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03 Mar 2014

Under the Cap: NFC South

by Rivers McCown

Atlanta Falcons

Cap Space as of February 25th: A little under $20 million. (All monetary figures courtesy of Over The Cap. This is based off the $133 million salary cap.)

Unrestricted Free Agents (9, UFAs and RFAs culled via NFL.com): Chase Coffman, Sean Locklear, Jeremy Trueblood, Joe Hawley, Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Omar Gaither, Dominique Franks, Mike Johnson

Restricted Free Agents (2): Robert McClain, Patrick DiMarco

McClain finished last among qualifying cornerbacks in success rate, and second-to-last in yards per pass allowed, after a very strong year in 2012. He and Brice McCain are the patron saints of Nickelback Sample Size: the problem where one year of good play in the slot doesn't really tell us much about a player's future. The Falcons will probably bring him back, but they shouldn't need to tender him a contract.

Franchise Tag Candidates: I suppose in a world where Dennis Pitta was a legitimate franchise tag candidate it's not too silly to consider Jonathan Babineaux as one. But realistically, no, there are none.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Thomas DeCoud ($3,000,000 saved against the 2014 cap), Osi Umenyiora ($3,500,000)

Atlanta already cut ties with Stephen Nicholas and Asante Samuel, leaving them with just two decisions to make. Umenyiora is likely to remain with Atlanta, mostly because the team had zero sources of legitimate pass rush and he's the closest thing to one on the roster.

ESPN's Falcons blogger Vaughn McClure had DeCoud as a potential release candidate coming off a down year. It's been reported that he'll be gone, but until a major outlet picks it up I'll keep it as a potential release. Given how weak the safety market looks, keeping DeCoud wouldn't be the worst decision Thomas Dimitroff has made.

Flexibility: Atlanta's big source of flexibility appears to be a possible extension for Roddy White. They've been discussing things for most of the past month, including at the combine, and lowering White's $6.325 million cap number would be a big boon. The Falcons could also convert most of Matt Ryan's $9.5 million base salary to a signing bonus if it came to that.

Overview: The Falcons actually do have quite a bit of cap room -- we're not including Tony Gonzalez's retirement in these numbers just yet, which frees up another $8.75 million. Most of the big shoes have already dropped here, though Atlanta could sign Sean Weatherspoon to a nice-sized extension.

The obvious target for them is Michael Johnson: not only would he help fix their greatest weakness (the Falcons were dead last in Adjusted Sack Rate), but he's also a local who went to school at Georgia Tech. Atlanta will also have to rectify their interior defensive line situation (see: the three free agents) and could benefit from help on the offensive line as well. Last year the Falcons were a team that found many contributions from undrafted free agents, and while some of that was the result of finding overlooked players, some of it was also a lack of depth. Atlanta may want to spend some money on that in free agency, especially at linebacker.

Carolina Panthers

Cap Space as of February 17th: A little over $8 million.

Unrestricted Free Agents (19): Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen, Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon, Ben Hartsock, Jordan Gross (retired), Bruce Campbell, Geoff Hangartner, Travelle Wharton, Gary Williams, Colin Cole, Jordan Senn, Dan Connor, Jason Williams, Drayton Florence, Captain Munnerlyn, Quintin Mikell, Mike Mitchell

Restricted Free Agents (1): Byron Bell

With Jordan Gross retiring, keeping Bell moves from a priority to a near-must. That could sway the Carolina front office towards the second-round tender for their tackle, though it's unlikely he'd receive any great interest on the open market, as he's struggled at right tackle at times.

Franchise Tag Candidates: Well, we say "candidates," but we already know that the Panthers tagged Greg Hardy. And it was a smart move, even at the tag price of roughly $13 million, as Hardy was probably the top free agent that there was actually suspense about -- even if that was mainly motivated by Carolina's finances rather than any question about whether he was worth using the tag on.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Charles Godfrey ($2,100,000)

It would be a real shame if the Panthers had to release Godfrey, as he still has three years left on his deal and they could theoretically save more with a re-negotiation. But he's one of three players on the roster at this point that can be released with a savings of over $2 million. The other two, Hardy on the franchise tag, and Greg Olsen, aren't going anywhere.

Flexibility: Most of Dave Gettleman's work is already done here: he's already converted base salaries to signing bonuses for Ryan Kalil, Jonathan Stewart, and Thomas Davis. Olsen (base salary of $5.25 million), Charles Johnson ($8.75 million), and Steve Smith ($4 million) could also re-negotiate in the same way if necessary.

