The Atlanta Falcons have an excellent cap situation for both 2013 and beyond. Especially when you consider the amount of flexibility and the talented man running the books—Thomas Dimitroff.
Dimitroff has been an excellent cap manager for the Falcons. He is tasked with taking control of the Falcons' cap situation to bring into Atlanta the talent to get back to the NFC Championship Game and to combine that new talent with the building blocks already on the books.
Basic Overview of the 2013 Cap and Free Agency Situation
Atlanta has 52 players signed and are a projected $6.82 million under the cap based on the numbers Spotrac has provided and a projected increase in the salary cap of $300,000 to $120.9 million.
Atlanta currently has 18 free agents on the roster. They have 15 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and one exclusive rights free agent.
The unrestricted free agents are QB Luke McCown, FB Mike Cox, WR Kerry Meier, TE Tony Gonzalez, OTs Sam Baker and Will Svitek, OG Garrett Reynolds, C Todd McClure, DE Lawrence Sidbury, DT Vance Walker, LB Mike Peterson, CBs Brent Grimes and Chris Owens, and safeties William Moore and Chris Hope.
RB Antone Smith and TE Michael Palmer are both restricted free agents. CB Robert McClain is an exclusive rights free agent. McClain can be back in 2013 with a minimum level salary and should definitely be back. Smith and Palmer should both be back on original round tenders.
Ray Edwards, the "Dead Money" Bandit
The biggest waste of money on the Falcons cap roster for 2013 is Ray Edwards. They had him for just 24 games into a five-year contract. They will be paying him $4.65 million in cap space this coming season.
While that is awful, it would have been even worse for the Falcons to keep Ray Edwards and his worthless play that provided 3.5 sacks over the year-and-a-half he was employed.
Atlanta will have to make some sort of cut to make up for the space that Edwards is wasting. However, it shouldn't be too hard as there are a pair of easy cap casualties for Atlanta to get rid of this offseason.
Cap Casualty Candidates
The Falcons can open up a ton of cap room this season by cutting the final year of Michael Turner's contract. He is owed $5.5 million in salary and $2.5 million in a remaining pro-rated signing bonus.
While he would create $2.5 million in dead cap space, the $5.5 million he frees up makes him a tempting, and very likely, option to cut.
For someone who will give Atlanta much more cap room both now and in the future, Atlanta should cut Dunta Robinson. Robinson's salary structure is, according to Spotrac:
|Year||Salary||Signing Bonus||Option Bonus||Total Cap Hit|
EDIT: According to Football Outsiders, Robinson didn't have a signing bonus, but a roster bonus his first season. That means his numbers have been adjusted accordingly.
Breaking down his cap hits, it makes too much sense to cut Dunta. The Falcons would save at least $6.0 million in 2013 if they cut him before June 2nd or without a post-June 2nd designation.
They would also save $11.0 million in 2014 and $12.5 million in 2015 because all guaranteed money would be accelerated into this season's cap.
Should the Falcons cut him with a post-June 2nd designation, they would save $8 million on this season and $9 million in 2014. The Falcons would be wise to take whatever savings in 2014 and 2015 from Robinson and put it straight towards Matt Ryan's extension.
Contract Extension Candidates That Could Lower Their 2013 Cap Hit
The Falcons have a pair of guys who would make excellent candidates for extensions. The first is Jonathan Babineaux. He's owed just a salary of $4.7 million. If the Falcons offered him a three-year extension to his current deal, he would be under the Falcons' control likely until his retirement.
If I was the Falcons, I'd turn his $4.7 million dollar deal into a four-year, $16 million deal with a signing bonus of $4 million. I'd structure it as follows to reduce the cap hit in the first year of the deal:
|Year||Salary||Signing Bonus||Total Cap Hit|
The idea is that Babineaux would get paid every dime from his old deal plus another $300,000 in the first year. So cash-wise, he'd be secure there. On the flip side, he allows the Falcons to have excellent cap flexibility in both 2013 and every year after it.
The deal would end after Babineaux turned 35 years old. It would allow the Falcons to have him in essentially a year-to-year deal that would save the Falcons' cap in every season should he decide to retire before the end of it.
Then there is the big extension. The elephant in the room. Matt Ryan's big long-term extension is priority No. 1 for the Falcons. If I was in Thomas Dimitroff's shoes, I'd offer him a seven-year, $100 million deal.
I'd give him a $10 million signing bonus with an option bonus of $10 million as well. I'd also structure the rest of the deal as follows:
|Year||Salary||Signing Bonus||Option Bonus||Total Cap Hit|
The first two years wouldn't be stressing the cap as much. Then when the Falcons have a ton of cap space open in the future, they can commit to Ryan a lot more of the cap. Ryan has earned a deal like this, and it would lock him up through the season he turns 34 years old.
It would also open up $4 million in cap this coming season. Add in the $2.7 that Babineaux's deal could save, and the $6.7 million saved could be enough to help keep William Moore and someone like either Chris Owens or Will Svitek on the Falcons.
To make Ryan happier, it wouldn't surprise me to see the first three years also fully guaranteed to make the contract have $42 million between the bonuses and guaranteed salaries.
Matt Ryan is the centerpiece of the franchise. But giving him a monster deal like that is the only way to keep him part of it long term. With just one season left, the Falcons have to do something.
Cap Flexibility Is At An All-Time High
If the Falcons re-sign Matt Ryan to an extension, they could save around $4 million in cap this season. Add in about $5.5 million from cutting Michael Turner and anywhere from $4.6 to $7 million in cutting Dunta Robinson and Atlanta is already over $20 million in projected cap space.
With $20 million in projected cap, the Falcons could easily re-sign all of their important free agents. Included in that would be Brent Grimes, William Moore and Sam Baker. Moore should be the top priority, though, as he is the only Pro Bowl player of the group.
However, they would have to make these moves, or they would have to be extra creative with the contracts they offer to their free agents this season.
Atlanta should be able to re-sign their own key guys. But they will have to open more space to make sure they can bring in some top talent from other teams.
Looking Beyond 2013
As the Falcons sit right now, they have no one signed past the 2016 season. And in the 2016 season, only two players are under contract—guard Justin Blalock and safety Thomas DeCoud—for a total of just $11.3 million counting towards the cap.
The 2014 and 2015 situations look just as good at this point. The Falcons have had excellent cap planning for as long as Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have been the main men in the front office.
For 2014, the Falcons have 30 players under contract counting just $83.26 million towards the cap. If the cap takes the giant leap that it's expected to with the new NFL television deals, the Falcons could be sitting with over $30 million in cap space when free agency opens in 2014 and with proper planning.
In 2015, they have just 12 players under contract. But with just $45.66 million committed to the cap, this is the year that could be the big-money year for some free-agent signings this offseason. It is also a year that could be huge for Ryan's extension.
The Falcons have a ton of cap space in the future and a ton of cap flexibility now. So when people say, "the Falcons don't have the room to sign anyone," they don't know just what Thomas Dimitroff could really do. When it comes to cap manipulators, there are few better than the "Comrade" as Dave Choate calls him.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.