2013 NFL Free Agency: How Could The Falcons Create More Cap Space?

"Yo TD, you best pay up." - USA TODAY Sports

Now that Osi Umenyiora has officially signed, the Falcons find themselves without much wiggle room on the financial side of things. Today, we'll examine how that could change moving forward.

When former Giants DE Osi Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5M contract with Atlanta on Wednesday, the Falcons filled the hole left by John Abraham with a player of similar talent.

The team got its pass-rusher, younger than Abraham and less expensive, too. The general feeling now, after both his addition and the arrival of Steven Jackson, is that the Falcons are more or less done in free agency. At the very least, no more major moves are expected (sorry, Darrelle Revis fans).

But the Falcons also have a much tighter cap number now.

Before Umenyiora's contract, Atlanta's cap number for the 2013 season was a shade under $117M, which ESPN's Pat Yasinkas estimated to be $5.77M under the current salary cap.

The cap hits for that Osi's are not yet available. We do know that $5M is guaranteed, and that the contract also allows for up to $3.5M in performance-based incentives. If Jackson's new deal is anything similar, it would be fair to estimate that Umenyiora's first-year cap hit is somewhere in the $2-3M range.

That would leave the Falcons with about $2M in cap space going forward, most of which should be allotted for incoming draft picks and undrafted free agents.

But Atlanta could also be in the market for one or two more small-time, depth signings at positions like cornerback, safety, fullback, or even tight end (Michael Palmer remains a restricted free agent at this time). And of course, Thomas Dimitroff still has not ruled out bringing Abraham back to Atlanta.

How can the Falcons make any of this work with their relatively small budget? A few suggestions that may (but probably will not) happen in the short term:

1 - Extend Matt Ryan

In the last year of his rookie deal, our franchise quarterback's cap figure sits at $12M, the highest of anyone on the team.

It may sound counterintuitive. Extending Ryan involves spending more money. But if you look at the way Joe Flacco's deal was structured, his cap hit is just $6M in the first year and about $14M in the second.

And Atlanta must extend Matty Ice sooner or later. This remains absolute.

If you want an idea of what the contract will look like, more so than Flacco, turn your attention to this incredibly painful-to-read contract Tony Romo just signed:

Appalling, man. Just one more count of "gross misconduct" for Jerry Jones.

2 - Extend Jonathan Babineaux

There's no question that working out a contract extension with the longtime Falcon - who commands a $5.2M cap hit in the final year of his contract - would free up some space for Dimitroff & Co.

The real question is whether Atlanta wants to extend a 31-year old defensive tackle who is not the most extraordinary starter. He is by all means capable, I won't argue with that. But is that enough? Will he be dependable through age 34 or 35?

Still, Babineaux could be worth extending for one or two years as long as his contract numbers decrease, which they should.

3 - Restructure / Release Stephen Nicholas

If the Falcons weren't so thin at linebacker these days, I'd call Nicholas' release a no-brainer. There were times last season in which the vet struggled in coverage (specifically against tight ends), and there were others where he looked sub-par defending the run.

His cap number for this season looks to be $3.5M, and he's also under contract for two more years. I questioned his five-year extension when it was inked, and I question it now.

But unless the Falcons bring aboard more linebackers in the near future, this one is unlikely to happen.

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