The Atlanta Falcons were a disappointing 4-12 in 2013. And the only real way for them to get better is to sign some free agents this offseason and make sure their cap is properly spent on the right players—not just anybody.
Atlanta is lucky, because Arthur Blank is one of the rare owners who wants his team to spend to the cap, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Due to that, general manager Thomas Dimitroff has to make sure that the Falcons are always in the position to spend money properly.
He does an excellent job of making sure the Falcons are in position to be buyers every year instead of sellers. So let's break down what the Falcons current cap situation looks like and how they will be able to make some moves in the 2014 offseason.
Combined Salaries: $75,597,595.00
Prorated Signing Bonuses: $30,967,912.69
Roster Bonuses: $2,793,750.00
Workout Bonuses: $450,000.00
Cap Adustments: $3,878,753.00 (remaining 2013 cap space)
Dead Money: $4,900,836 (Tony Gonzalez, Tyson Clabo and Charles Mitchell)
Projected 2014 Salary Cap: $127.5 million, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk
Current 2014 Cap Space: $16,668,659.97
The Falcons are in an extremely healthy position when it comes to the cap. They currently have 51 members of the roster under contract, a couple of cheap exclusive rights/restricted free agents that should be easy to retain and just four starters who will be free agents in the 2014 offseason.
Those four guys are Tony Gonzalez (who is retiring), Corey Peters, Joe Hawley and Jonathan Babineaux. Re-signing Peters and Hawley shouldn't be extremely tough, and it would be wise to let Babineaux walk, unless he's willing to take a true pay cut.
Atlanta could have around $30 million in total cap space if they decide to cut multiple other starters like Osi Umenyiora, Thomas DeCoud and Asante Samuel, as well as a couple of key reserves like Stephen Nicholas, Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling and Garrett Reynolds.
Players Under Contract: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree
2014 Cap Committed: $18,577,140.67
2014 Free Agents: Seth Doege (practice squad)
Atlanta is lucky right now, because their quarterback is tied to the team for a long time with a contract that is very well structured to build around.
The question comes when looking at the backup quarterbacks, but the Falcons could very easily draft someone with enough talent to usurp the job from Dominique Davis.
Players Under Contract: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Josh Vaughan, Bradie Ewing, Patrick DiMarco
2014 Cap Committed: $9,186,298.01
2014 Free Agents: none
Currently, the Falcons have a group of talented running backs—on paper. Unfortunately, in practice, they have been mediocre. Atlanta could make a couple moves here to free up cap space, but they would have to release their starting caliber running back and a key reserve.
While it would make sense to let go of the declining pair of Jason Snelling and Steven Jackson from a financial standpoint, the Falcons would be wise to wait until training camp to make any sort of move.
If they get a draft pick or undrafted free agent who can step up as the starter and shock people in camp, they would save a ton of money on one of the most replaceable positions in the NFL.
2014 Cap Committed: $16,235,208.33
2014 Free Agents: Kevin Cone (ERFA), Drew Davis (ERFA), James Rodgers (Practice Squad)
Atlanta has a good bit of their cap committed to the top targets for Matt Ryan, and they could wind up spending even more with extensions for both Roddy White and Julio Jones looming on the horizon. On top of that, they have the pair of exclusive rights free agents: Kevin Cone and Drew Davis.
Players Under Contract: Levine Toilolo, Mickey Shuler, Adam Nissley
2014 Cap Committed: $1,635,146.00
2014 Free Agents: Chase Coffman (UFA), Tony Gonzalez (Retired)
This is one of the positions that the Falcons could realistically afford to spend some more cash on. While the current trio of Levine Toilolo, Mickey Shuler and Adam Nissley are all on rookie or minimum contracts, the Falcons would be wise to spend some cash on a legitimate starter.
They could at least spend the cash on a receiving option that can compliment their current group and also re-sign Chase Coffman. Replacing Tony Gonzalez isn't going to be easy, but they need to make sure they are properly prepared for it.
Players Under Contract: Sam Baker, Lamar Holmes, Ryan Schraeder, Terren Jones
2014 Cap Committed: $7,743,400.00
2014 Free Agents: Jeremy Trueblood (UFA), Mike Johnson (UFA)
Currently, the Falcons have some solid talent at tackle. However, they need a left tackle who isn't under a guaranteed season like Sam Baker is. Unfortunately, that's not going to change. The way it sits right now, Atlanta needs to make sure it brings in a legitimate option that can compete at both tackle spots.
The worst-case scenario for the Falcons is that they will only be able to re-sign Mike Johnson as an unrestricted free agent and add a draft pick in the middle rounds.
