The Falcons proved in 2013 that they have needs on both sides of the ball, and it's imperative that they address those needs as they prepare for the 2014 season. To address needs, however, a team needs money. Do the Falcons have adequate cap space to get it done?
Well, it depends on who you ask, apparently. The NFLPA generates a cap space report multiple times per day detailing their projections for each team. OverTheCap.com has a comprehensive breakdown, as does Spotrac.com. Each site's projections vary pretty significantly at present.
The NFLPA's calculations are interesting, mainly in terms of the number of contracts they're attributing to these figures. Notice that both UnderTheCap.com and Spotrac.com have calculated the cap numbers for 51 contracts, as opposed to the NFLPA, which lists 64 contracts. The Falcons do probably have 64 players under contract for next season, including futures contracts and restricted free agent qualifying tenders, which will remain a part of cap calculations until such time as those players are signed by another team.
However, the NFL's salary cap calculations only account for the top 51 contracts on any given team until the regular season begins. That's where OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com are starting from with their numbers, and accounts for some of the discrepancy. All teams have to be under the salary cap, based on their top 51 salaries, by the time the new league year begins on March 11th.
Based on these projections, the Falcons are looking at something between $3 million and $10.2 million in cap space for 2014. That's a pretty broad range, and if the NFLPA is closer to correct than Spotrac.com, it's somewhat of a concern for a team that has a lot of needs to fill, and will surely attempt to address some of them via free agency. Of course, the Falcons can cut some veteran players to free up some space, much like they did heading into 2013 with Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, John Abraham and Tyson Clabo.
Don't expect the Falcons to cut players like Sam Baker or Justin Blalock, as each carries a dead money cap hit that's untenable. Cutting Baker would cost Atlanta $15.25 million, and cutting Blalock would tack on $7.28 million in dead money. Some more reasonable options are Garrett Reynolds, with a dead money hit of just $250,000, and Thomas DeCoud, who would cost the Falcons $1.8 million in dead money to cut. Adding dead money to a cap hit isn't great regardless of the amount, but DeCoud's cap hit for 2014 is $4.8 million, and Reynolds' is $1,628,750, so the savings does offset the dead money pretty significantly.
In anticipation of the most obvious contention with the Falcons' cap situation for 2014, let's go ahead and establish that Matt Ryan's cap hit really isn't outrageous this season. Ryan's cap hit for 2014 is $17.5 million, which is less than Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Sam Bradford. Which one of those guys would you rather have under center? If your answer isn't Ryan, too bad--the team won't be cutting him. $51.4 million in dead money guarantees it.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons' salary cap scenarios heading into the new season?
UPDATE: I received a very nice email from Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap.com yesterday, and he shared some clarifications that really help to explain the discrepancies between the numbers from these three sources.
Fitzgerald says that the reason the NFLPA's numbers vary so greatly from Over the Cap and Spotrac is, the NFLPA's public salary cap calculations are using 2013 data. They're accounting for all of the players who were under contract in 2013, plus the reserve/futures contracts. Fitzgerald clarified that Atlanta really has 55 players under contract, and the top 51 of those are currently assessed for salary cap figures.
Fitzgerald also explained that Spotrac sources much of their salary cap information from Over the Cap, which is confirmed on Spotrac's website. He said that the numbers on Over the Cap are accurate as of last Thursday, and that it's just a matter of when Spotrac will pull from those numbers and update their own data for their numbers to match.