Under the Cap: AFC South Cap Overview

Under the Cap: AFC South Cap Overview
Under the Cap: AFC South Cap Overview
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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.

Houston Texans

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

Restricted Free Agents (2): Quintin Demps, Arian Foster

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.

Indianapolis Colts

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

Restricted Free Agents (2): Anthony Hill, Jacob Lacey

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.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Estimated Cap Space: Around $45 million

Unrestricted Free Agents (11): C.C. Brown, Nick Harris, David Jones, Dwight Lowery, Rashean Mathis, Luke McCown, Jeremy Mincey, C.J. Mosley, Matt Roth, Josh Scobee, Guy Whimper

Restricted Free Agents (5): Russell Allen, Leger Douzable, Courtney Greene, William Middleton, William Robinson

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

Tennessee Titans

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.


25 comments, Last at 18 Feb 2012, 5:39pm

#1 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 16, 2012 - 12:32pm

Hey Al Afalava is still around. Always liked that guy even if he was too slow to play.

Points: 0

#2 by Mr Shush // Feb 16, 2012 - 1:50pm

It's very, very hard to see the Texans keeping Williams. Someone else is simply going to have the ability to pay him a lot more money - probably more than he's worth to any team, and almost certainly more than he's worth to a 3-4 team with two other decent or better rush OLBs on the books.

The above analysis overlooks the Texans likely need to extend at least one of Connor Barwin, Duane Brown and Glover Quin, and preferably more - all three have relatively cheap contracts which will expire after the end of this season.

Points: 0

#3 by ebongreen // Feb 16, 2012 - 2:29pm

My big question on Mario isn't whether he's going to leave, but who gets him and for what position.

With his size and athleticism, he strikes me as much more suited for a 4-3 DE than a 3-4 OLB - but what 4-3 team wants him, has a place for him on the line, and has the cap room to sign him?

Points: 0

#4 by Independent George // Feb 16, 2012 - 2:39pm

Would the Pats be able/willing to sign him? They've got the cap space, the need, and the acumen to use him. And if the Belichick mind control rays still work, they're the one team I can see signing him without overpaying.

Points: 0

#6 by ebongreen // Feb 16, 2012 - 3:15pm

Then the next great question: would he want to play for the Patriots?

Leaving my own personal feelings towards Mr. Bill aside, he's frequently quite the polarizing figure.

Points: 0

#12 by LionInAZ // Feb 16, 2012 - 4:46pm

Belichick may be polarizing to some, but I've never heard that said with regard to his players, except maybe to the ones he let walk when they thought they were still in their prime.

I could certainly see Mario Williams going to the Pats and making an impact right away, maybe even enough to fuel another Super Bowl run, and I'm sure he could see that too. Going to the Titans would not improve his chances of making the Super Bowl very soon.

Points: 0

#8 by ebongreen // Feb 16, 2012 - 3:24pm

The Titans are one of the teams mentioned here, as are the Jaguars. I imagine the Jaguars might find themselves more inclined to draft Quinton Coples than spend the money on Mario, assuming that QC will be available at #7.

As with the Pats, are there reasons MW might not like either team? The Jaguars are in full-bore rebuilding, and if MW wants to win now, I can't see him signing there. The Titans strike me as a team teetering on the edge of maybe-maybe-not - a lot depends on whether Jake Locker is a guy or The Guy, and I don't know that anyone knows the answer to that yet.

Sure will be interesting to watch.

Points: 0

#10 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 16, 2012 - 3:28pm

Just as a personal fantasy, watching Peppers and Super Mario attack QBs from each side would be quite the spectacle. According to the Tribune, the Bears have 20 million in cap space, so it's theoretically possible, but I doubt it happens.

Points: 0

#11 by ebongreen // Feb 16, 2012 - 4:19pm

As a Packer fan, I can attest that would be both a spectacle and a nightmare. In theory, da Bears are set at LE with Israel Idonije claming he'll re-up, so unless the new front office pulls an Eagle with an all-in offseason, Mario is headed elsewhere.

