Now that we’re into the first week of the regular season, the way salary-cap figures for each team are calculated has changed.
In the offseason, only the top 51 figures count against a team’s cap. Now, every contract counts and that includes practice squad players and guys who are no longer on the roster, but are counting for outstanding pro-rated bonus money.
I just got a look at where each NFC South team stands under the cap, so let’s run through it.
The Falcons are only $1.049 million under the cap. If this team suffers a serious injury and wants to sign a replacement of any significance, it likely will have to restructure a contract or two to free up room. The Falcons are carrying a lot of “dead money,” including some that stretches back to guys who haven’t played for Atlanta since 2010. Jamaal Anderson, Michael Jenkins, Chauncey Davis and Ovie Mughelli are taking up more than $2 million in salary-cap space.
The Carolina Panthers are at $5.1 million and some of that is due to smart accounting. Former guard Travelle Wharton is costing the team $1.9 million, but the hit for this year is spread out equally for next year. The Panthers do have about $550,000 tied up in former punter Jason Baker and kicker Olindo Mare and they also lost an injury grievance to safety Nate Salley, which is costing them $440,000. The Panthers already are projected to be close to the 2013 cap and would like to carry some of this year's room over to next year.
The New Orleans Saints are $8.7 under the cap, but that’s misleading. Defensive end Will Smith's $5.1 million figure is off the books during a four-game suspension, but comes back on as soon as it’s over. Smith also could come back on the books if the NFL Players Association gets a temporary restraining order on his suspension. Jonathan Vilma's $3.3 figure isn’t counting as he serves a season-long suspension. But, like with Smith, the Saints have to keep room open for him in case he is reinstated, even if it’s only temporary.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have $14.9 million in cap space. That figure doesn’t include Wednesday’s re-signing of cornerback Brandon McDonald and the release of offensive lineman Derek Hardman, but those moves likely will have only a minor impact. The Bucs rank third in the league in cap space, but don’t call them cheap. They spent a fortune in free agency and front-loaded the contracts of Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright. I wouldn’t anticipate the Bucs using most of their remaining salary-cap space. They want to carry it over to next year because they already are projected to be close to the 2013 salary cap. Carrying over some of this year’s cap space would give the Bucs room to add a few more free agents next year.