As we get near the beginning of the 2015 NFL league year, and the official opening of free agency, it makes sense to look not only at the Falcons salary cap situation, but also the situation of the 3 teams we face twice a year every year. By looking at the cap space, we can begin to see how the off-season may play out for each club, and the impact it could have on the division in the new season.
The numbers we'll use are from www.spotrac.com. As you'd expect, these numbers are subject to a substantial amount of change in the coming days/weeks.
Current Cap Space: $32,975,115
The Falcons have the second most cap space in the NFC South currently. So far, the Falcons have used that cap space to sign Matt Bryant and a handful of minimum deals for guys like Stupar, Matthews and DeMarco. With the recent release of Massaqoui, it's widely expected that the Falcons will go after at least one free agent DE or OLB to try and fix the woeful pass rush. The release of veteran LG Justin Blalock could make OG a target as well, though options look limited in that regard. And with the dismal performance of Levine Toilolo, there's also a strong possibility the Falcons look to sign a free agent tight-end.
While the cap situation is pretty good, there are several things to consider: Julio is still without a long-term contract, one of Baker, Tyson Jackson could be potential June 1st cuts and the team currently only has one running back on the roster. There are quite a few holes to fix, and even with the amount of cap space available, the team may not be able to patch all of them.
Current Cap Space: $34,004,255
The Buccaneers currently have the most cap space of any team in the NFC South, though by a slim margin. The Bucs have been relatively quite this off-season, though they did cut Josh McCown early on. There's also the rumor that they've put Anthony Collins up for trade, though he'll likely be cut if a trade partner isn't found - just one year after signing him. The Bucs, like the Falcons, have a woeful pass rush and they could be in the market for at least one of the free agent pass rushers as well. Their offensive line is also in pretty bad shape, so they may be inclined to make a move or two in free agency to try and improve in that regard.
Current Cap Space: $12,940,313
The Panthers have the second lowest amount of cap space in the NFC South. Their cap space puts them in the bottom 10 in the league as well. Carolina has several needs, including offensive tackle and wide receiver. On top of that, Cam Newton is on the last year of his contract and is likely looking for a deal that will pay him somewhere between 18-21M per year on average.
Additionally, it looks like the team is going to let Greg Hardy walk, which potentially opens another hole up at DE for the team, though the Panthers are likely hoping that Kony Ealy can take a big step forward in year 2. Realistically, the Panthers will probably not be big players in free agency again this year with needing to extend Newton and sign their rookie draft class.
Current Cap Space: -$15,828,917
Right now, the Saints have the lowest amount of cap space in the NFC South and the league as a whole. However, don't let that number fool you - the dark wizard Mickey Loomis has structured many of the contracts in such a way that he will easily have this team under the cap before the league year begins. By simply converting roster bonuses and salaries into signing bonuses, he can - again - push off the cap hit for several players into future years. Certainly, those numbers will eventually catch up to them, but it will likely be once Drew Brees retires and the team is ready to rebuild.
As for the team, the Saints will probably be very active over the coming days as they do need to get contracts restructured to make sure they open the league year under the cap. Expect to see news of them converting those contracts filter in over the next 3-4 days. As for free agency, the Saints could also be looking at a pass rusher especially with Junior Galette being in potential trouble for domestic violence. Additionally, the team may look to snag more help for the secondary, though I'd expect top corner Byron Maxwell to be out of their range.
So, by the looks of things, the Falcons and Bucs look like the two teams most likely to be active in free agency. While I will never count out the Saints (I'm still bitter about them signing Byrd last year), they have some work to do before they'll be ready to step into the ring.
What do you make of the existing cap space in the NFC South?