Free Agent 'Seas': NFC South - What are we really up against?

Anybody remember last year when we dumped all those veterans and salaries? (I kid).  There were a few other teams that had the foresight of JR to ready the ship for the coming storm, while others now find themselves in high seas without a lifeboat.  At least that's how it looks to me.

I always enjoy researching this stuff to give our readers as much of the big picture as possible.  In this case, we have the new CBA economics (mostly) available, so let's have a look around the league to see who the buyers are likely to be.  It's always good to know the competition's position.  The numbers and projections that follow are the best I can find at this point.  I'm going to give you each team's current salary position relative to the presumed cap and floor. Also, I'll show you each team's top free agents for both this year and next (from, because team's will be foolish not to be looking ahead at who needs a new contract (Beast) or is Trade Bait (Connor?).  Keep reading if you want the full picture.

Note: I'm going to have to break this up by divisions to avoid information overload for all of us.  This installment is for the NFC South.

Let's start with what's been "leaked" with regard to the cap/floor, etc.  Of course, they made it more complicated than necessary, but essentially there's a $120m cap and $107m floor.  More details can be found here, if you want to know (single player exemption up to $3m, small market leniency, rookie wage system, etc.).  Suffice to say, there are some high profile teams that have big problems to deal with, just to keep their own best players.  There will likely be a 72-hour period for teams to try to lock up their own FAs.  I'm certain that there will be a lot of creativity to this process; that is, using signing bonuses in place of salary, restructuring current deals, back-loading contracts, etc.  For some teams, it will be like a 72-hour hurricane.

Click here for the team round up showing Current Commitments, Relation to Floor, and Relation to Cap.

Team by Team Analysis (by division)

NFC South

Atlanta - $17.9 below cap, $4.7 below floor
# 2011 FAs - 17 total, 13 with 4+ years

Top FAs 2011: RBs Norwood, Snelling; WR Finneran; OGs Blalock, Dahl; OT Clabo (Probe Owler), Will Svitek; TE Justin Peelle; DT Trey Lewis; OLBs Nicholas, Peterson; CB Grimes (RFA; Probe Owler); Safety Brian Williams; K/Ps Bryant, Koenen
Top FAs 2012: QBs Redmon, John Parker Wilson; WR Harry Douglas; C Todd McLure; DEs Abraham (Probe Owler), Biermann, Jamall Anderson; MLB Lofton; Safety DeCoud

Draft Picks: Cliff Matthews DE, Akeem Dent ILB, Andrew Jackson OG, Matt Bosher  P, Jacquizz Rodgers RB, Julio Jones (top 10) WR

My free agency forecast for the Birds: Rough Seas - In addition to 6 draft picks, one would think O-Line is a priority.  Grimes will require a big money deal.  2012 looks like hard times for DEs  and backup QB.  I don't see them able to go outside much, if at all, especially (as has been rumored) for Charles Johnson.

New Orleans - $14.8 below cap, $1.6 below floor
# 2011 FAs - 27 total (League-highest), 18 with 4+ years

Top FAs 2011: QB Patrick Ramsey; RBs Pierre Thomas, Heath Evans; WR Lance Moore; TE David Thomas; OTs Bushrod, Zach Strief; OG Carl Nicks (Probe Owler); C Jonathan Goodwin; DTs Ayodele, Hargrove; OLBs Scott Shanle, Clint Ingram, JoLonn Dunbar; MLB Marvin Mitchell; Safeties Sharper, Harper (Probe Owler), Usama Young: K Hartley .
Top FAs 2012:
QB Drew Brees (Probe Owler); RB Reggie Bush; WRs Colston, Meachem; DE Alex Brown; OLB Jonathan Casillas; CBs Tracy Porter, Randall Gay;

Draft Picks:  Johnny Patrick DB, Cameron Jordan DE, Greg Romeus  DE,  Martez Wilson OLB, Nathan Bussey OLB,  Mark Ingram RB

My Free Agency forecast for the Saints:  Rough Seas - 6 draft picks to sign, plus big money to keep Nicks and Harper.  Re-structuring Bush's deal will help some, and the rookies might plug some of the big holes on defense.  I can't see any big spending in the FA market, especially with Brees needing a new contract (in 2011, he'll make $7.4m, less than half the going rate for elite QBs).

Tampa Bay - $60.3 below cap, $47.1 below floor
# 2011 FAs - 13 total, 8 with 4+ years

Top FAs 2011: RB Kareem Huggins; WR Stovall; TE Gilmore; OT Trueblood; OG Joseph; DEs Stylez White, Tim Crowder; OLBs Quincy Black, Jon Alston; MLBs Ruud, Hayward;  CBs Barber, Elbert Mack; Safeties Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli; K Barth
Top FAs 2012:  QB Josh Johnson; RB Earnest Graham; OG Jeremy Zuttah; OLB Geno Hayes; Safety Sean Jones

Draft Picks:   Anthony Gaitor DB, Adrian Clayborn DE, Da'Quan (minus) Bowers  DE, Mason Foster ILB,  Allen Bradford RB, Ahmad Black S, Daniel Hardy TE,  Luke Stocker TE   

My free agency forecast for the Bucs:  Seas Calm, Cannons Loaded, The Creamsicle Pearl is quickly gaining on 31 ships to plunder. The Bucs could win the Asomugha sweepstakes (Talib and Aso, geez).  Or, they may decide to go after OLs from the Saints and Falcons (that's what I'd do). Or, they may want another RB, upgrades at LB, or safety.  The only other question is whether they'll stop at the cap minimum (probably).  As far as CJ, Williams, and Anderson, all I can say is "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

CAROLINA PANTHERS - $47.0 below cap, $33.8 below floor
# 2011 FAs - 19 total, 10 with 4+ years

Top FAs 2011:  QB Moore; RB D-Will; TEs King, Rosario; C Kalil (Franchised, Probe Owler); DE CJ; DTs Ed Johnson, Hayden; OLBs Davis, Anderson, Jamar Williams; CBs Marshall, C.J. Wilson;
Top FAs 2012:  TE Barnidge; OG Schwartz, Bernadeau; MLBs Beast (Probe Owler), Connor; Safety Godfrey

Draft Picks:  Zachary Williams C,  Brandon Hogan CB, Sione Fua DT,  Terrell McClain DT,  Lawrence Wilson OLB,  Lee Ziemba OT,  Cam Newton QB (Top 10 pick), Kealoha Pilares WR

My free agency forecast for the Panthers:  Seas Calm, Cannons Loaded, The Black Pearl is creeping up on 30 ships, perhaps to plunder.  I could write for days about "what ifs" for our Panthers, but I'm going to leave that to you guys.

That's it for the NFC South seascape.  Next up, the AFC West, home of both the Broncos and Chargers. 

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