Overview: Gettleman has already hit priority one: making sure that Hardy couldn't leave. Priority two is probably locking Cam Newton down to a long-term extension. That shouldn't be too galling of a job, though as the No. 1 overall pick, Newton's cap number this year is over $7 million anyway.

Beyond that, we talked about Carolina's ever-present problems at wide receiver in Four Downs -- they could still use more of those. Gross' retirement is probably going to leave the Panthers taking a first-round tackle, as effective options tend to be priced above what they have to work with right now. Then you've got the secondary, which was a mish-mash of older veterans and unheralded youngsters last season -- and Carolina probably only has the money to bring back one of Captain Munnerlyn or Mike Mitchell. There are still a lot of talent-deficient areas on this team, which is kind of incredible given how close to the cap they are already. The specter of the Marty Hurney era -- DeAngelo Williams re-signing, Jonathan Stewart re-signing, giving Charles Johnson one of the biggest contracts in the NFL, dead money from Jon Beason's old contract -- continues to haunt Carolina's cap.

New Orleans Saints

Cap Space as of February 17th: A little over $1 million.

Unrestricted Free Agents (12): Luke McCown, Robert Meachem, Charles Brown, Zach Strief, Brian De La Puente, Kenyon Coleman (retired), Parys Haralson, Will Herring, Ramon Humber, Jonathan Vilma, Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Pugh

Restricted Free Agents (4): Rafael Bush, Jed Collins, Joe Morgan, Tom Johnson.

The Saints will likely fight to keep everyone on this list but Johnson. However, given where they are against the cap, it's possible they might find a defection or two if they don't hand out second-round tenders, especially over Bush and Morgan. Morgan missed last season with an ACL tear, but showed some skill as a deep expert for the Saints in 2012 (32 DYAR). Bush had a 64 percent Success Rate last year, though he did allow over 10 yards per catch.

Franchise Tag Candidates: The Saints have already tagged Jimmy Graham.

I realize this is the spot where we're supposed to debate whether Graham is a tight end or a receiver, but assuming both sides meet and hash out a long-term deal as they're expected to, it doesn't actually matter. Yeah, tagging Graham as a tight end is using an unwieldy definition of a tight end. It's almost like this whole "franchise tag" thing is an unweildy construct meant to save owners money or something.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Pierre Thomas ($2,800,000), Lance Moore ($2,531,000)

New Orleans has already jettisoned Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Jabari Greer to get back under the cap. These last two release candidates are more about depth than anything -- there are no enormous savings coming by letting Thomas or Moore go. But given how Kenny Stills came on last year, and given that Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram both played much better than Thomas down the stretch, the Saints could pocket a little bit of money here. Moore had a 12th-ranked 22.0% DVOA last season, but was just a bit player in the Saints offense while he fought off injuries. Thomas had just 5 rushing DYAR, though he was decent as a receiver.

Flexibility: Drew Brees has already volunteered to restructure his contract if it can help the team, and that's the No. 1 option the Saints have at the moment to clear up cap space. His $10.75 million base salary could mostly be converted into a signing bonus that would be spread over the rest of his contract. New Orleans could do the same with Jahri Evans ($6.8 million base salary), Ben Grubbs ($6 million), or Marques Colston ($5.5 million).

Overview: Mickey Loomis already brushed through the first loop of salary cap hell by trimming veteran defenders. The next step for New Orleans is actually finishing up a Graham extension, thus lowering his cap figure for this year to an amount that would enable them to deal with their restricted free agents and maybe put some small effort into players like Zach Strief and Brian De La Puente.

If the Saints can't deal with Graham, then things become a lot more complicated. They'd almost have to restructure Brees to create space for their rookie class, and it would be much harder to make a real effort at retaining Bush.

But, in the more likely event that negotiations with Graham go smoothly, New Orleans should be able to add a few small free agents and conduct business normally for 2014. The one other thing they'd probably like to do is sign Cameron Jordan to an extension before he hits free agency after 2014 -- that could be a little more complicated, but it wouldn't be completely impossible if the Saints got Graham's cap number to be rather tidy for 2014.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cap Space as of February 17th: A little under $19 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (17): Dan Orlovsky, Spencer Larsen, Brian Leonard, Erik Lorig, Tiquan Underwood, Nate Byham, Jamon Meredith, Ted Larsen, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Gary Gibson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Heyward, Dekoda Watson, Jacob Cutrera, Michael Adams, Danny Gorrer, Rian Lindell

Restricted Free Agents (1): Kyle Adams

Hey, he beat the Lovie Smith reunion to Tampa! Unfortunately, Lovie had little use for him then, and that probably won't change now.

