NFC South 2011 salary-cap figures

We still don’t know what the future holds when it comes to the NFL and the labor situation. But, this much is certain: If a new agreement is reached, all four NFC South teams are going to have a lot of salary-cap room to work with in 2011.

Let’s guess and say the new salary cap will be somewhere around $140 million or $150 million. I’ve obtained numbers on what each of the 32 teams has committed toward the 2011 salary cap at the moment, and the NFC South is in great shape. None of the four teams is over $100 million.

The league average is $97 million and the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are just slightly above that. The Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are way below the league average.

For perspective, the Dallas Cowboys have the most money committed toward a 2011 cap with $134 million and 13 other teams are over $100 million.

The Saints are at $99.5 million and it’s important to note that they have 28 potential free agents, so they might have to use a good chunk of their space to re-sign their own players. The Falcons are right behind them at $97 million.

After that, there’s a dramatic drop to the other two NFC South teams. As you might expect, Tampa Bay has the least amount committed toward a 2011 cap of all 32 NFL teams. The Bucs have $58.7 million that would count against the cap right now. They also have some pretty prominent potential free agents, and re-signing them could drive that number up.

But Tampa Bay still would be poised to spend some major money in free agency. Would the Bucs, who haven’t been big players in free agency in recent years, actually jump in and spend?

Well, you have to hit that question from several angles. First off, I wouldn’t expect a free-agent frenzy from a team that struggled to get fans to the stadium in 2010. Besides, the Bucs are committed to a youth movement that started to show some very positive signs this past season.

That said, any new agreement almost certainly would include a cap floor somewhere north of $100 million. That could mean the Bucs could turn to free agency to help meet the limit. More importantly, a couple of free agents could really help their youth movement along.

The Carolina Panthers are in a similar situation. They have $71.8 million committed toward the cap and only Kansas City ($66.5 million) is between them and the Bucs at the low end of the scale. The Panthers started a youth movement last season and, like the Bucs, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson has been hesitant to spend big on free agents in recent years. The Panthers also have a big group of their own free agents (headlined by DeAngelo Williams) that they probably would try to re-sign as soon as an agreement is reached.

But, even then, I think you would see the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South at least be somewhat active in free agency.