The Falcons have some moves to make this offseason. The issue is, they’ve got to be able to foot the bill.
Atlanta made some moves already this offseason to get there, moving on from veterans Matt Bryant, Robert Alford, and Brooks Reed. An extension for defensive tackle Grady Jarrett must be the team’s top priority, and they’ve got needs to address, particularly along both lines.
Here’s where the Falcons stand heading into the new league year, and as an added bonus, let’s talk about the rest of the division, too. All of these numbers are from Spotrac, and they all factor in money set aside to sign each team’s 2019 draft class.
Atlanta Falcons projected 2019 cap space: $18,881,971
When you consider the Falcons’ priorities this offseason that is ... not a lot of money, especially when you consider that Grady Jarrett may command around $16 million per year on his new deal at minimum.
Thomas Dimitroff can work some magic with Jarrett’s contract, and teams often do backload those deals to protect themselves in the event the player’s quality of play declines and to create more cap flexibility in the short-term. I’d expect Atlanta to do that with Jarrett and sweeten the deal with a decent amount of guaranteed cash to give them room to move this offseason.
The good news is that, especially with two compensatory picks, the Falcons are in a great position to land some impact players in the draft.
Carolina Panthers projected 2019 cap space: $14,496,394
Woof, that’s really not a lot. The Panthers do have some needs, with glaring issues along the offensive line and at defensive end. They also should think about drafting a viable backup for Cam Newton. As Walker Clement from Cat Scratch Reader points out, the team won just two games without him last season, and only six games with Newton fighting through injury.
The Panthers have one first-round, second-round, fourth-round, fifth-round, and sixth-round pick, and they’ve got their regular pick and a compensatory pick in the third round for the departure of Andrew Norwell. With the space they have, the Panthers will have to hope to hit on their draft picks this year to round out the roster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers projected 2019 cap space: $15,041,449
The Buccaneers have a whole lot of needs, particularly on defense and along the offensive line. They’ve got just six draft picks total, which isn’t a lot coupled with that cap space.
Bailey Adams from Bucs Nation wrote that only center Ryan Jensen and right guard Ali Marpet are sure things to be on the field for the Bucs next season. The rest of the offensive line spots are up for grabs. Tampa’s defense left a whole lot to be desired (well, for Bucs fans — I was fine with it) last season, though they did improve slightly after Mike Smith was fired. They’ll have needs to address there, and it will be interesting to see how they piece it together for new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
New Orleans Saints projected 2019 cap space: $9,458,653
Look, I don’t want anyone to get too excited about this, because Mickey Loomis is some kind of evil cap wizard and he always finds ways to sneak the Saints out of salary cap hell. With that being said, that is not even remotely enough money to get much done this offseason.
The big problem here is that Drew Brees is set to count $33.5 million against the cap this season. That’s a lot of money for an aging quarterback, and it’s going to hamstring the team unless they can get Brees to sign an extension for less money or otherwise modify his contract to lessen that cap hit this year. Cutting Brees would leave them with an obscene amount — $21 million — in dead cap. But still, that would save them $12.5 million, so I wouldn’t take it off the table.
The other big problem for New Orleans is that they traded away this year’s first-round pick to draft defensive end Marcus Davenport last year. The Saints have an easy out with Brees’ contract next year, as they’ll have no dead money remaining if they move on from him. But the lack of picks makes it awfully difficult to plan for life after Brees. They literally have four picks this year. FOUR. Total. That’s it. No compensatory picks or anything.
Again, this doesn’t mean Mickey Loomis won’t find a way to make it work. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy it.