Largest 2015 Cap Hits By Team: NFC South

Before NFL training camps get underway next month, we’ll be taking a closer look at the top 2015 cap hits for teams around the league. We began our series last week by focusing on the NFC East and AFC East divisions, and earlier this week, we looked at the NFC North and AFC North. Today, we’ll head back to the NFC to examine the South division.

Listed below are the top 10 cap hits for the coming season for each of the four NFC South franchises, accompanied by some observations on the spending habits of those clubs. Let’s dive in….

Atlanta Falcons:

  1. Matt Ryan, QB: $19,500,000
  2. Julio Jones, WR: $10,176,000
  3. Roddy White, WR: $5,556,250
  4. William Moore, S: $5,368,750
  5. Paul Soliai, DT: $4,400,000
  6. Jon Asamoah, G: $4,268,750
  7. Justin Blalock, G: $4,120,000 (dead money)
  8. Joe Hawley, C: $4,000,000
  9. Tyson Jackson, DT: $3,850,000
  10. Jake Matthews, LT: $3,733,977
    Total: $64,973,727

Besides Ryan’s substantial cap hit and an eight-digit figure for Jones, which could be reduced if he signs a contract extension this year, the Falcons aren’t carrying a single cap number exceeding $5.56MM in 2015. Overall, Atlanta’s top 10 players account for less than $65MM of the team’s 2015 cap, a very club-friendly total.

Of course, the Falcons are somewhat lacking in star power outside of the players involved in their passing game, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be too heavily invested at other positions. In recent years, offensive and defensive line play has been one of Atlanta’s shortcomings, and the club’s recent investments at those positions is reflected in this list — Soliai, Asamoah, Jackson, and Matthews have all been added to the roster within the last year and a half.

At $4.12MM, Blalock easily represents the largest dead-money charge on the Falcons’ books, but if he had been retained for the 2015 season, his cap number would have been $7.91MM, third on the team behind Ryan and Jones.

Carolina Panthers:

  1. Charles Johnson, DE: $20,020,000
  2. Cam Newton, QB: $13,000,000
  3. Ryan Kalil, C: $11,795,000
  4. Jonathan Stewart, RB: $8,300,000
  5. Greg Olsen, TE: $6,300,000
  6. Thomas Davis, LB: $5,900,000
  7. DeAngelo Williams, RB: $4,333,333 (dead money)
  8. Luke Kuechly, LB: $4,002,283
  9. Steve Smith, WR: $4,000,000 (dead money)
  10. Mike Tolbert, RB: $3,425,000
    Total: $81,075,616

With a $20.02MM cap hit for the 2015 season, Johnson has a cap charge that ranks first among defensive players, and is also one of just three figures over $20MM at any position — Lions receiver Calvin Johnson‘s cap number also exceeds $20MM, as does another player in the NFC South, whom we’ll discuss shortly.

Still, despite Johnson’s extravagant figure, it may not even be the most noteworthy feature of the Panthers’ list. Even more unusual is the fact that three running backs show up within Carolina’s top 10 cap hits. Combining for a total cap charge of nearly $12MM, Stewart and Tolbert alone would represent an overpayment at the position, and that doesn’t even take into account Williams’ $4MM+ dead-money charge. I imagine GM Dave Gettleman is looking forward to eventually getting those deals off the books and perhaps investing in younger, cheaper backs.

The rest of the Panthers’ top 10 is made up primarily of core players who either recently signed extensions or will do so soon. Newton, Olsen, and Davis all agreed to new contracts this offseason, and it’s just a matter of time before Kuechly does the same.

New Orleans Saints:

  1. Drew Brees, QB: $26,400,000
  2. Jimmy Graham, TE: $9,000,000 (dead money)
  3. Jahri Evans, G: $7,000,000
  4. Marques Colston, WR: $6,500,000
  5. Ben Grubbs, G: $6,000,000 (dead money)
  6. Jairus Byrd, S: $5,500,000
  7. Junior Galette, OLB: $5,450,000
  8. Curtis Lofton, LB: $5,000,000 (dead money)
  9. Keenan Lewis, CB: $4,500,000
  10. Max Unger, C: $4,500,000
    Total: $79,850,000

Heading into the offseason, no team had more cap maneuvering to do than the Saints, who were about $20MM over the cap prior to free agency. All the dead-money charges on the team’s top-10 list don’t look great, but they reflect the moves New Orleans had to make in order to create a little flexibility this spring. If the team had kept Graham, Grubbs, and Lofton rather than trading or releasing them, their cap figures would be even larger.

The Saints aren’t quite out of the woods yet. Contracts like Byrd’s, Galette’s, and Cameron Jordan‘s – which didn’t make the cut here – have relatively modest cap numbers in 2015 before jumping significantly in future seasons. Those three players will count for a total of about $32MM against the cap in 2016, representing the club’s top cap numbers besides Brees.

Speaking of Brees, his $26.4MM cap hit is by far the biggest one in the NFL this year. However, the Saints did well to avoid restructuring his contract and pushing more money onto future seasons. Brees’ cap number will increase to $27.4MM in 2016, but since that’s the last year of his contract, New Orleans should be able to reduce that figure by extending him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  1. Gerald McCoy, DT: $14,595,000
  2. Vincent Jackson, WR: $12,209,777
  3. Michael Johnson, DE: $7,000,000 (dead money)
  4. Logan Mankins, G: $7,000,000
  5. Carl Nicks, G: $4,714,000 (dead money)
  6. Jameis Winston, QB: $4,609,323
  7. Bruce Carter, LB: $4,250,000
  8. Alterraun Verner, CB: $4,250,000
  9. Dashon Goldson, S: $4,000,000 (dead money)
  10. Evan Smith, C: $3,750,000
    Total: $66,378,100

Like the Saints, the Buccaneers have three dead-money charges amongst their top 10 cap hits, which I was somewhat surprised to see — Tampa Bay often structures contracts to include larger base salaries and small signing bonuses, in order to make it easier to go year to year. That wasn’t the case for these three players, though, particularly Johnson, who epitomizes the team’s misguided 2014 spending spree.

One factor that could give the Bucs a leg up on their division rivals within the next three or four seasons is the small amount of cap room they’re dedicating to their quarterback. The NFC South’s other three starters have an average cap hit of more than $19MM for 2015, while Winston comes in below $5MM. If the No. 1 overall pick develops into a solid NFL starter, it will allow Tampa Bay to surround him with pricier impact players at other positions until he’s eligible for his second contract.

Information from Over the Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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