Reality check request: Can we please stop the Mario Williams campaign in Atlanta?
NFL free agency officially opens Tuesday at 4 p.m., and you will be amazed by how many deals get completed by 4:01 p.m., considering teams haven’t even been allowed to negotiate. (Sarcasm.)
Yes, the Falcons will be active. Teams don’t try to create salary cap space unless they’re planning to do something, and the Falcons already have restructured Dunta Robinson’s contract. According to the latest figures, the Falcons’ 2012 payroll is at $116,002,840, which is only $5,723,709 under the cap. (This assumes cornerback Brent Grimes signs a $10.6 million one-year tender.)
Let’s make this as clear as possible: There is not nearly enough money for the Falcons to sign Williams, Houston’s defensive end, unless they gut the roster and sign several replacements for the minimum straight out of Fred Sanford’s front yard.
Sorry to kill the sports talk radio buzz (and hopefully unclog the inbox of my email). But Williams is expected to use Julius Peppers’ six-year, $84 million contract as a starting point. That’s a $14 million annual average and cap hit. Do the math. I just don’t see any way general manager Thomas Dimitroff would be willing to do that, especially given the other holes the team needs to fill.
If I’m wrong, I shall accept the appropriate flogging from readers.
I do expect the Falcons to create some more cap space, possibly by cutting and/or trading a veteran or two who currently are under contract. But this is a team that needs players on both offensive and defensive lines, as well as in the secondary.
Here’s an updated wish list of potential signees (post signings and franchise tags):
– Carl Nicks, guard, New Orleans: He’s considered one of the better interior offensive linemen in football and has a nasty streak, which the Falcons needs. Weakening the Saints is an added bonus. One problem: Nicks wants to be the highest paid guard in the NFL, which means exceeding Logan Mankins’ six-year, $51 million deal ($20 million signing bonus).
– Scott Wells, center, Green Bay: He’s a Pro Bowler and has been a starter since 2006. Green Bay may not be able to re-sign him for cap reasons, and the the concern of overcommitting to a player who recently turned 31. But Wells would be an outstanding replacement for Todd McClure (35, still unsigned) and would weaken the Packers. He’s looking for about $7 million annually.
— Kendall Langford, defensive end, Miami: He’s known for being a strong run defender. Also plays in the 3-4, which could help his cause if he Falcons switch to a hybrid front. Langford played for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with the Dolphins. His 2011 salary was relatively modest: $1.4 million.
– Nick Hardwick, center, San Diego: A good backup plan if the Falcons can’t get Wells. He’s 30 (turns 31 in September) and has started 108 games. According to Stats LLC (via Pro Football Weekly), he didn’t allow a sack last season and was called for only one penalty. Last year’s base salary: $3.675 million ($4.508 million cap hit after signing bonus).
– Mark Anderson, defensive end, New England: A pass-rush specialist. He had 10 sacks in the regular season and 2½ in the playoffs. The Patriots have had talks with Anderson, 29, but so far have been unable to re-sign him.
There’s a far more realistic list of candidates than Mario Williams.
By Jeff Schultz