The first wave of NFL free agency has passed, and while the Falcons weren’t involved in any major deals, the team did add a few key pieces to bolster the roster. Atlanta also reworked the contracts of several players, including Matt Ryan (restructure), Tyeler Davison (pay cut), and Dante Fowler (pay cut). These moves freed up a good chunk of salary cap space, which enabled the team to make these veteran additions.
On Tuesday, the Falcons signed running back Mike Davis and edge rusher Barkevious Mingo. These contracts further reduced Atlanta’s very minimal salary cap space, but where exactly does the team stand at this point? To find out, I’ll have to do a little estimating. While we know the full details of Mingo’s contract, we only know the guaranteed money and total value in Davis’ deal.
Here’s my projection for Atlanta’s remaining salary cap space after their recent free agency additions.
Falcons free agent signings
TE Lee Smith (via trade): $2.25M cap hit
RB Mike Davis: $2M cap hit (estimated)
Safety Erik Harris: $1.35M cap hit
OLB Barkevious Mingo: $1.25M cap hit
OLB Brandon Copeland: $900K cap hit
Total cost: $7.75M
Remaining salary cap space: $1.452M (estimated)
As you can see, the Falcons have used most of the money they freed up from Ryan’s restructure and the pay cuts to Davison and Fowler. The good news is that Atlanta is now sitting at 50 players under contract. That number is very meaningful, because the “top-51 rule” will begin to take effect after the next signing. For those who aren’t familiar with the rule, the “top-51” rule is designed to help teams sign UDFAs and fill out their 90-man roster for training camp without blowing up their cap space.
The rule essentially only counts the most expensive 51 contracts against the salary cap until the end of training camp. So after Atlanta signs their next free agent, any future contracts would be subject to the rule. If the new contracts are cheaper than the 51st contract, they won’t count against the cap at all. If they’re higher, you only pay the difference between the 51st contract—which at this point would be valued at $660K—and the more expensive new contract.
As an example, let’s say the Falcons sign an offensive lineman—Stefen Wisniewski, perhaps—to a 1-year, $1M deal. In this scenario, Wisniewski’s deal would be more expensive than the 51st contract ($660K), so it would “replace” the lower deal on the cap. However, because the $660K from the cheaper deal was already counting against the cap, the Falcons only owe the difference between the two—which would be $340K.
Keep in mind the Falcons still have to sign a 51st player before the rule takes effect, so that will probably take up a big chunk of the remaining cap space. After that, veteran minimum deals will be very inexpensive for the team. It’s also important to note that the team is likely to need around $5-7M to sign their draft class, even taking the top-51 rule into account. That means more cap-saving moves will be necessary before the offseason is over.
What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s cap situation? Are you a fan of the recent free agent additions?