NFC South: rookie wage scale

NFC South rookie pool numbers

July, 26, 2011
Just got the 2011 rookie pool numbers for all four NFC South teams and wanted to share them with you before we get too deep into free agency.

Under the new rookie wage scale, each team has a designated amount to spend on its rookies. The formula to come up with that amount is based on the number of picks and where those picks were taken in the draft. Here’s the breakdown on the four NFC South clubs.
  • Atlanta: $5,052,827
  • Carolina: $7,132,452
  • New Orleans: $4,578,566
  • Tampa Bay: $4,789,294
While he tries to re-sign free agents like Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams, Carolina general manager Marty Hurney has one very important contract that must get done quickly.

That’s signing No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton. The Panthers and Newton’s agents are expected to begin negotiations today. Heck, they may already be talking and Newton already walked past reporters on his way to report to Bank of America Stadium. Although the new rookie wage scale should make contract numbers somewhat obvious, there’s no margin for error on this one. The wage scale should give Newton a four-year deal worth around $22 million with an option for a fifth year that would add roughly another $14 million.

There certainly is no room for any delay. The Panthers report to camp on Friday and will begin practice on Saturday. It’s more important than ever that the Panthers don’t have a holdout situation.

They need Newton on the field from the very first practice of training camp. He’s missed an entire offseason of work with the coaching staff. If there’s any chance of Newton being the starter on opening day or even playing early in the season, he needs to have a good training camp and he needs to be practicing right from the start.

If Newton misses practice time or isn’t ready, the Panthers may have to open the season with Jimmy Clausen or even a veteran free agent.
There’s one common question I’m getting from a lot of readers as they look ahead to free agency.

How are the Bucs and Panthers, who are among the league leaders in salary-cap room coming out of the lockout, going to be able to spend to 99 percent of the cap?

First off, I expect both teams to re-sign a fair amount of their own free agents. You can take $10 million off of Carolina’s cap space if center Ryan Kalil plays for the franchise tender. Carolina has some very prominent ones, highlighted by Charles Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, James Anderson and Thomas Davis. Keeping all or most of them will eat up significant room. Same for Tampa Bay, where guard Davin Joseph leads the team’s class of free agents.

Second, none of the draft picks have signed yet. Even with the proposed rookie wage scale holding down salaries for first-year players, this will take up some of the cap space.

Third, the Panthers and Bucs will sign some free agents from other teams, although I don’t think either will go into the kind of all-out frenzy many fans seem to expect. You also might see both teams try to extend the contracts of some of their other young players. Is it too early for Tampa Bay to extend Josh Freeman's contract? Should Carolina go ahead and lock up linebacker Jon Beason with an extension?

Even with all that, the Panthers and the Bucs still might have to be creative to get themselves to 99 percent. One possible strategy that both teams could use would be to front load contracts for players that they re-sign or players they sign from elsewhere.

Instead of spreading money out over the course of the deal, they can structure contracts so that a big part of the salary-cap hit comes in the first year. That would include things like large roster bonuses and signing bonuses. They could also make the first-year base salary higher than normal, but if the new agreement is similar to the old rules, the drop in base salary from one year to the next can’t be more than 30 percent.

Hitting the NFC South links

July, 23, 2011
A look at the Saturday headlines from around the NFC South.

Tom Sorensen writes about the role Carolina’s Jerry Richardson played in getting owners to agree on a labor proposal. He’s right when he says it must have been a huge challenge getting so many people who are used to doing things on their own to agree on something so complex.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was used as the example when the proposed rookie wage scale was presented to player representatives. It’s estimated Newton’s five-year contract will be worth $36 million, which is less than half of the total amount of the contract given to Sam Bradford last year.

New Orleans rookie running back Mark Ingram said he’s fine after a traffic accident Friday morning.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said the Bucs are going to concentrate on keeping their own free agents first. That’s the same thing we’ve heard from the Carolina people. The Bucs and Panthers are among the league leaders in salary-cap room at the moment and fans of both teams are expecting free-agent frenzies. You might want to temper your expectations a bit. The Bucs and Panthers will sign some free agents, but they’re not going to suddenly turn into the Redskins, who seem to turn over their roster each year. Both teams are committed to their youth movements, which are focused on building through the draft. In fact, I expect the Falcons and Saints, who have less cap room, to make bigger splashes in free agency than the Panthers and Bucs.

Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White discusses the labor situation.