Atlanta Falcons salary cap outlook: Top defensive tackles will be free agents in 2014

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

The "Shutdown Countdown" is chugging along. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Atlanta Falcons.

2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $122.782 million (5th-smallest adjusted cap number in 2013)

2013 Cap Room Remaining: $5.282 million (20th in the NFL, as of July 26). The remaining cap room does not reflect the new five-year, $103.75 million extension signed by quarterback Matt Ryan last week. Before the extension, Ryan had a $12 million cap hit this season. His cap charge could remain unchanged (Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers has a $12 million cap hit after signing a $110 million extension on April 25) or go down, as evidenced by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's $6.8 million cap number in the first season of his $120.6 million contract. Where Ryan's cap hit goes all depends on how the Falcons and agent Tom Condon agreed to structure the contract.

Best Bargain: At a shade under 5-foot-6, Jacquizz Rodgers is unlikely to be a 15-20 carries per game running back in the NFL, but he serve an important role on third downs and in the return game. Rodgers played in 43.9 percent of the Falcons' snaps last season and totaled 764 yards from scrimmage with a pair of touchdowns. Rodgers was most effective as a receiver, catching 53 passes for 402 yards and a touchdown and was fourth among running backs in Football Outsiders' receiving DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), trailing Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead, who will earn between $1.75 million (Woodhead) and $3 million (Sproles) while playing similar roles that Rodgers will play this season for the league minimum ($555,000).

Potential Camp Cap Casualty: The weakest link on the Falcons' roster is arguably the linebacker corps. One player who could find himself on the roster bubble is Stephen Nicholas, who turned 30 and underwent sports hernia surgery this offseason. Nicholas is due $2.5 million in non-guaranteed base salary and if Akeem Dent and Sean Weatherspoon establish themselves as the top two linebackers on the roster, and capable of playing three downs, Nicholas could be the odd man out.

Looming Contract Issue: The Falcons have already addressed the looming contract issue by extending Matt Ryan through the 2018 season. Now the focus next offseason will be on the defensive tackle position as their top three tackles — Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry — are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2014.

Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: Assuming Ryan's cap number in 2014 is in the $15 million range (an estimate that is based on recent quarterback contracts, including a few negotiated by Ryan's agent), the "Top 51" players the Falcons have signed for 2014 account for around $115 million in salary cap commitments. That figure includes an $8.75 million cap charge for Tony Gonzalez, who is taking a "year-by-year" approach to the end of his Hall of Fame career. If Gonzalez hangs up the cleats and starts his Hall of Fame clock, the Falcons will pick up $7 million in cap space. That decision will likely be made before a $3 million roster bonus is due on the third day of the league year. The Falcons will also be carrying $3.1 million in signing bonus acceleration on their 2014 cap after designating Tyson Clabo as a "post-June 1" release.

Previous salary cap outlooks

32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants
11. Carolina Panthers
10. Washington Redskins
9. Cincinnati Bengals

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