As the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week, another important date is rapidly approaching. NFL Free Agency begins on March 12th, and while the Falcons aren’t expected to be big players in the free agent market, the front office have their work cut out for them. They need to free up money to not only give themselves roster flexibility and sign their new draft picks, but also to keep some of their own soon-to-be free agents. A list that includes William Moore, Sam Baker, and several key role players. And that’s not even including trying to potentially bring back Brent Grimes and Tony Gonzalez, if he decides to return for one more go. It’s not easy letting go of players who have been great on and off the field, and sometimes even fan favorites. The best franchises do it and the Falcons won’t be any different, at least if they want to keep up their winning ways. A few items and players regarding the cap situation…..
Some think that the Falcons will be able to get by with restructuring contracts and a few others that are expiring and not have to make hard choices. That may be true, but Thomas Dimitroff will have to put on his magicians hat because it just doesn’t seem plausible this time around. There are several reports in regards to the Falcons cap current cap situation, but its generally considered to be really tight. A general consensus is the Falcons are somewhere between 1 and 2 million above the cap. While it doesn’t sound that bad, especially compared to some teams like the Redskins and Cowboys who are way over the cap, it’s not that good either.
First, the Falcons must have money to free up to keep William Moore, who just made the Pro Bowl, and Sam Baker. Dimitroff has done an superb job of keeping his core together and these are two that he will definitely want to keep. Moore is one of the few young pieces to build around on defense and represents one of the most stable positions on the team (safety pairing with Thomas DeCoud). There was even a report that Moore wants to test the market. While that was from a random St. Louis Dispatch writer with his own “sources,” it probably does at least mean he wants to be paid well after his best season as a pro. And while Baker can’t seek Jake Long money, he also turned in his best season protecting Ryan’s blind side. TD can ill afford to lose two key cogs and simultaneously try to plug holes while creating more.
Moore and Baker are just the biggest names, but there are a slew of others players like Chris Owens, Vance Walker, Garrett Reynolds, Antone Smith, Chris Hope, and a handful of others that have been invaluable role players in the Falcons immense success. While it appears that Lawrence Sidbury may be on his way out for some terribly unknown reason, it will be awful to see him succeed elsewhere, particularly with the Falcons anemic pass rush. Moore, Baker, and the players mentioned above will cost many millions alone.
All the players listed will cost way more than the Falcons currently have and that’s leaving out two of the biggest names: Brent Grimes and Tony Gonzalez. Dimitroff and Co. have made it abundantly clear that they want Gonzalez back at all costs and obviously will pay him what he wants for one more run. He made $5.9 million dollars in 2012 and so he’ll at least want that at a minimum, and probably more to be honest. Even though no decision has been made, it does seem that the more time that goes by, the greater the likelihood of him returning.
Where the issue with Gonzalez is a certainty (it’s all up to him), the decision on cornerback Brent Grimes is much less settled. Dimitroff used the franchise tag on him to the tune of $10.21 million dollars in 2012. He was supposed to form a deadly trio with Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. The former Shippensburg product was then lost to a season-ending Achilles heel injury in game one. The Falcons would obviously like to keep him and he won’t be seeking the huge contract he was looking for pre-injury, but it seems impossible the Falcons can keep all three. If by some miracle they do, it will cost plenty.
While the Falcons won’t be huge spenders in free agency, they will at least be looking at some players to fill the gaps, for nothing else than depth. Some believe they may look at running backs, others think defensive tackle and defensive end, and still others think linebackers in free agency could get a look. They may not spend any in free agency, but Dimitroff will likely at least want the option if the right deal comes along.