That would only happen because the value didn't match up in the early rounds for them to get a starting caliber left tackle. Lamar Holmes and the others competing for right tackle would be good value.
Players Under Contract: Justin Blalock, Garrett Reynolds, Harland Gunn, Peter Konz
2014 Cap Committed: $10,787,459.00
2014 Free Agents: Sean Locklear (UFA), Joe Hawley (UFA)
With Justin Blalock as the best starter between the three interior spots, he is a bit overpaid. However, he's the only starter with any sort of talent on the interior right now that is under contract. Atlanta should bring back Joe Hawley as the center because he should be much more affordable than someone like Alex Mack.
On top of that, they should draft a player in the early rounds to compete at right guard. A second-round pick or later isn't a ridiculous investment cap wise. Having that pick compete at right guard with Peter Konz, Reynolds, and Harland Gunn would be the best thing for the Falcons.
Players Under Contract: Travian Robertson
2014 Cap Committed: $581,474.00
2014 Free Agents: Corey Peters (UFA), Jonathan Babineaux (UFA), Peria Jerry (UFA), Adam Replogle (ERFA)
As it sits right now, Travian Robertson needs someone to join him on the roster at defensive tackle. Atlanta could do what they did at cornerback in 2013 and draft heavily for the position. Another option would be to re-sign Corey Peters to a market-level contract for a defensive tackle—around $4.5 million per year.
Another option would be to see if Jonathan Babineaux would take a below-market deal, and then the team could also bring in someone through free agency. However, the Falcons could easily spend a good bit of cap this year shoring up their defensive tackle position.
Players Under Contract: Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman, Stansly Maponga, Cliff Matthews
2014 Cap Committed: $10,738,255.34
2014 Free Agents: none
The Falcons are wisely spending their money right now on most of their defensive ends. However, they could easily release Osi Umenyiora ($3.5 million savings) or Kroy Biermann ($2.55 million savings) and have more money to spend on a premier defensive end.
If the Falcons could land someone like Greg Hardy, they could easily cut both Umenyiora and Biermann and still only commit around the same amount to the position next season.
Players Under Contract: Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu, Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas
2014 Cap Committed: $9,983,475.00
2014 Free Agents: Omar Gaither (UFA), Chase Thomas (Practice Squad)
Linebacker is where the Falcons have spent their dollars well. While Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu are a very affordable group of starters at linebacker, Stephen Nicholas should be in line to be cut, as he could save the Falcons $2 million on this season's cap without affecting the starting lineup.
Akeem Dent should be safe, as his contract is small enough that he can be the backup at middle linebacker as well as the special teams captain without killing the cap. To develop more depth, Atlanta should spend a draft pick or sign some more undrafted free agents.
Players Under Contract: Asante Samuel, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Saeed Lee, Jordan Mabin
2014 Cap Committed: $9,543,670.00
2014 Free Agents: Dominique Franks (UFA), Robert McClain (RFA)
Atlanta needs to re-sign restricted free agent Robert McClain. However, Asante Samuel is someone who should be cut. With Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant and McClain all ahead of Samuel on the end of season depth chart, the Falcons could justify cutting him easily.
Add in a $5.25 million cap savings from his release, and Samuel is as good as gone. Atlanta could easily spend a draft pick on a corner and still not even surpass $6 million committed to the position, even after a restricted free-agent tender to McClain in the second-round range.
Players Under Contract: William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta, Sean Baker
2014 Cap Committed: $11,707,948.00
2014 Free Agents: none
Atlanta spends more money on safeties than any other defensive group. However, it consists of three rookie contracts with two big money ones. While the $5.4 million investment in William Moore looks to be worth it, Thomas DeCoud is at a point where he needs to either take a pay cut or get cut.
Cutting DeCoud would save the Falcons $3 million in cap space in 2014, $4 million in 2015 and $4.2 million in 2016. The total amount of savings makes it pointless to keep the underperforming former Pro Bowler at his current salary.
They could replace him with a draft pick, or they could sign a guy like Jairus Byrd to a deal similar to what Moore signed last season. If they keep the first-year hit to around $4.5 million, Atlanta would only be spending about $1.5 million more on the spot, but they'd have a huge upgrade.
Players Under Contract: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
2014 Cap Committed: $4,552,283.34
2014 Free Agents: none
The entire group here is entering their final season of their deals. Matt Bryant is 38 years old, and this should be his final year in the NFL. For how clutch he has been in game-winning situations, his $3.313 million cap hit is more than worth it.
On top of that, Matt Bosher and Josh Harris are finishing up their rookie deals and should be worth re-signing after the season. But their current performance has shown to be worth the cost of at least double what they have been getting paid. This is Atlanta's best value group.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.