NFC South: salary cap
He’s counting $17.4 million, which easily places him well above anyone else in the division. Let’s take a look at which NFC South players are counting more than $5 million against the cap in 2013.
- Brees $17.4 million
- Charles Johnson, defensive end, Panthers, $13 million
- Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons, $12 million
- Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Buccaneers, $10.9 million
- Josh Freeman, quarterback, Buccaneers, $10.39 million
- Jon Beason, linebacker, Panthers, $9.5 million
- Roddy White, receiver, Falcons, $9.125 million
- Dashon Goldson, safety, Buccaneers, $9 million
- DeAngelo Williams, running back, Panthers, $8.2 million
- Eric Wright, cornerback, Buccaneers $7.75 million
- Justin Blalock, guard, Falcons, $7.66 million
- Will Smith, defensive end, Saints, $7.6 million
- Roman Harper, safety, Saints, $7.15 million
- Thomas Davis, linebacker, Panthers, $6.8 million
- Jahri Evans, guard, Saints, $6.74 million
- Ryan Kalil, center, Panthers, $6.4 million
- Tyson Clabo, tackle, Falcons, $6.05 million
- Cam Newton, quarterback, Panthers, $6 million
- Davin Joseph, guard, Buccaneers $6 million
- Asante Samuel, cornerback, Falcons $5.75 million
- Steve Smith, receiver, Panthers, $5.75 million
- Jabari Greer, cornerback, Saints, $5.475 million
- Tony Gonzalez, tight end, Falcons, $5.25 million
- Jonathan Babineaux, defensive tackle, Falcons, $5.2 million
They have restructured a couple of contracts to get to about $10 million over the cap. But they’re going to have to release some players before the start of the league year on March 12, because they’re only going to make things more difficult for themselves if they restructure too many more contracts.
Quite simply, the Panthers can’t afford to spread too much more money into the future. The Panthers already have a whopping $139 million committed toward the 2014 salary cap, and that’s with only 43 players under contract for that time period. The cap isn’t going to suddenly escalate by $10 million or $20 million, so the Panthers will have to go through the same thing next year.
Let’s take it even a step further down the road. For 2015, the Panthers already have $111.6 million committed toward the cap. That’s for only 20 players, and quarterback Cam Newton isn't one of them. At some point, the Panthers are going to have to give Newton a very large contract extension.
That’s why restructuring many more contracts to push money back isn’t good for the long term. The Panthers need to get some of the big money off their books now.
Kicker Garrett Hartley earned a $1.432 million escalator and safety Malcolm Jenkins earned a $1.25 million raise. The other Saints to hit escalators were receiver Lance Moore ($100,000), tackle Zach Strief ($300,000), tight end Jimmy Graham ($700,000) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($195,000).
I’ve also got the numbers on escalators that were triggered elsewhere in the NFC South. In most cases, the escalators were based on players meeting specified playing-time levels in 2012. But, in some cases, the escalators were triggered by playing time in previous years.
Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who could end up being a salary-cap casualty, had his base salary escalate by $1.4 million. Defensive end John Abraham triggered a $1 million escalator. The other two Falcons to earn escalators for this season are defensive tackle Corey Peters ($600,000) and cornerback Asante Samuel ($200,000).
Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy had his team’s largest escalator ($775,000). Receiver Brandon LaFell earned a $700,000 escalator and offensive lineman Garry Williams will pick up an extra $125,000.
The Tampa Bay players to hit escalators were offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah ($250,000), tackle Demar Dotson ($500,000), receiver Mike Williams ($800,000), offensive lineman Ted Larsen ($700,000), safety Cody Grimm ($625,000, which was based on his 2010 playing time) and fullback Erik Lorig ($425,000).
The team previously had been more than $20 million over the anticipated cap of about $121 million. But the first bit of shaving came this week.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton has restructured the contract he signed as a free agent last offseason, according to a league source.
Lofton’s cap figure was scheduled to be $7.1 million. But the Saints were able to drop that number to $3.1 million by replacing a scheduled $5 million roster bonus with a $5 million signing bonus that will be pro-rated over the remainder of the contract.
This is just a first step for the Saints. There likely will be more contract restructures, and some veteran players are likely to be released.