They will also need money to ink their draft picks as well. The players contracts have been capped and they won’t have to pay the amount a top 5 pick would require, but this looks to be one of the first years that Dimitroff has all his draft picks and any compensatory ones added, which some are speculating at up to four. >>NOTE: Determining contracts, cap hits, and cap space is a very inexact science since details and rules are hard to come by. Thanks to Spotrac.com for the best attempt at “Cap-ology.”<<
One common mistake (made by yours truly) is to just go by what contracts are coming off the books. For instance, some might think that Brent Grimes $10+ million franchise tag paired with Tony Gonzalez’s almost $6 million and a few others would net almost $20 million in space. However, you have to go by the cap hits scheduled for the upcoming season, which vary wildly from year to year. Michael Turner, for example, counted $7 million against the cap last year, but is scheduled for a whopping $8.9 million hit in 2013. Even with tens of millions due to come off the books, it is more than made up by players receiving escalators in 2013.
One final factor in creating cap space is the issue of what’s called dead money. It is essentially any money that is due to a player when they are released. It can be represented by both guaranteed money or any signing bonus still owed. The worst example is Ray Edwards. The Falcons still owe him $4.65 million in 2013 from his contract, even though he was released mid-season. That money is lost and can’t be recouped or re-used in any fashion. Much of who gets cut will be determined on how much is owed vs. how much could be saved.
2013 Cap Hit – $8.9 million
Still Owed – $2 million
Potential Savings – $6.9 million
This one seems like as close to a lock as it gets. Turner has been one of the greatest running backs in franchise history in only 5 short years, but all good things come to an end. He showed major signs of slowing down and doesn’t fit the new offensive scheme as much as other running backs. Turner, as much or maybe even more than Matt Ryan, deserve all the credit in the world for what he’s done for this franchise. When all is said and done, he may even hang from the rafters of the Georgia Dome in the Ring of Honor. However, its simply time to get younger and more explosive in the backfield. His cost vs. potential savings make it a no-brainer.
2013 Cap Hit – $9 million
Still Owed – $1 million or $3 million
Potential Savings – $8 million or $6 million
After Turner, no name gets mentioned more than Robinson as a potential cap casualty. It’s no secret that Robinson hasn’t lived up to his enormous 6 year / $57 million dollar contract with $25.5 million of it guaranteed. In fact, only Matt Ryan is scheduled to make more than Robinson in 2013. It would seem to be a lock, but his contract is pretty confusing to comprehend.
On one hand, he has $25.5 million guaranteed and going purely by yearly cap hits, he’s only owed $1 million more in guaranteed money. That obviously would be a huge savings of $8 million towards the cap. However, it says he also is owed $1 million per year in signing bonuses over the next three years. In that case, the Falcons would have to pay him $3 million to cut him and would save around $6 million. There’s also the issue of him receiving $7 million in unidentified “miscellaneous bonuses” in 2010. Either way would save a pretty significant amount towards the cap. Of course there’s the issue of how to fill the hole that his release would create.
While he’s not been an All-Pro corner, he has been extremely solid, coming off his best year in Atlanta under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. They could try to keep Grimes, but he wouldn’t come extremely cheap either and it would be a pretty big injury risk. They could roll with Robert McClain, but there’s no guarantee he’s ready to be a full-time starter. They could look in free agency, but all of them would have highly inflated prices. They could go through the draft, but they already have a list full of high needs. It’s doubtful he would renegotiate his contract again after doing so last off-season. Going purely by numbers and savings it makes a lot sense. Figuring out how to fill the new hole, however, is a lot harder, especially for an area that performed pretty well.
2013 Cap Hit – $5.2 million
Still Owed – $500k
Potential Savings – $4.7 million
No Falcon has been more of a rock than DT Jonathan Babineaux. Drafted in 2005, the former Iowa Hawkeye has spent his entire career with the Falcons and is one of the only players remaining before Smith and Dimitroff took over. He will turn 32 in October, but had one of his better years in 2012, collaring 31 tackles, 4 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. It would be hard to part with Babineaux for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s still performing well. The d-tackle also showed his versatility in being able to play defensive end, which could be a huge asset in a potential move to a 3-4.
