"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
21 Feb 2012
by Brian McIntyre
Football Outsiders is taking a division-by-division look at the salary cap situations of all 32 NFL teams. We're reviewing estimated cap spaces -– since cap situations are fluid and actual adjusted cap figures for 2012 remain unknown -– restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents, which players are candidates for the franchise tag and which players are headed towards the chopping block. Last week, we hit on the teams in the AFC.
This week, our trip around the NFL moves to the NFC and continues with the NFC West.
Estimated Cap Space: $12-$14 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (16): Hamza Abdullah, D'Anthony Batiste, Calais Campbell, Sean Considine, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Clark Haggans, Vonnie Holliday, Brandon Keith, Mike Leach, Deuce Lutui, Richard Marshall, Joey Porter, Chester Taylor, Floyd Womack, Dave Zastudil
Rashad Johnson started nine games in 2011 and has been a valuable reserve/core special teams player the last three seasons. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a capable No. 2 or No. 3 running back, has been the team's primary kick returner the last three seasons, and led the team in special teams tackles as a rookie in 2009. Greg Toler started 13 games in 2010 and had the inside track on a starting job in 2011 before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during the third preseason game. Reggie Walker's primary contributions have been on special teams, making 16 tackles over the last three seasons. All four can expect qualifying offers, with Stephens-Howling and Toler possibly receiving "upgraded" tenders to the second-round level ($1.927 million).
Franchise Tag Candidate: Cardinals general manager Rod Graves has assured his team's fan base that defensive end Calais Campbell isn't going anywhere. If a long-term deal is not reached by March 5, the club will place the $10.6 million franchise tender on the 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive end. In addition to blocking five kicks on special teams, Campbell has 180 tackles, 21 sacks and 18 passes defensed as a full-time starter over the last three seasons.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: The first order of business in the restructure department is left tackle Levi Brown, who is due a $6 million roster bonus, a $8.33 million base salary, and is eating up $16.973 million of the team's cap space. Releasing Brown would clear up $14.58 million of cap room, but would also task the Cardinals with replacing him. Quality left tackles rarely hit free agency and the top tackles in the draft may not be available when the Cardinals go on the clock at No. 13, so extending Brown's contract to clear a few million in cap space may be their only logical option. The Cardinals could find another $3.2 million of cap room by reducing Larry Fitzgerald's $5 million base salary to $1 million and adding $4 million to the $15 million option that comes due on the first day of the 2012 league year. Fitzgerald's 2012 base salary will become fully guaranteed when the option bonus is exercised. $5.6 million in cap space would become available if the Cardinals converted Kevin Kolb's $7 million roster bonus into a signing bonus that was prorated over the five remaining years of his contract.
Estimated Cap Space: $30-$35 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (14): Ahmad Brooks, Blake Costanzo, Ted Ginn, Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Josh Morgan, Moran Norris, Justin Peelle, Chilo Rachal, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Reggie Smith, Adam Snyder, Madieu Williams
C.J. Spillman has been a core special teamer over the last two seasons, leading the team in special teams tackles (15) in 2011. In his first season with the club, Larry Grant contributed on special teams and filled in for an injured Patrick Willis, picking up 34 tackles and a pair of sacks in a three-plus game stretch in December. Both Spillman and Grant will receive qualifying offers, with Grant possibly receiving an "upgraded" tender to the second-round level ($1.927 million) to be the No. 3 inside linebacker.
Franchise Tag Candidate: Last off-season, safety Dashon Goldson reportedly turned down a five-year, $25 million contract offer from the 49ers. That multi-year offer was taken off the table, and while Goldson visited the New England Patriots, he did not receive a contract offer and returned to the 49ers on a one-year contract worth $2 million with no incentives. Goldson snagged a career-high six interceptions, was named to his first career Pro Bowl, and had 16 tackles and an interception in two playoff games. The 49ers could use the projected $6.2 million tender on Goldson if an extension cannot be reached by March 5. Alternately, the team could opt to franchise tag cornerback Carlos Rogers, who is coming off the best season of his career with 16 starts and a career-high six interceptions of his own. The franchise tag is higher for cornerbacks though, so that could swing the decision to Goldson.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Patrick Willis has the team's highest cap number ($17.709 million), a result of a restructure from last October that accelerated the prorated amounts of his signing and option bonuses into the 2012 league year and significantly reduced his cap numbers from 2013-16. The 49ers did this knowing they would have ample cap space in 2012, so they are unlikely to seek to reduce Willis' cap number. No other 49ers player has a cap number over $7 million, with Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis the only players with cap numbers of $6 million or greater, The 49ers could clear $3.3 million with the trade or release of disgruntled cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who dressed for just nine games in 2011 and was inactive in the playoffs.
