NFC South cap space for 2012 and '13

If you follow recent history and believe the criticisms many Tampa Bay fans have made, you might not believe what you’re about to read. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently are carrying the NFL’s fifth-highest payroll for the 2012 season.

Denver and Seattle are basically tied for the league lead with each using up about $135 million in cap space.

The Bucs have $130.8 million of cap space committed to their top 51 players (only the top 51 cap figures count until the regular season begins). That’s well over the $121 million salary cap, but the Bucs are allowed to spend over the cap because they carried over room from last season. They actually still have $15.232 million in available cap space because their cap is just over $146 million.

But I wouldn’t look for the Bucs to suddenly go on any big spending spree, other than to extend the contracts of some of their own players once the season begins and they see who really fits into Greg Schiano’s system. Tampa Bay’s best strategy might be to again carry over a lot of its cap space to next season. The Bucs already have $116 million committed to 2013 and several of their players are likely to hit escalators this season. Next year’s cap is expected to rise only slightly.

As for the rest of the NFC South this year, New Orleans has $8.8 million in remaining cap space, Carolina is $8.5 million under the cap and the Falcons are at $2.97 million. I think it’s safe to say the Falcons will use what they have left only to sign players if they encounter injuries. You could see the Panthers and Saints make a few minor moves, but I think Carolina and New Orleans would like to carry over as much cap room as they can for next season.

That’s because the Saints already are way over the projected 2013 salary cap. They have $141.1 million committed. The Panthers aren’t far behind at $131 million.

The Falcons and Bucs are in better cap shape for 2013, each with about $116 million committed.