Much of the decision will reside on how much they want / need to save and how much they want remake their defense. On the other hand, Babineaux is in the last year of his contract and wouldn’t realistically be a part of the Falcons defense going forward. Also going back to the fact that the defensive line has been one of the Falcons biggest problem going on 5+ years, and it may simply be time to move on a year early. The DT is also one of the few candidates that would cost very little to release and offer big savings in return.
2013 Cap Hit – $7.156 million
Still Owed – $1.5 million
Potential Savings – $5.656 million
Why in the world would the Falcons even consider cutting Abraham, their only source of any pass rush the last 6 years? That’s a good question, because despite the Falcons getting a new defensive coordinator with a new scheme, they still had no pass rush outside of Abraham. As mentioned in previous posts, it’s frankly unacceptable at the job this entire staff has done getting any pass rush whatsoever besides Abraham in 5 full seasons, draft picks, free agents, and off-seasons.
Any potential release has more to do with the Falcons future than it does with Abraham and his production. #55 is still performing at a high level, notching 10 sacks in 2012 without any help whatsoever, per the normal. And when he got hurt right before the playoffs, it showed how truly vulnerable (and pitiful) the Falcons pass rush was / is. The former Gamecock will turn 35 in May and the only reason a release could occur is if the Falcons feel they need a major overhaul with their front seven and a complete break from the past, including Abraham and Babineaux, would be needed. If you know Mike Smith, however, you can bet that won’t happen.
2013 Cap Hit – $6.05 million
Still Owed – $4.65 million
Potential Savings – $1.4 million
This one’s pretty much a non-starter from the beginning. While Clabo may not have been the best tackle in the NFL, letting him go just makes no financial sense. He was guaranteed $11.5 million and has only been paid $6.85 million of that so far. Just letting him go would create almost $5 million in dead money, while only saving barely over a million. If this a year from now it may be a different story, but now it makes no sense.
2013 Cap Hit – $3.5 million
Still Owed – $3 million
Potential Savings – $500k
Anytime the cap savings debate comes up, the most common thing to do is to look at who had a tough time in the playoffs. Like Chris Owens a few years ago, Nicholas is likely taking the brunt of the blame for a larger and deeper flaw. The tight ends ran wild in the playoffs, both Zach Miller and Vernon Davis, and Nicholas was the easiest target. Davis had success against the Packers and Ravens as well. The former South Florida Bull may have had a tough time, but he also led the team in tackles in 2012. The Falcons need to add depth and competition in the off-season, but the financial cost vs. reward make it a non-starter like Clabo.
2013 Cap Hit – $3.433
Still Owed – $2.066
Potential Savings – $1.3 million
Biermann signed a decent contract last year worth about $3 million a year. Biermann had a good year under Nolan’s new scheme, but is still struggling to find a permanent position. Like others, Biermann is a great Falcon and his contract wouldn’t yield any savings. Biermann’s not an every-down defensive end and probably needs a permanent move to linebacker. His contract does project him to be an every down starter somewhere.
Cap Hit – $2.01 million
Still Owed – $1.1 million
Potential Savings – $910k
This really wouldn’t be saving a ton of money, but would rather be a move based on principle. While almost a million isn’t something to sneeze at, the Falcons will probably keep him around for depth for another year, but based purely on performance, Jerry should make way for another player to get his shot. Easily Dimitroff’s worst pick in 5 years, time is up for him to turn some “mythical corner” even including injuries. He’ll likely get another year, but that doesn’t mean he should.
Complete Atlanta Falcons 2013 Cap Hit List @
1) Simple Cut – who should stay and who should go?
2) Are any big names due to go?
3) Should the Falcons pursue both Gonzalez and Grimes?
4) How much money do the Falcons need to clear?
5) Turner: stay or go? How should he be replaced?
6) D. Robinson: stay or go? Who fills hole?
7) Babineaux: stay or go? Replacement?
8.) Abraham: stay or go?
9) Any names left off the list that should be on it?
10) Has Dimitroff done a good or poor job with contracts to date?
11) Should trades for any players be entertained?
12) How crucial is this upcoming draft?