Estimated Cap Space: $30-$35 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (16): Atari Bigby, Raheem Brock, Red Bryant, John Carlson, Heath Farwell, Justin Forsett, Anthony Hargrove, David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, Marshawn Lynch, Matt McCoy, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, David Vobora, Charlie Whitehurst, Jimmy Wilkerson
In his first full season as a kicker in the National Football League, Hauschka was 25-of-30 on field goal attempts, with two of his five misses coming from beyond 50 yards, and had a respectable 26 touchbacks. Roy Lewis opened last season on the PUP list before starting one of ten games and recording half a sack in a nickel cornerback role. Both Hauschka and Lewis can expected a restricted free agent tender worth at least the minimum, $1.26 million "right of first refusal" level. Mike Gibson started eight games for the Seahawks in 2010 and was waived as part of the final cuts in early September. Re-signed later in the season as injuries hit the offensive line hard, Gibson was active for three games and could be back on the minimum tender, as well.
Franchise Tag Candidate: The Seahawks have four key unrestricted free agents –- Red Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill. The player most likely to receive the franchise tag is Lynch. Acquiring Lynch was a half-year process for John Schneider in his first season as the Seahawks' general manager, and Lynch has not disappointed. In 27 games as a Seahawk, Lynch has rushed for 1,777 yards and 18 touchdowns, and his physical style has helped change the perception that the Seahawks are a "finesse" team. Lynch took off in 2011, rushing for a career-high 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns behind a young and constantly reshuffled offensive line, ranking third in DYAR behind LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew. The franchise tag for a running back is projected to be worth around $7.7 million in 2012. Bryant would be No. 2 on the franchise tag list, but the converted defensive tackle does not post the sack totals to warrant a one-year, guaranteed base salary of $10.6 million.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cornerback Marcus Trufant took a pay cut last August and will likely have to do so again to spend a 10th season with his hometown team. The 31-year-old has struggled with back injuries in two of the last three seasons and does not fit the mold of the big, physical cornerback the team prefers. Releasing Trufant would free up $4.467 million in cap space, but more importantly, save $7.3 million in cash that could be spent retaining a few key free agents. One season after being a legitimate Comeback Player of the Year candidate, wide receiver Mike Williams had a disappointing season. Releasing Williams is unnecessary and unlikely right now, but the move would clear $3.425 million off the team's salary cap.
Estimated Cap Space: $3-6 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (21): Billy Bajema, Jacob Bell, James Butler, Chris Chamberlain, Mark Clayton, Kellen Clemens, A.J. Feeley, Gary Gibson, Adam Goldberg, Al Harris, Rod Hood, Donnie Jones, Bryan Kehl, Justin King, Mark LeVoir, Brandon Lloyd, Jerious Norwood, Brady Poppinga, Stephen Spach, Cadillac Williams, Tony Wragge
C.J. Ah You has spent the last three seasons as a rotational defensive lineman and could receive an original-round tender worth $1.26 million to compete for a roster spot in a fourth season. Danny Amendola led the Rams in receiving in 2010 before missing all but one game in 2011 with an arm injury. The former undrafted free agent can expect an "upgraded" restricted free agent tender to either second- ($1.927) or first-round level ($2.742 million).
Franchise Tag Candidate: This is not meant as a slight to the 21 unrestricted free agents on the Rams' roster, but the Rams do not have a lot of cap space and none of their players are worth of the franchise tag. Even if the club could squeeze it in.
The best fit for the tag would be Brandon Lloyd, who ranked second in DYAR and sixth in DVOA in 2010, but was 67th and 71st in those metrics in 2011. Franchising Lloyd would cost nearly $9.5 million in guaranteed base salary, which is a bit steep for a soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver who has been frustratingly inconsistent in offenses coordinated by someone other than Josh McDaniels.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: In writings prior to taking over the "Under the Cap" here at Football Outsiders, I referred to the costs associated with having top-5 picks in the old collective bargaining agreement as the "Loser's Tax." That tax is apparent in 2012 as Chris Long (No. 2 overall in 2008), Jason Smith (No. 2 overall in 2009) and Sam Bradford (No. 1 overall in 2010) account for $47.42 million of the Rams' current cap number. Long is entering the final year of his contract and his $18.558 million number could be reduced with a long-term extension. Entering his third season, Bradford's contract is eligible to be restructured for the first time, and it could be reworked to lower his $15.595 million cap number. Smith has been unable to stay healthy and was moved from left to right tackle with the addition of Rodger Saffold in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Smith is due $10 million in base salary in 2012, $1 million of which is fully guaranteed. Releasing Smith would save less than $2.5 million in cap space, which isn't all that much. A restructure seem a more likely path, as it's hard to envision a scenario where Smith is allowed an eight-figure base salary. The Rams could restructure the contract of running back Steven Jackson, who is due $7 million in base salary with a cap number approaching $9 million. 30-year-old cornerback Ronald Bartell spent most of 2011 on injured reserve and is scheduled to make $6.2 million in the final year of his contract. The Rams would save $6.25 million in cap room by releasing Bartell and $2.8 million of cap room by releasing center Jason Brown.
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