As we get closer to the start of the 2014 NFL season, it helps to know the overall financial health of our team and our chief rivals in the division. While these numbers are not indicators of success, they do give you an idea of how active each team can be during the season and going into the future.
All of these numbers are sourced directly from OverTheCap.com. For our purposes, we'll be looking at the 2014 and 2015 numbers. Note: the 2015 salary cap is projected to be 140 million, which may be higher than the final actual cap.
2014 Cap space: 10.4M
2015 Cap space: 29.3M
Biggest 2014 cap hit: Gerald McCoy, 15.6M
Biggest 2015 cap hit: Vincent Jackson, 12.2M
Analysis: Tampa is arguably in the best financial shape of any team in the division. It helps to not have a top-tier QB that you have to pay (with McCown no more than 5.5M in either of the next two years). But, Tampa does have some names that they will want to get wrapped up in the next year or two. Guys like Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are bonafide stars and are no-brainers to resign. The Bucs look to be setup very nicely for the next few years and can easily make some splash signings during the next few off-seasons if desired.
2014 Cap space: 9.1M
2015 Cap space: 27M
Biggest 2014 cap hit: Matt Ryan, 17.5M
Biggest 2015 cap hit: Matt Ryan, 19.5M
Analysis: The Falcons are in good financial shape, having a franchise QB locked up while also making several signings during this off-season. Even after free agency and signing our rookie class, the Falcons have plenty of space in 2014 - that if carried over into 2015 - could make the Falcons a factor in free agency. Like any team, the Falcons need to work on getting some key players wrapped-up for the long-term such as Julio Jones and Roddy White. While the cap space is pretty healthy, keeping it flexible will be key as Julio is likely looking for a big deal and Roddy White won't come cheap either. However, if managed properly, the Falcons should be financially sound for the next several years.
2014 Cap space: 5.5M
2015 Cap space: 5.8M
Biggest 2014 cap hit: Charles Johnson, 16.4M
Biggest 2015 cap hit: Charles Johnson, 17.4M
Analysis: The Panthers are still struggling to get out from the mess that their former GM put them in. While they've made some progress in the past year, it was clear that their hands were tied during this past off-season. The same looks to be true for the 2015 off-season as well, with a paltry 5.8M free (against the 140M cap, mind you). The Panthers have Cam locked up for the next two years, but will likely look to get him extended. Depending on his contract and how it's structured, Carolina may free up a little more breathing room for 2015. Either way, they will likely have a good bit of work to do in 2015. And if the salary cap doesn't hit the 140M mark next year, they may be forced to make some hard moves just to get their rookie class signed.
2014 Cap space: 4.6M
2015 Cap space: -12.8M
Biggest 2014 cap hit: Drew Brees, 18.4M
Biggest 2015 cap hit: Drew Brees, 26.4M
Analysis: It almost seems futile to talk about the Saints cap figures, because Loomis is a dark wizard who manages to make it mean nothing (or so it would seem). Getting Jimmy Graham signed helped to free up an additional 3M of space for this year that the Saints will likely try to carry over into 2015 - as Graham's cap hit jumps from 4M to 11M. But, their 2015 roster is loaded with guys that can be restructured or cut, so I fully expect that they'll be able to get back to even in 2015. The question is how much it will take to do so. The Saints also have some young guys they'd like to get signed, such as Cameron Jordan but there's little reason to believe they won't be able to do so - since the cap seems to mean nothing to this team. I know we've talked about how the offset bonuses will come back to bite them one day - but I'm beginning to give up on that notion. From a raw numbers standpoint, the Saints are in a tough position though, so it will be interesting to see how they make it work in the next few years.
What do you think - will the Falcons and Bucs be able to turn their financial flexibility into sustained success? Will the Panthers be able to rebuild around Cam quick enough? Will the dark-lord Mickey Loomis sign all the safeties again in 2015, as they move to a 1-1-9 defense?