Tampa Bay spent a whopping $75.8 million on offense, and the result wasn’t exactly the “Greatest Show on Turf.’’ Rookie running back Doug Martin had a very nice season, and quarterback Josh Freeman set a bunch of franchise records. The offense did some nice things at times, but it wasn’t very consistent. No other team spent more on offense, but Tampa Bay’s figure might have been a little skewed by the front-loaded contracts the Bucs gave guard Carl Nicks and receiver Vincent Jackson in free agency.
The Bucs spent only $41.9 million on defense, and the disparity showed. If Tampa Bay wants to be a playoff contender in 2013, it’s going to need to spend some more on defense, particularly in the secondary.
The Atlanta Falcons also had a disparity in their spending between offense and defense. They paid $66.8 million to their offensive players and $50.3 to their defensive players. I don’t expect that to change too much in 2013, because the Falcons have high-priced receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones, and quarterback Matt Ryan probably will get a hefty contract extension sometime this offseason.
The other two NFC South teams were fairly balanced in their 2012 spending. The New Orleans Saints paid their offensive players $53.1 million and their defensive players $53.9 million. Although the Saints obviously need to improve their defense, I don’t anticipate their spending pattern changing much in 2013. They’ll add some defensive players, but it’s likely they’ll be parting ways with some high-priced defensive veterans to get under the cap.
The Carolina Panthers paid $55.6 million to their offense and $57.4 million to their defense. I’d expect a similar balance in 2013, but the Panthers are going to have to trim on both sides of the ball, because they’re about $16 million over the expected cap.
The Falcons are likely to re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes or use the franchise tag on him. The Falcons also have said they want to re-sign middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Although defensive end John Abraham and his agent have made it sound like he won’t return to Atlanta, it remains possible the Falcons could bring him back if Abraham’s price tag drops from the $12 million he’s seeking. The Falcons also have several other free agents, including receiver Harry Douglas, that they’re likely to have some interest in keeping.
If most or all of those free agents are signed, the Falcons could have some salary-cap decisions to make on players currently under contract. The Falcons aren’t the type of team that likes to sit still and it’s likely they’ll be spending some significant money in free agency.
With that in mind, let’s finish our series on NFC South players that could be on the hot seat with the Falcons.
Although Mike Smith said at the combine he looks forward to left tackle Sam Baker returning, I think that might have been a case of a coach just being nice. Releasing Baker, who lost his starting job last year, would free up $2.6 million in cap space.
Fullback Ovie Mughelli has been an outstanding blocker throughout his time with the Falcons. But he’s about to turn 32 and is coming off a leg injury that cut last season short. The Falcons could save $3 million by releasing him and there are other guys out there that can block.
Defensive tackle is another position where the Falcons might have to make some big decisions. Jonathan Babineaux is coming off a very quiet year and he’ll turn 31 early next season. He’s scheduled to count $4.6 million against the cap and the Falcons could clear $3.6 million in cap space by releasing him. There might be temptation by fans to say the Falcons should release Peria Jerry instead. Understandable because Jerry hasn’t done much since getting hurt early in his rookie season (2009). But the Falcons still think Jerry has some upside. More importantly, cutting Jerry wouldn’t help the Falcons against the cap. In fact, it would hurt them. Jerry is scheduled to count $1.95 million against the cap. If the Falcons cut Jerry, they’d take a $2.2 million cap hit.
The Panthers are projected to be about $9 million above the cap. We continue our look at which NFC South players are potential cap casualties with a look at some candidates from the Panthers.
Linebacker Thomas Davis is scheduled to receive an $8 million roster bonus soon after free agency opens. But simply releasing Davis only gives the Panthers about $300,000 cap relief from Davis’ scheduled cap figure of $5.9 million. I don’t see any way the Panthers pay Davis, who is coming off his third ACL injury, the roster bonus. But Davis wants to stay in Carolina and the Panthers like him. Both sides could be willing to work out a new deal that waives the bonus and lowers Davis’ cap figure.
Veteran guard Travelle Wharton has been a solid player throughout his time in Carolina. But Wharton is scheduled to count $7.6 million against the cap. The Panthers could free up almost $4 million by releasing him. Wharton turns 31 in May and the Panthers have some younger offensive linemen that have promise.
