eight years. Smith has accumulated 61.5 sacks for the Saints since coming out of Ohio State, but he has been unable to repeat success in consecutive NFL seasons.
Despite Smith's troubles in the pass rush, he has been very good at stopping the run throughout his career. Smith has the talent to shed blockers and make tackles in the open field, and he's also able to blow up offensive lineman, wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Although Smith has seen continuous success against the run, he may not be back with the Saints next fall.
The Saints will have to pay Smith over $10 million next year, and that number will continue to increase year by year. New Orleans will already have to unload a ton of money to re-sign their free agents this offseason, and Smith may become a salary cap casualty.
There's no doubt that Smith is valuable to the Saints' organization.
He's one of the defensive team captains and a leader in the locker room. Smith has been through the horrible seasons in New Orleans and was there when they hoisted up the Lombardi Trophy.
Smith is a fan favorite and many Who Dats would hate to seem go, but the sad truth is that this move would make a lot of sense.
The Saints have a new defensive coordinator coming in with Spagnuolo. They have some other free agents at the defensive end spot that could come back for a much cheaper cost than Smith, and they will likely target a pass rusher in the draft.
New Orleans will have Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette back in 2012. Jordan may already be just as good at stopping the run as Smith is, and will likely develop into a great pass rusher under Spagnuolo's new defense.
Galette is an amazing pass-rusher but needs to get better against the run, and it's likely that he could do that this offseason.
The Saints also have an interesting player on their roster. Defensive end Greg Romeus is still with the Saints, and this guy could end up being very good in the NFL.
This is a player who was initially projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft before suffering a few injuries towards the end of his college career. If he can get healthy, then this 6'5", 267-pound monster may be just the guy the Saints need.
These three guys will definitely be back in New Orleans next year, and they could all end up being very good ends for the Saints.
New Orleans also has the option of bringing back ends Jeff Charleston and Turk McBride. Both of these players are free agents after their one-year deals expire.
Charleston may never be more than a backup, but he's a fine one at that. He has a high motor and never gives up on the play. McBride has a little more potential but has been held back by injuries thus far in his NFL career.
These two guys could both be brought back for much cheaper than Smith's current contract.
The Saints may also choose to target guys like Jake Bequette and Chandler Jones in the 2012 NFL draft.
The fact is that the Saints have talent on their roster without Smith. It would definitely hurt the team to see him go, but it may hurt them more to keep Smith and that monster contract in New Orleans.
Another option for the Saints would be to restructure Smith's deal into a more cap friendly contract. This is a very likely situation and actually what I would expect to see happen.
The Saints should probably hang on to Smith and his experience for at least another year or two. If they can manage to re-work his contract, then it would greatly benefit the Saints, but they may not be able to do that.
No matter what happens between Smith and the Saints in the offseason, I expect New Orleans to be fine. They have the depth and talent to replace Smith if it becomes necessary, and they will get no worse by keeping him on the roster.