Football is year round for us, and the period after the season ends is actually one of my favorite parts of the football year: the offseason business side. Assessing a team’s cap situation, their pending free agents, and stock of draft picks in an attempt to set out the course of the future is something I find to be a lot of fun. Right now I’m feeling extremely impatient due to the fact that free agency doesn’t even officially open till the second week of March, so over the next couple weeks I’ll be giving you an economic roster breakdown of the next year. I was discussing the Saints earlier today with Nath, so the NFC South seems like a good place to start.
Free agent starters: TE Jimmy Graham, OT Charles Brown, OT Zach Strief
Current Needs: OT, CB, WR/TE, Pass rush
Cap Situation: The Saints just cut loose a few players (Roman Harper, Jabari Greer, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith) to clear up quite a bit of cash and get under the cap. Currently they sit at $113 million which is about $13M under the cap limit of $126.3M. Players on the roster still who could also be cut or likely to at least restructure are: RB Pierre Thomas, RB Darren Sproles, DT Brodrick Bunkley, CB Patrick Robinson, OLB Victor Butler and WR Lance Moore. If they ALL get cut the Saints would get an extra $13M to spend but of course dead money and expected production make these outcomes anything but predictable. They have essentially no carry over cap room from 2013 ($500k).
Free Agency: Jimmy Graham is the most notable free agent and is looking for a payday. He’s said he doesn’t want the franchise tag and he should be worried; the tag is only $6M for TE’s, and over $10M for WR’s. The Saints will almost certainly tag him since he is likely to demand more than $6M/yr. That said, its possible the Saints let Graham walk as they are losing both their starting offensive tackles. Strief and Brown were not a great tandem, but they still need to be replaced and there doesn’t seem to be much room to do it. The OT market in free agency is fairly deep (Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, Jared Veldheer, Roger Saffold, Michael Oher) so its conceivable the Saints forego signing Graham and instead go after a quality OT, if they prefer protecting Brees over a dynamic pass catcher.
Outlook: Luckily the Saints don’t have too many needs (they lost numerous starters before the season even started) and they have all their draft picks besides a 7th rounder. OT and a pass catcher are the biggest priorities for the Saints, and they will likely address only one of those through free agency. CB is a possibility as well but the OT situation is currently the most demanding. Despite the cap troubles, a decent draft could easily make this team a Super Bowl contender again.
Carolina Panthers: (12-4)
Free agent starters: OT Jordan Gross, OL Travelle Wharton, WR Brandon LaFell, DE Greg Hardy, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Quinten Mikell, S Mike Mitchell
Current Needs: OT, WR, CB, S
Cap Situation: It hurts me to say it because I like the Panthers and Cam Newton, but this team is in a really bad situation. 7 free agent starters, and their cap number currently stands at $103M, just $23M under the ceiling. They do have about $6M in carryover cap space from 2013, which helps, but it is not possible to resign all these players. There is very little room to maneuver by cutting the right players; less than $6M in cap room would come from cutting S Charles Godfrey, RB Mike Tolbert, LB Chase Blackburn, and DT Dwan Edwards. They are currently getting eaten alive by the albatross contracts given out to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who are costing the Panthers $11M this year with another $16M guaranteed in the future!
Free Agency: Greg Hardy could very well be franchised, but that would be a costly $11M. Jordan Gross needs to be resigned as he might take a discount to stick around, and the Panthers really have no room at all to go after any decent free agents. These are two very significant free agents, and the Panthers also have to address losing three starters from an already mediocre secondary. The Panthers will have to be extremely cost effective this free agency.
Outlook: Don’t expect any big free agent splashes, or even that many small ones. The Panthers will be lucky to bring back even four of their seven free agent starters. They will need to do their best to find bargains and hit on their draft picks to replace players on the cheap. This could lead to them raising the stakes and drafting primarily based on need.
Free agent starters: None
Current Needs: DE, DT, WR, OL
Cap Situation: The Bucs start the offseason with a hefty $122M payroll, but with quite a bit of non-guaranteed money. Davin Joseph missed all of last year and would free up $6M if cut with no dead money, so he is pretty much guaranteed to be gone or at least making much less. Donald Penn was not bad last year, but the team may feel $7.4M of his $8M salary is better spent on one of the free agent LT’s. Either way, he is also likely to yield some cap room. Gerald McCoy has a cap hit of $15M with only $5M dead, so he could restructure if he feels charitable. Darrelle Revis could be cut for an immediate $16M in cap space, and the bonus of a 3rd rounder instead of a 4th. However, given his business mentality and the fact that he was pretty much 100% by the end of the year, it seems unlikely that the Bucs gamble on letting him leave. Additionally, P Michael Koenen, K Connor Barth, LB Mason Foster, DE Daquan Bowers, OG Jeremy Zuttah, and OG Carl Nicks could all be cut for a max savings of $16M. Additionally they have about $6.7M in carryover space from 2013, bringing their max potential cap space to around $45M. Keep in mind almost all of these players are starters, so renegotiations might be a lot more likely than cuts.
Free Agency: The Bucs could clear over $40M from their payroll if they really wanted to, but it seems likely that a good number of those players will return next season. That said, they should easily be able to clear $10M and as much as $20M. This would allow them to sign 1-2 decent free agents, but the required cuts would make OL, K, and P all needs. Look for them to be fairly quiet in free agency, going after no more than one significant free agent while trying to restructure many of their current contracts.
Outlook: The Bucs are without their 3rd and 6th round picks due to trades, but have a high slot at #7. Their cap situation makes it difficult improve in free agency, but their roster is already fairly talented. In another division I might like them to make the 2014 playoffs but the NFC South is a dogfight. Overall they may not be ready to challenge the Saints, but if all goes well I wouldn’t be surprised to see them leapfrog the Panthers.
Free agent starters: OT Jeremy Trueblood, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DT Peria Jerry, DT Corey Peters, CB Asante Samuel
Current Needs: OT, DT,CB, OG, LB
Cap Situation: The Falcons start at $111M, but that includes $8.75M from Tony Gonzalez who is expected to retire. Roddy White could take a pay cut after an injury plagued year and only 1.3 out of a $6M contract guaranteed. Many other salaries could be pinched, but they are from current starters who aren’t necessarily expensive at their current figures. With an estimated $3M in carry over space from 2013, the Falcons will have a solid $28M to play with.
Free Agency: Offensive line is a glaring need, and the free agent market is conveniently deep this year. With a solid amount of cap space, the Falcons will almost certainly throw a bunch of money at least one of OL, DT, and CB.
Outlook: Falcons fans were undoubtedly very disappointed with the performance this past season, especially coming off a one and done 1st round bye in 2012. However, 2014 looks extremely bright from a financial perspective; a good amount of money to spend, and a full slate of draft picks near the top of each round. The Falcons could easily return to the playoffs in 2014.
All the estimated numbers in carry over space from 2013 can be found here on ESPN: