NFC South in big salary-cap trouble

The Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have less salary-cap room than all of the NFL’s 29 other teams.

According to numbers obtained by ESPN.com, the Panthers have the league’s least cap room at $1.08 million. That includes the deal signed by guard Mike Pollak on Thursday. That one-year deal is worth a $700,000 base salary. But the Panthers took advantage of the NFL’s minimum salary benefit to lessen Pollak’s cap hit. The benefit allows the Panthers to count only $540,000 of Pollak’s base salary toward the cap. Throw in his $65,000 signing bonus and his cap figure for this year is $605,000.

Even after signing defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley to a cap-friendly deal, the Saints are second behind the Panthers with only $1.28 million in available cap space. They’ve got a major issue on their hands with the Drew Brees situation. He currently is on the books for the $16 million franchise tag. Even if the Saints are able to work a long-term deal with Brees, it’s likely his cap number will climb unless the team gets really creative in structuring the deal. The Saints are going to have to cut some players at some point and probably also will have to restructure some contracts (they already did that with Will Smith and Jahri Evans).

The Falcons are No. 3 with only $2.02 million in available cap space and that would explain why they haven’t been active in free agency, although they have re-signed some of their own players, such as John Abraham and Harry Douglas. The Falcons still have some wiggle room because there are several players that could be released and contracts that could be restructured to clear cap space.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only team in the NFC South without major salary-cap issues. I can’t give you an exact number on how much cap space the Bucs have right now because we have yet to see how much Ronde Barber’s new contract will impact the cap. But the Bucs were roughly $16 million under the cap a few days ago and they cleared $1.5 million off the books by releasing defensive ends Tim Crowder and Nick Reed.