The Falcons could enter free agency, which starts March 11, flushed with enough cash to make some major moves and some minor tweaks.
However, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has already sounded the fire alarm about free agency spending. “I think the emphasis will be on the draft and college free agents and the selective use of free agency,” Blank said recently.
So those notions of adding Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and Kansas City offensive lineman Branden Albert are probably just delusional fan dreams.
Clearly, having been burned in free agency by the Dunta Robinson and Ray Edwards free agency deals, the Falcons plan to proceed with caution.
The Falcons have 55 players signed, but counting the top 51, per league rules, the Falcons are at $118.7 million against the 2014 cap, according to NFLPA documents. The cap for next season is projected to increase 2.6 percent, to $126.3 million.
When Tony Gonzalez’s $7 million comes off the books, the Falcons will have $14.6 million of available cap space.
They would have the flexibility to be a major player in free agent should they elect to cut several veterans who could give them up to $18.2 million in additional salary-cap space, which could bring their available total to $32.8 million.
“There are a variety of ways that you can bring change to your roster,” Blank said. “You can release players.”
The Falcons could elect to part ways with cornerback Asante Samuel (saving $4.5 million), safety Thomas DeCoud ($4.2 million), running back Steven Jackson ($3 million), linebacker Stephen Nicholas ($3 million) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora ($3.5 million).
General manager Thomas Dimitroff calls them “salary-cap casualties,” and it’s a league-wide practice. Here's what he had to say after the team released Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham last season on March 1.
“I believe in the NFL today, so-called cap casualties are an issue for every team unless you’re at the top of the heap with $30 million to $40 million dollars available,” he said. “It’s something that we will get into as we continue to analyze and re-evaluate this roster as it stands.”
The Falcons also can create more room by renegotiating the contracts of wide receiver Roddy White ($6.3 against the 2014 cap) and left guard Justin Blalock’s contracts ($7.6 million against the cap) and possibly get as much as $40 million under the cap.
A look at the Falcons’ 10 highest salary-cap numbers entering the offseason
Name, Pos.; Cap number
Matt Ryan, QB; $17.5 million
Justin Blalock, LG; $7.6 million
Roddy White, WR; $6.3 million
Sam Baker, LT; $6.05 million
Julio Jones, WR; $5.1 million
William Moore, SS; $5.1 million
Asante Samuel, CB; $5.1 million
Thomas DeCoud, FS; $4.8 million
Osi Umenyiora, DE; $4.75 million
Stephen Nicholas, LB; $4.0 million
Source: NFL Players Association documents