The salary cap will once again be a hurdle for the New Orleans Saints in 2014. They're already $12.5 million over the projected cap of $126.6 million, according to ESPN's John Clayton. And that's even before signing unrestricted tight end Jimmy Graham, who will certainly become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

Recent history suggests the Saints will still find a way to keep their core players and even add one or two key free agent signings. But it will require both some creative restructuring of contracts and some difficult decisions to part ways with some longtime veterans.

Here's a breakdown of some of the key decisions looming this offseason:


Unrestricted free agent starters: TE Jimmy Graham, RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, K Shayne Graham.

Unrestricted free agent reserves: WR Robert Meachem, OT Charles Brown, QB Luke McCown, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Will Herring, LB Ramon Humber, LB Keyunta Dawson, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Jordan Pugh

Restricted free agents: FB Jed Collins, WR Joe Morgan, S Rafael Bush, DE Tom Johnson

Thoughts: First of all, this is not a bad list, with only four full-time players on it. Teams, including the Saints, have faced much worse in past years.

The only no-brainer who will definitely be re-signed is Graham. He will be back at any cost, even if it means a fight over his franchise tag designation (tight end vs. wide receiver). It would be a win-win for both sides if they would avoid the franchise tag altogether and structure a cap-friendly long-term deal. But it's obviously possible that the negotiations may go on longer than expected, because Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and agent Jimmy Sexton will be breaking new ground on this deal.

After Graham, I would put Strief, de la Puente and Jenkins in the same boat. I think the Saints like all of them (Strief and Jenkins are both captains) and would very much like to have all of them back at the right price. But I wouldn't be shocked to see the Saints let any of them go if they get bigger offers elsewhere (like Scott Fujita, Jonathan Goodwin, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, etc., from years past).