Getting down to a 53 man roster won't be easy. Given the plethora of talent to choose from and recurring need to save money, it's natural to think the Falcons may make one or more veterans a cap casualty. But then you'd be wrong ... [insert sad face]
The Falcons presently have $7.9 million in cap space. First of all, the need to cut any veterans for salary cap purposes with that amount in reserve is dubious. Standing alone, $7.9 million is more than enough to account for emergencies. And make no mistake, there where be emergencies (i.e., players will get hurt, and the Falcon will be left paying them to be worthless on injured reserve). Then there's the future benefit. The rub, if you will.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, teams can roll over cap space. Yes, I said, you can literally roll all over it like Scrooge McDuck after a Xanax bender. Mind you, cap space must be rolled over formally, meaning a team must notify the league of its intention to roll over a specific maximum amount in writing no later than 14 days before the start of the next league year. If the teams ends up rolling over less than their specific maximum, no big deal. Each league year starts in March, which means the Falcons could, at least in theory, accumulate some cap space now, hold onto it for the duration of 2013, then notify the league of their intention to roll over whatever is left, immediately after they win the next Superbowl. Pretty awesome, eh?
So which veterans need to have their heads on a swivel? None. At least not for salary-cap related reasons.
It's tempting to top the list with Stephen Nicholas. His struggles are well-documented, but really, he's just a little too mediocre for comfort. While he represents a $3.5 million cap hit this year, he represents $3 million in dead money if we cut him. For those of you not in-the-know, "dead money" is basically money a team loses, one way or another, if a particular player is cut or otherwise rendered a non-Falcon. At that rate, the Falcons stand to net only $0.5 million by cutting Nicholas. Not exactly worth it, especially if you feel like he's capable of contributing this year.
Another possibility is Peria Jerry, though that seems unlikely if not impossible given Mike Smith's indication that he'd be back from his head/face injury by week one. Jerry represents a $2.01 million cap hit, but he'd only represent $1.11 million in potential dead money. The Falcons could potentially add almost a million dollars to their cap availability by cutting him, though they will probably pass, because Thomas Dimitroff is never wrong in the 1st round. That and Jerry's an adequate rotational player.
Jason Snelling seems to have fallen out of favor in Falconsland this preseason, and you may be thinking we could save some money by getting rid of him. The problem is that he's only a $1.2 million cap hit while potentially costing the Falcons $0.71 million in dead money. Again, not a lot of flexibility to be had by tossing him to the curb. If he is cut, it's not to save money, it's because Ronnie Wingo is a ferocious manbeast with equal or better potential.
I know some of you are thinking about Harry Douglas, but don't just don't, because you'll upset the children. His cap hit ($2.65 million) is less than what he represents in potential dead money ($2.69 million). Are y'all noticing a theme here? Because of contract structuring, the Falcons can't save a ton of money by cutting any vets worth cutting. Sure, we could cut some veterans whose cap hits far outweigh the dead money they potentially represent - I'm talking to you Matt Bryant, Roddy White, and Asante Samuel - but that'd be really really really ridiculously foolish. Not going to happen, because it wouldn't be prudent.
Now, mind you, cutting a veteran is rarely about his talent level or salary cap number alone. It's usually a consideration of both that lands a veteran in the unemployment line. I mean to shed some light on the value of cutting a current Falcons veteran, or lack thereof, not to suggest that players are never cut-worthy for salary cap-related reasons.