Saints have NFL's smallest rookie pool

In financial terms, two NFC South teams are swimming in very shallow rookie pools.

I got a look at the league-wide numbers for rookie pools (the amount of salary-cap space that can be used on 2012 draft picks this season. The New Orleans Saints have the NFL’s smallest rookie pool at $2.271 million.

That’s due to the fact the Saints had only five draft picks and none came before the third round. New Orleans traded away its 2012 first-round pick last year and had to forward its second-round pick as part of the punishment for the bounty program. Numbers for the rookie pool are determined by how many picks a team has and where those picks were located in each round.

Under the collective-bargaining agreement that came into existence last summer, each team also has a limit on the total value for the life of all the rookie contracts and the Saints are limited there as well. The maximum total compensation the Saints can pay their rookies over the course of their first contracts is $12.495 million. The Saints are the only NFC South team yet to sign a single draft pick.

The Atlanta Falcons aren’t far behind the Saints. They’re No. 2 in the NFL in terms of the smallest rookie pool at $2.861 million, narrowly edging out Oakland, which is No. 3 with a $2.862 million rookie pool. The Falcons were without a first-round draft pick because they traded it away as part of the deal to get Julio Jones in 2011. The Falcons also are capped at $15.736 million to pay their five draft choices over the course of their contracts. Atlanta has signed all of its picks except for fifth-round defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.

The Carolina Panthers are somewhere right around the middle of the league with a $5.5 million rookie pool. The Panthers had seven draft picks. All of them have signed and the total value of their contracts is $29.293 million. That’s just about $700,000 less than the cap on what they could have paid all their picks over the course of their contracts.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had two first-round picks, have the division’s largest rookie pool at $6.166 million and the Bucs can pay their seven rookies as much as $33.9 million over the life of their contracts. Tampa Bay has signed all of its rookies except for first-round choices Mark Barron and Doug Martin and second-round choice Lavonte David.

But the Bucs aren’t even close to having the league’s largest rookie pool. That honor belongs to the Cleveland Browns, who had 11 picks and have a rookie pool of $9.7 million.