NFC South cap figures for 2012

The Carolina Panthers already have $128.2 million committed toward the 2012 salary cap.

According to contract figures obtained by ESPN.com, that’s the third-highest figure in the league and the Panthers will have to do some contract restructures or release some players before the league year starts in March.

The Panthers easily lead the NFC South in 2012 salary-cap commitment. The New Orleans Saints are second at $106.1 million, but the Saints face a challenging offseason. They want to re-sign several of their own potential free agents, especially quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Marques Colston.

The Atlanta Falcons are at $96.1 million and that figure includes the contract extension signed by tight end Tony Gonzalez just before the regular season ended. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at $93 million. Although fans think the Bucs are the most frugal team in the league, that’s not true in this context.

There are five teams that currently have lower 2012 cap figures than the Bucs. But I should also point out the Bucs almost certainly will knock $7.2 million off their cap figure by cutting veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

He was brought in essentially as a rental player in 2011, after Gerald McCoy suffered a season-ending injury. Haynesworth served his purpose and didn’t cost the Bucs much last season. But his contract escalates in 2012 and it’s highly unlikely the Bucs would want to keep him at his current salary.