by Brian McIntyre
Over the next two weeks, Football Outsiders will take a look a division-by-division look at the salary cap situations of all 32 NFL teams. We'll look at estimated cap space -– 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.
We continue our trek with the AFC South.
Estimated Cap Space: $3 to $4 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (15): Jason Allen, Dominique Barber, Mike Brisiel, Tim Bulman, Jake Delhomme, Tim Dobbins, Joel Dreessen, Jeff Garcia, Bryant Johnson, Chris Myers, Neil Rackers, Kasey Studdard, Matt Turk, Derrick Ward, Mario Williams
Signed in the middle of the 2011 season, Demps had a pair of interceptions and started a playoff game for the Texans. Bringing Demps back on the "original round" tender worth $1.26 million would make him a slightly cheaper option than safeties Troy Nolan or Glover Quin, whose base salaries escalated to $1.308 million in the final year of their rookie contracts.
Franchise Tag Candidate: With 53 sacks over the last six seasons, including five in five games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury last October, Mario Williams would certainly be the logical choice for the franchise tag. A standard franchise tender for a linebacker is projected to be worth around $8.8 million in base salary, but as we noted on January 3, due to Williams' 2011 salary number being (much) greater than the projected tender amount, Williams' tender would be $21.99 million, or 120 percent his 2011 cap number of $18.325 million. The Texans do not have that sort of cap flexibility and could only retain Williams on a multi-year extension.
Though it has rarely, if ever, happened, restricted free agents are eligible to receive the franchise tag. The elimination of the "first- and third-round" tender in the new collective bargaining agreement could increase that possibility of Pro Bowl-caliber restricted free agents receiving the franchise tag as those players could be poached by other teams for a maximum of a first-round draft choice. A "first round" restricted free agent tender would be worth $2.742 million in non-guaranteed base salary for Foster, whereas a franchise tender would be worth around $8 million in fully guaranteed base salary.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: To franchise Foster, and retain key free agent offensive linemen Chris Myers and Mike Brisiel, the Texans will need to clear some space under the cap. Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Smith each have cap numbers north of $9 million, largely comprised of base salaries in excess of $5.5 million. Schaub is due $7.7 million in total compensation and has a $10.95 million cap number in the final year of his contract. An extension for the 30-year-old could potentially clear some space.
Signed last season, $5.5 million of Joseph's $7.25 million base salary is guaranteed. If the guaranteed amount were converted to a signing bonus and prorated over the four remaining years of the contract, the Texans would save $4.125 million on the 2012 cap, while adding $1.375 million to their cap in 2013-15.
Estimated Cap Space: $20-$25 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (19): Jamaal Anderson, Kevin Bentley, Tyler Brayton, Kerry Collins, Ryan Diem, Jerome Felton, Eric Foster, Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, Robert Mathis, Quinn Ojinnaka, Dan Orlovsky, Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard, Jeff Saturday, Ernie Sims, Jacob Tamme, Reggie Wayne, Philip Wheeler
Undrafted out of Oklahoma State, Lacey has started 27 of 43 games over the last three seasons and can expect to receive, at minimum, the "right of first refusal/original round" tender worth $1.26 million in non-guaranteed base salary.
Franchise Tag Candidate: The three tag-worthy names on the Colts' list of unrestricted free agents are defensive end Robert Mathis and starting wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Given the amount of turnover in the Colts' front office and coaching staff, including possibly more looks in a 3-4 defense, it's hard to envision the Colts using the tag on Mathis, who turns 31 during the February 20-March 5 period to use the franchise tag, at the cost of over $10.5 million. The wide receiver tender is projected to be worth around $9.5 million, which may be a bit steep for a 33-year-old Wayne. Garcon, who posted below average DVOAs even with a fully functional Peyton Manning at quarterback, also probably isn't worthy of the tag.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: There is no bigger cap casualty in the NFL than Peyton Manning, who is expected to become a street free agent when the Colts decline to pick up a $28 million option bonus by the March 8 deadline. Because that option bonus came due in the 2011 league year, it currently counts for $5.6 million against the team's cap in each of the next five seasons. When the Colts decline to pick up the option bonus, the Colts will receive a $5.6 million cap credit for 2011, which will be applied to the 2012 cap, softening the blow of $16 million in signing bonus proration that will hit the team's cap next season. The Colts could gain more cap space by extending the contract of Dwight Freeney, who turns 32 this upcoming weekend and is due $14.035 million in base salary with a $19.035 million cap number in 2012, the final year of his current contract.
Estimated Cap Space: Around $45 million
A part-time starter, Russell Allen will almost certainly be back on a restricted free agent, likely at the "right of first refusal/original round" level worth $1.26 million. With ample space under the salary cap, similar tender offers can be expected for the other four restricted free agents, particularly cornerback William Middleton and safety Courtney Greene.
Franchise Tag Candidate: A 77 percent kicker over his first seven seasons in the NFL, Josh Scobee was 23-of-25 (92 percent) on field goal attempts and, as expected with the moving of kickoffs from the 30 to 35-yard line, had a career-high 39 touchbacks. Scobee was 12-of-14 on field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards and a franchise tender of around $2.7 million is an affordable number for a team with as much cap space as the Jaguars have in 2012.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has 13 quarterback sacks over the last two seasons, including a career-high eight sacks while earning the league minimum ($685,000). A significant raise is possible, though Mincey is unlikely to be franchised at a cost of nearly $11 million.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cap space may not be an issue for the Jaguars, but no team wants to spend large sums of cash on older players that have not been healthy. Since signing a five-year, $25 million contract as a free agent in the 2010 offseason, defensive end Aaron Kampman has played in just 11 games, including three games without recording a statistic in 2011. Kampman is due $5 million in cash and has a $7.5 million cap number in 2012. His release would clear $2.5 million in cap space
Estimated Cap Space: $30-$35 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (15): Ken Amato, Donnie Avery, Jordan Babineaux, Patrick Bailey, Dave Ball, Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin, Ahmard Hall, William Hayes, Chris Hope, Jason Jones, Barrett Ruud, Jake Scott, Tim Shaw, Anthony Smith
Restricted Free Agents (0): None
Franchise Tag Candidate: Cortland Finnegan has been a Pro Bowl player during his six seasons with the Titans, but that was four seasons ago, and the relationship between him and the Titans has soured to the point where Finnegan briefly left training camp and openly discussed his impending departure from Nashville during the 2011 season. Franchising Finnegan would guarantee the 28-year-old a base salary of nearly $10.5 million, but would keep him from the open market where he could make considerably more and gain some long-term security. The only safeties the Titans have under contract for 2012 are Robert Johnson and Al Afalava, which could prompt the Titans to use the franchise tag on two-time Pro Bowler Michael Griffin. The franchise tender for safeties in 2012 is projected to be worth around $6.2 million in base salary.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cap space isn't an issue, but if the Titans are looking for space, they can start on offense. At present, the top-5 2012 cap numbers on the Titans, and the only players with cap numbers over $5 million, are on that side of the ball. Running back Chris Johnson ($11.431 million), quarterback Matt Hasselbeck ($7.5 million), offensive tackles Michael Roos ($7.25 million) and David Stewart ($6 million) and center Eugene Amano ($5.25 million). The highest-paid defensive player is linebacker Will Witherspoon, who is due $3.5 million in base salary and has a cap number of $4.5 million in 2012.