Points: 0

#16 by Mr Shush // Feb 17, 2012 - 6:56am

I may be doing the man a disservice, but I'm not sure just how central the prospect of championships will be in driving Williams' decision. He doesn't strike me as a guy who's likely to give the Patriots (say) a discount rather than taking more money from a rebuilding side, especially given that he's still young enough for a team to completely turn around while he's still in his prime.

I think the Jaguars are the leading candidate, because they have so much freakin' cap room, a fair chunk of which they probably have to spend just to get up to the salary floor, a new owner who'll want to make a splash, and (unlike the other two teams I'm aware of with comparable cap situations, the Bucs and Chiefs) a clear need at the position.

As a Texans fan, I'm fine with that: Williams is a very, very good player, but whoever gets him is almost certainly going to overpay for him.

Edit: In this interview Williams says (though hardly in the most categorical terms) that being in the right situation is more important to him than money, which he already has a lot of, and that if possible he'd like to stay in Houston. My view remains unchanged: it won't be hard for him to talk himself (or his agent to talk him) into seeing almost any situation as offering an opportunity "to be in a good position, a good scheme, a good system and continu[e his] career" while "in a position to be successful. That comes with teammates around you, coaching, having that winning attitude. You want to (play) where you can thrive no matter where you are”.

Points: 0

#19 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 17, 2012 - 8:46pm

This situation is a little surreal to me. How often do you see a top 5 pick, who has met expectations, leave his team after his rookie deal is over?

Points: 0

#20 by Mr Shush // Feb 17, 2012 - 9:04pm

I think Edgerrin James and Shawn Springs both probably qualify.

Peppers and Justin Smith both played one year under the franchise tag before being allowed to walk. Possibly one issue is that top 5 picks very rarely meet expectations - they either succeed spectacularly or bust badly enough that they clearly don't justify their cap cost (at least under the old CBA).

Points: 0

#21 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 17, 2012 - 9:09pm

Peppers played in Carolina for 8 years, I'm pretty sure he signed a contract extension at some point.

Points: 0

#22 by Andrew Potter // Feb 17, 2012 - 11:24pm

His rookie deal was a 7-year contract, then he played a year under the Franchise Tag.

Points: 0

#25 by Eddo // Feb 18, 2012 - 5:39pm

Don't forget that Williams has already played for Houston for six years. I hadn't realized that at first, either.

Points: 0

#7 by Matt Bowyer // Feb 16, 2012 - 3:21pm

I'm just so happy the Redskins won't be trying to win this bidding. Whenever there is a high profile player who will command a lot of money, I think we all assume Dan Snyder will be in the conversation.

Points: 0

#9 by ebongreen // Feb 16, 2012 - 3:25pm

Yeah, I can't see it. Between Kerrigan and Orakpo, I can't see even Danny Spender paying mega-bucks for a third starter, and MW would be tragically miscast as a space-eating 3-4 DE.

Points: 0

#13 by Dean // Feb 16, 2012 - 4:51pm

I'd still call them a dark horse. I'd also call Philly a dark horse in the same situation. Between Babin and Cole, you'd think they'd be content. But Reid has never shied away from opening the wallet for a DE. Nobody thought they'd land Scrabble last year. Still a dark horse, but you never know. Snyder could decide he just has to have a former first overall pick.

Points: 0

#15 by theshadowj // Feb 16, 2012 - 7:50pm

How are you coming up with the cap space numbers? The only place I've found that has good salary cap info for every team is spotrac.com, but you're numbers don't seem to be matching up with what they have. I know you've been keeping track of bonuses earned from incentives for every team, but that can't be all of the difference. Is there something big that spotrac is missing?

Points: 0

#17 by Karl Cuba // Feb 17, 2012 - 8:13am

I just had a look at the spotrac figures for the 49ers, the team I know the best, and they seem to be missing a option bonus due to Patrick Willis worth about $12 million.

Points: 0

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