The Panthers also could make some changes in their kicking game to free up some cap space. Kicker Olindo Mare was a disappointment last year. The Panthers wouldn’t save much ($300,000) by releasing him, but they’re in a situation where every penny counts. Punter Jason Baker also had a disappointing 2011 season. He’s scheduled to count almost $2 million against the cap and the Panthers could free up $1.7 million by releasing him.
There’s no denying that. But, now that the Bucs are 7-4, I’m wondering if being frugal is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the gap between the Bucs and the rest of the league has widened even more than it was at the beginning of the season. With the releases of some veterans like Sabby Piscitelli and Keydrick Vincent, Tampa Bay’s payroll has been trimmed even more.
A few months ago, the Bucs were up around $85 million in money committed to this year’s salary cap. Of course, we must note there is no salary cap this year. But these figures are still the best way to gauge how teams are spending. These numbers aren’t actual salaries. They include salaries, but also included pro-rated signing bonuses, other bonuses and, in some cases, cap hits for guys no longer on the team.
According to the latest numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Tampa Bay is by far the league’s lowest team in this category. The Bucs are on the books for $80.8 million this year. I’m looking around the rest of the league and the only other teams that are at less than $100 million are Arizona ($98.1 million), Jacksonville ($91.5 million) and Kansas City ($93.7 million). The league average is $124.2 million.
I’m also looking at the two highest figures around the league. Washington leads at $192.2 million and Dallas is next at $167.3 million. Gee, they’re not really thriving, which makes me wonder if you have to spend huge money to succeed.
Beyond the Bucs, there is plenty of evidence that you don’t need a high payroll to win. The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the best record in the league and they’re committed to $118.8 million this year.
New Orleans is on the upper end of things, but they’re not quite with the big boys. The Saints are at about $147 million. Then, there are the Carolina Panthers, who are in a league of their own. They are right at $110 million. But more than $30 million of that is “dead money’’, which counts for players no longer on the team. If you factored in only the guys on Carolina’s roster, the Panthers would have a lower figure than the Buccaneers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
This one's just a formality, but it's a good one for the Atlanta Falcons.
The team already had announced the retirement of offensive lineman Todd Weiner after last season. It was expected because Weiner had squeezed just about everything he could from his playing days and his body didn't have much left.
But, in a way, Weiner gave the Falcons something more Tuesday. He officially filed his retirement papers and was placed on the reserve/retired list. All that may not seem very significant, but it is. With Weiner officially retired, the Falcons now have cleared an additional $1.75 in salary-cap space.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for an update on the salary-cap status of the four NFC South teams. We've got two extremes.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to have the most cap space in the entire league. According to league sources, the Bucs have $39.9 million available. The Carolina Panthers are at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Panthers have a league-low $24,042 in available space. That's not even close enough for the Panthers to be able to sign a player for a minimum salary. If the Panthers are going to make any moves, they'll have to restructure contracts or release players.
The Falcons, who have been very quiet in free agency, have $24.7 million in cap space. That number doesn't include the contract signed Tuesday by linebacker Mike Peterson.
The Saints had $2.3 million in cap space before the recent signing of fullback Heath Evans. That move probably drops their figure to about $1.5 million.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Let's start this one by saying Wednesday's cuts by the Bucs weren't about the salary cap.
All totaled, the Bucs freed up $12.55 million in cap room with these moves. The release of Brooks, Dunn and June each cleared $3 million. Galloway's release freed up $2.35 million. Hilliard's departure opened $1.2 million in space.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Fine work by the Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan in getting the full 2009 salary cap breakdown for the Saints. With the Saints already over the cap, there's going to be some major movement.
Just scanning through Duncan's list, here are some guys I think could be out of New Orleans because of their salary-cap figures: Receiver David Patten, running back Deuce McAllister, guard Jamar Nesbit, defensive tackle Brian Young, cornerbacks Jason David and Mike McKenzie and safety Kevin Kaesviharn.
The Saints also can free up some cap space by restructuring the contracts of some of their veterans, and defensive end Will Smith would be a prime candidate for that.