- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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There have been numerous reports that the NFL's salary cap will be somewhere around $120 million.
All four NFC South teams are well below that figure in what they currently have committed to the 2011 cap. But Atlanta's got some decisions to make on re-signing some of its own free agents and is likely to pursue a big-name defensive end. That could put the Falcons close to the cap. New Orleans is in a similar situation because the Saints want to re-sign a bunch of their free agents and could need to create some room.
That could lead to some cap casualties once the league year opens. Tampa Bay and Carolina both have plenty of cap room, but there are some moves those teams could make that would free up even more space. Let's take a look at some possible cap casualties around the NFC South.
Atlanta. With the addition of Julio Jones, Michael Jenkins' job as a starting wide receiver is in jeopardy. Maybe the Falcons look to keep him as a very expensive backup or maybe they look to trade him because he should have some value on the market. But maybe the Falcons simply release Jenkins, who is scheduled to count $4.1 million against the cap. The Falcons would only be on the hook for $1.2 million. In terms of true value compared to salary, defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis are guys who don't measure up to their salary-cap space. Anderson is scheduled to count $5.8 million against the cap, but the Falcons would take a $3.1 million hit if they release him. Davis is scheduled to count $3.75 in cap space and the Falcons could free up $2.25 million by letting him go.
Tampa Bay. This first scenario might be a long shot because the Bucs don't really need to free up cap space, and Jeff Faine is viewed as a reliable veteran center. But Faine is 30 and has missed parts of the past two seasons with injuries. He's scheduled to count $4.575 against the salary cap and the Bucs wouldn't have to absorb a dime if they cut him because Faine's contract was structured in a way that his $12 million in bonus money was absorbed in the first two years of his deal. It remains to be seen if the Bucs or the NFL will take disciplinary action against cornerback Aqib Talib for an off-field incident. But if the Bucs decide they've had enough of the troubled cornerback, it would be easy and cost effective to cut him. Talib's scheduled to count $1.95 million against the cap, and the Bucs could free up $1.35 million by releasing him. Another guy to keep an eye on is fullback Earnest Graham. He's 31 and missed some time with injuries last year. More importantly, Graham is scheduled to count $3.105 million against the cap. If he were still playing tailback, that wouldn't be a bad figure. But a fullback counting more than $3 million against the cap is a luxury and the Bucs wouldn't have to absorb any cap hit if they release Graham. Long-snapper Andrew Economos tore his Achilles tendon during the offseason and may not be able to play this year. The Bucs could reach an injury settlement with Economos. But they also could cut him and free up $680,000 in cap space.
New Orleans. We all know the Reggie Bush situation. He's scheduled to count $16 million against the cap. If the Saints release him, they'd only be responsible for $3.5 million in pro-rated bonus money. But it sounds like Bush and the Saints will try to work out a new contract to keep him. It's unknown if cornerback Randall Gay has been medically cleared after suffering a concussion early last season. If he has, the Saints easily could release him. They'd free up more than $4 million in cap space and they have plenty of other cornerbacks. Wide receiver Devery Henderson also has a relatively high cap figure ($3.225 million) and the Saints could clear up $1.5 million by releasing him. Defensive end Alex Brown is probably safe because the Saints don't know yet what they have in rookie Cameron Jordan. But Brown is scheduled to count for $3 million and it wouldn't cost the Saints anything to cut him.
Carolina. The one bright spot of the youth movement the Panthers went to in recent years is that there aren't many veterans who are obvious candidates to become cap casualties. In fact, I'm looking at the roster and contract information and seeing only one possibility: defensive end Tyler Brayton. He's scheduled to take up $3.8 million in cap space and the Panthers would only take a $666,000 hit if they cut him.