Looking at 2013 cap space

With the 2012 regular season over, let’s take a look at where the NFC South teams stand in relation to the 2013 salary cap.

Atlanta Falcons: They have $113 million committed toward a cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. Don’t expect a free-agent frenzy from the Falcons, because they could use most of their cap room to re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes and left tackle Sam Baker. The Falcons won’t be getting much help from carry-over money, because they finished the 2012 season a league-low $425,000 under the cap.

Carolina Panthers: The new general manager will have his work cut out for him, because the Panthers have about $136 million committed to the cap. That number could be knocked down a bit, because the Panthers had $3.5 million in remaining cap space for 2012. But Carolina still is going to have to make some tough decisions on veterans like Chris Gamble, Jon Beason and DeAngelo Williams.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints have the NFL’s second-highest amount committed toward the 2013 cap at $138.5 million. Only the Jets ($142 million) are higher. The Saints can carry over about $2.4 million in space. It’s going to be a very challenging offseason, because left tackle Jermon Bushrod can become a free agent and the Saints might have to part ways with or restructure the contracts of veterans like Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper and others.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Thanks to some shrewd moves just before the end of the 2012 season, the Bucs are in the best cap shape of any team in the NFC South. After restructuring the contracts of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, the Bucs are sitting at about $96.3 million. They also should add some space when carry-over amounts are factored in before free agency starts in March, because they finished the 2012 season $8.5 million under the cap. However, some of that cap space could be taken up before March, because several players are believed to have triggered escalator clauses in their contracts that have yet to be factored in, and the Bucs are likely to try to re-sign defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller before they can depart as free agents. The Bucs also could free up $7.75 million if they release cornerback Eric Wright, whose guarantee of that amount in base salary was voided when he was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.