With the 2012 season and accompanying postseason fully in the history books, NFL teams are now focused on preparing for the upcoming 2013 Draft as well as the impending free agency period. Free agency officially begins on March 12, but there will be plenty of moves and transactions made before then. As always, we'll see teams release established veterans and valuable players in order to save themselves money and gain flexibility under the salary cap. I'll be going division-by-division and analyzing the salary cap situation of each team in the league, highlighting some players for every club that could potentially be axed in order to save some money. We're already halfway through the AFC, having covered the North and East divisions previously this week, and now we're taking on the AFC South.
Current Projected Cap Space - $6.4M
Key Free Agents - James Casey (FB), Connor Barwin (OLB), Glover Quin Jr. (S), Donnie Jones (P)
The reigning AFC South division champions for two years running now, the Texans are in a bit of a bind financially this offseason as everything currently stands. Big contracts for their offensive stars in Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, and Arian Foster are a key factor in that; plus the hefty deal currently being carried by their top corner, Jonathan Joseph. This is without even mentioning rising prices for other players who were awarded recent extensions, a group that includes Arian Foster and All-World offensive tackle Duane Brown. So if the Texans are looking for some cap relief right now, where will they go to find it?
The most impactful way they could do it would be by parting ways with defensive end/conspicuous ninja Antonio Smith
, who is set to make $9.5M next season and by cutting him the team would save $6.0M. The organization is not afraid to let go of beloved and productive players, as evidenced just as recently as last year when they cut Eric Winston, one of the better right tackles in the league. Another candidate to be cut is left guard Wade Smith, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2012 largely on the basis of playing on an offensive line in between two true All-Stars in Duane Brown and Chris Myers. Smith is not as good as his Pro Bowl berth would suggest, as Pro Football Focus rated him as just the #28 ranked guard in the league for 2012. Shedding Smith and his $3.75M contract would save the team a total of $3.0M, and they drafted two interior linemen in 2012 (Ben Jones & Brandon Brooks) so they have young players waiting in the wings behind him.
Current Projected Cap Space - $45.0M
Key Free Agents - Dwight Freeney (DE), Winston Justice (OT), Donnie Avery (WR), Pat McAfee (P)
The Colts are in the very enviable position of currently having the third-most cap space in the league this year, behind only the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. That being said, their roster is in desperate need of a talent influx, despite what their record and postseason berth may say about the team. This is why they've been linked to just about every top free agent out there this year; including Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, Andy Levitre, and Dwayne Bowe. The Colts could be a candidate to have a similar offseason to what the Buccaneers did last year and spend very freely to bring in some of the best free agents. It certainly would be appealing to join a young team being led by a future superstar quarterback and get paid in the process.
It doesn't look at all likely that the Colts will need to make any cuts to avoid being squeezed by the salary cap, and they don't have any players really being overpaid on a bloated deal who are performing far below expectations. It's tempting to just end their section here and say nobody. However, I must offer at least one candidate. Therefore I shall give you Mike McGlynn
, a generally awful guard who somehow played every offensive snap for the team in 2012 except for one. The Colts will be on the hook for no portion of his $1.73M salary next season if they cut him, so it would seem fortuitous to do so.
Current Projected Cap Space - $25.4M
Key Free Agents - Daryl Smith (LB), Terrance Knighton (DT), Derek Cox (CB), Greg Jones (FB)
The Jaguars have a pretty healthy amount of cap room to work with this offseason, and that's even with the dead money of cutting Mike Thomas, Clint Session, and Aaron Kampman still hampering them. They'll be able to spend in order to keep their own guys around, or go out and bring in some strong free agents if they wished. If they wanted to do both, maybe they'd have to shave a little bit off of their payroll. Either way, it's always nice to have a little more cash to work with. As long as you're not hurting your team too much in the process of course. They could save a decent amount of money by releasing Aaron Ross
, who they signed away from the Giants prior to last season and proceeded to fit right in with the rest of Jacksonville's mediocre secondary. He's set to make just a little over $4.0M in 2013, but the Jaguars would free up $3.7M by axing him now.
Other candidates to be found exist on the offensive line, which was mostly woeful last season. Outside of superstar left tackle Eugene Monroe, and solid-when-healthy guard Uche Nwaneri, the Jaguars just could not find the right set of pieces to fit together up front. They could cut some dead weight by dropping backup tackle Guy Whimper, which would save them about $1.33M, and show a vote of confidence to current right tackle Cameron Bradfield, who showed promise last season in his first tour of duty as a starter. Similarly, Jason Spitz spent 2012 on injured reserve and his services may no longer be necessary, meaning his $1.75M cap hit could be mostly avoided and free up $1.5M more.
Current Projected Cap Space - $18.6M
Key Free Agents - Jared Cook (TE), Fernando Velasco (C), Rob Bironas (K), Deuce Lutui (G)
The Titans have already shown some real aggressiveness this offseason despite the fact that free agency hasn't even officially started yet. They've reportedly made a contract offer to recent Giants cap casualty, Chris Canty, and are also believed to be interested in the similarly released George Wilson, formerly a member of the Buffalo Bills. If they want to really wheel and deal in free agency, they might need to shed some money from the payroll. As it stands right now they have a fairly decent amount to spend, but could free themselves up a little bit with some shrewd decisions in house.
They signed Eugene Amano
a few years ago to a sizable contract which will make him the sixth-highest paid center in the league in 2013. Amano was believed by the organization to be the heir apparent at center after the departure of Kevin Mawae, but he never played up to the level the team expected, and missed all of 2012 on injured reserve. Fernando Velasco replaced him in the lineup at center, and proceeded to give a surprisingly strong performance that certainly warrants keeping him on board as the starter there. That could very well leave Amano out of a job, being too highly paid to be a backup, and allow the Titans to save $4.14M of his $6.0M salary next season. The other candidate most people who cover the team seem certain will be gone is safety Jordan Babineaux, who hasn't necessarily been playing badly, but instead looks to be a victim of a youth movement. The Titans seem to like young safeties Al Afalava and Robert Johnson, and 2012 draftee Markelle Martin will be ready to play after missing 2012 on IR.