Franchise Tag Candidates: On pure talent, there's certainly nobody deserving of it. Rian Lindell might have had a chance at it if the Bucs hadn't already had Connor Barth under contract for next season.

Release/Restructure Candidates: Donald Penn ($7,416,665), Davin Joseph ($6,000,000), Michael Koenen ($3,250,000)

Vince Verhei panned the Tampa offensive line in Four Downs, and with general manager praise for right tackle Demar Dotson, the area that he considered weaker is pretty obvious. The Bucs are certainly under no obligation to make a move at either spot financially, but there's also little in the way of cap hits to stop them if they feel they can upgrade. Penn has less than a million in dead money on his contract, and Joseph has nothing.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Koenen, but any punter with a cap figure north of $3 million is always a candidate to be let go.

Flexibility: Tons. Almost all of Darrelle Revis' $16 million cap figure is non-guaranteed, meaning they could convert it to a bonus if they had to. Vincent Jackson ($10 million base salary), Carl Nicks ($7 million, also a possible release if rumors about his foot condition are true, but he'd only save $2.2 million in that scenario), and Gerald McCoy ($12.732 million) could also restructure if the Bucs found the right players to do so for. Extending McCoy to lower his cap hit as he enters his walk year could also be a possibility. Ex-general manager Mark Dominik didn't hire the right coach for this team, but he did a very solid job in cap management.

Overview: Tampa's biggest hole, to me, is at defensive end. Lovie Smith has traditionally wanted front-four pressure. Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson could be two options for them as they try to replace the underwhelming Da'Quan Bowers and Te'o-Neshiem, but Tampa should be sniffing out the entire free agent class looking for pass rushing talent.

That aside, Tampa's defense actually performed pretty well last season, finishing seventh in defensive DVOA. So if we assume the Bucs are going to let Mike Glennon get enough rope to possibly hang himself next season, that means they could use upgrades on the offensive line -- especially if they're not sure Nicks will play next season due to nerve damage in his foot -- and in the receiving corps. It's actually a fairly promising situation for a new coach to walk into, especially if you're superstitious enough to believe the mere alignment of the NFC South can help generate worst-to-first scenarios.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 03 Mar 2014

9 comments, Last at 03 Mar 2014, 3:20pm by siggyllama

Comments

1
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 12:39pm

Does Tampa get a salary cap bonus for now having the ugliest uniforms in the history of professional sports? Can we cut the guy who designed the uniforms? Possibly stab?

Nicks and Joseph are probably both leaving the building; Nicks could always bounce back medically, but Joseph is really expensive for a guy who wasn't doing well enough.

2
by Shattenjager :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:22pm

The original Broncos have called about this claim about the Tampa Bay uniforms.

I don't even understand why they're changing them--I really liked the Buccaneer uniforms and they weren't too old (It looks like they changed in 1998). Was I the only one who liked them?

3
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:33pm

The uniform of the last 15 or so years was a great design. The one I saw this morning may be one of the worst designs ever. Get rid of the orange highlights and the 1977-era LED clock numbers and they would probably look good. The only good thing is the new helmet design which would be one of the best in the league if they got rid of the orange football (or at least made it a more natural color).

5
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:40pm

Agreed eleventybillion times. The uniforms themselves are ugly, the numbers are an abomination. The orange highlights are a decent throwback to the old days, but who the hell decided to put an old alarm clock display on their chest? I loved the pewter and scarlet, some of the best uniforms ever.

Also, to be on-topic, it seems Tampa could cut several members of the offensive line and then get enough money to make a run at Monroe or Albert for some LT help.

4
by tuluse :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:37pm

I just looked the uniforms up. I don't understand why someone would think these look good. It's like all the worst things about Arena jerseys.

6
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:47pm

The new uniforms make them look like the Falcons. Those two divisional game could get a little confusing.

"The... err, well the Falcons drop back, here's the throw and it's caught! Leaping catch by erm, ... let's say Atlanta. Now the officials gather to try to determine whether that was a catch or an interception. No, the refs can't work it out either and after a series of arguments with both coaching staffs they've called Roger Goodell to sort things out. The commissioner is tweeting the head of Nike, who has declared it an interception! So the Falcons will have the ball with great field position with 13.45 left in the first quarter. Wait, do I mean Atlanta or Tampa?"

7
by Ten Drink Drunk :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 2:08pm

Am I missing something, or was 'Under the Cap' not posted for the NFC West?

8
by Perfundle :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 2:45pm

Well, the NFC West got the last Four Downs article, so they're going to get the last Under the Cap article as well.

9
by siggyllama :: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 3:20pm

Comment misplaced