Money matters: Four contract issues

When the NFL returns to business, we’ll return to talking about money matters.

Even setting aside the push and pull of the salary cap, the AFC South is, for the most part, economically sensible.

Which means if you’re due a big salary this season and you haven’t been producing at a big-salary level, your agent could field a phone call about a pay reduction or worse.

Here's a list of everyone in the division scheduled to earn more than $1 million in base salary in 2011. Who accounts for the biggest money issue for each of our teams?

Houston Texans

Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has not produced the way you’d expect from a first-round pick. Now, heading into his fifth season, where exactly does he fit in a new 3-4 front? The team is touting Shaun Cody, who got a new contract, and second-year man Earl Mitchell as its nose tackles. Antonio Smith and first-round rookie J.J. Watt should start at end. Can Okoye find a role that makes him worth a $2.95 million base salary?

Indianapolis Colts

Right tackle Ryan Diem could be knocked out of the lineup after a sub-par year. The Colts used their top two draft picks on offensive tackles, though Ben Ijalana could start out at guard. Diem has put in 10 mostly good years for Indianapolis, but his $5.4 scheduled base salary is something the Colts need to address. If he’s pushed out of the lineup, sticking around as a veteran backup/ alternative doesn’t pay nearly that well. If the team feels deep enough it could say thanks for your solid service and best of luck. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden is due $6.105 million. He didn’t play particularly well in the team’s first 11 games, then missed the last five. He too could be asked to take less, though I think they are counting on him to be a healthy guy they count on.

Jacksonville Jaguars

With Blaine Gabbert potentially challenging for playing time, a $7.975 million base salary for David Garrard is quite high. But the Jaguars might have no choice but to pay it to their veteran quarterback. A much easier salary to get off the books will be defensive end Derrick Harvey’s $2.8025 million. Harvey will have to have a great camp and win a spot to stick. The team showed last season, when the 2008 first-rounder was pulled from the starting lineup after seven games, that draft status won’t earn playing time.

Tennessee Titans

We spoke of strong safety Chris Hope slipping a bit in this recent post about age issues. He’s due $6.5 million, a huge number considering his play last season. I don’t think the Titans current roster offers a viable alternative. Will the Titans shop for a free agent safety? It will be a tough market considering how many teams are in need at the position. I can see Hope remaining, but surely he’ll have to take a far less costly deal with some incentives to do so.