Analyzing Contracts & Cap Space: NFC South (Fantasy Football)

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This is part of a series where I analyze the financial situations of each NFL team, division by division. The gold standards for sports finance data are Spotrac and Over the Cap, which were referred to countless times during this writing.

Editor’s Note: For more on Team Opportunity, Contracts of Note, and the Dynasty outlook of each team, check out the Dynasty Pass part of the Ultimate Draft Kit+.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Cap Space: $890,308 (31st in NFL)
  • Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Mike Evans ($23.7 million)

Tom Brady came, he saw, and he conquered. And now he is gone, leaving a barren wasteland in his wake.

While that’s not entirely fair, the Bucs did sell out to maximize the GOAT’s expiring window. They gave big contracts to big players, and it worked: they walked away with a Super Bowl ring in 2021. But now they have to pay the piper: they have the second-lowest cap space in the league, despite having nowhere near the second-best roster in the league.

Mike Evans is hitting the cap for nearly $24 million, a massive number that is second only to Amari Cooper at the position. His contract is up after this year, and, while he’s certainly a franchise legend, will a rebuilding Bucs team be interested in another huge extension for a 31-year-old wideout? Especially when Chris Godwin projects to hit the cap for even more ($27.5 million) next season, with a massive loss in dead money if he is released? Oh, and with Shaq Barrett’s cap hit also jumping up to $23.5 million?

Hopefully, I’m painting an accurate picture: the Bucs are tied to big contracts that don’t offer much release…by way of releasing the players. In addition, it’s hard to tell who will even be on this roster in three years’ time. Baker Mayfield is on a one-year, prove-it deal. Kyle Trask is sneakily in his third year, with just two years left on a rookie deal. Ke’Shawn Vaughn has one year left. Chase Edmonds is a one-year signing. The only player that we can be reasonably confident will be with this team for a decent spell is second-year RB Rachaad White; he has three years remaining on a rookie deal. Otherwise, I am getting the heck out of Dodge. If Dodge was Tampa Bay.

New Orleans Saints

  • Cap Space: $13.3 million (16th in NFL)
  • Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Cameron Jordan ($15.1 million)

Derek Carr hopes to kickstart (pun intended) a Saints offense that was — let’s face it — mostly unexceptional last season. In fact, it might feel like the twilight is setting on the vaunted Saints offense of old. Drew Brees and Sean Payton are gone, of course, but it’s easy to conclude that former fantasy stars Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are over the hill.

But…perhaps we need to tap the brakes on that take. Thomas has two years remaining on a monster contract where his dead cap hit — money owed to him if he is released — is larger than his actual cap hit (if you’re wondering why there hasn’t been much talk of the Saints releasing him, this is why). Kamara has three years left, and the cap savings from releasing him only really jumps up ($20 million) in 2025. It’s safe to say that both of these players will be rostered for the next two years, along with Derek Carr, who carries a cap hit of over $50 million for the next two seasons. And, of course, the Saints also gain next-to-nothing from releasing Taysom Hill before his contract expires in three years.

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So, simply put, the well-known names of the New Orleans Saints are likely to continue to go marching. Cam Jordan’s team-leading cap hit will likely be off the books after this season (his contract is up), giving the team even more breathing room. This is surprisingly good news if you are holding onto Carr, Thomas, Hill, and Kamara in dynasty: the window might be wider than you think. It’s potentially a dash of cold water on second-year WR Chris Olave, who will likely have to compete for targets with the aforementioned pass catchers for two of the three years remaining on his rookie deal. That’s not to say he won’t still be great…but he doesn’t have the monster target share that we would hope for.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Cap Space: $9.9 million (22nd in NFL)
  • Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Jake Matthews ($28.3 million)

Ah, the Falcons. The team incurring a nearly $50 million cap hit to Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett (Matthew’s cap hit is the seventh highest in the league). The team who made Taylor Heinicke their 9th highest-paid player, and Jonnu Smith their 8th highest, this offseason. The team with the 6th-highest cap hit to a kicker, with $4.75 million due to Younghoe Koo (ok, that one makes a bit more sense).

What can I say? It’s not very compelling to study the Falcons’ ledgers. I don’t really know who the quarterback will be: Desmond Ridder is playing on a very cheap contract for the next three years, but the team clearly invested a decent amount in bringing Heinicke on board. Maybe they are already looking ahead to the QB sweepstakes in the 2024 draft; maybe they want to select someone who can make the most out of the remaining time on Kyle Pitts, Bijan Robinson, and Drake London‘s contracts.

Speaking of these players, they have essentially no competition outside of this triumvirate. Mack Hollins, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Scotty Miller round out the WR room and all three are on one-year deals. Cordarrelle Patterson actually has another year remaining on his contract, but after that is up, the Falcons will probably bid the 33-year-old RB goodbye. I would be worried about Jonnu Smith‘s arrival taking away time from Pitts…but Jonnu didn’t do much in New England, and Pitts is a special player.

You can be confident London, Pitts, and Bijan will get plenty of looks over these next few seasons. How valuable those looks will be is less than certain.

Carolina Panthers

  • Cap Space: $20.6 million (4th in NFL)
  • Largest 2023 Cap Hit: Brian Burns ($16 million)

After the Baker Mayfield experiment, the Panthers are ready to reinvent themselves. They traded up to the 1.01 to select QB Bryce Young. They have a ton of cap space, and likely more coming: Brian Burns’ contract is up after this season. The front office is ready to mold the team to fit Young’s skillset.

There are a couple of interesting contracts on this team that deserve attention. Recent WR additions DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault signed one-year deals and likely won’t be around long. But Adam Thielen — 33-year-old Adam Thielen — carries a dead cap of over $10 million, higher than this actual cap hit, for the next two seasons. I know it seems like a final, mostly useless stop at the end of a great fantasy career…and while it’s probably the final stop, it might not be useless. Sure, the Panthers might suck it up, release him and eat the dead money, but there’s no real reason to do that for the next two years: they have plenty of cap space and incur a lower cap hit by keeping him around. I’m spending a lot of words communicating a simple concept: Adam Thielen might have some juice left.

Another contract that I’ve written about before is that of Miles Sanders. The team is making a decent investment in the ex-Eagles RB: his dead money is above $8 million for the next two seasons, which is a pretty hefty investment for a running back in the modern landscape. Chuba Hubbard, with two seasons left on his rookie deal, is the only other running back on the roster. The offensive line is great. The team likes to run the ball. What’s not to like about this Miles Sanders window in dynasty?

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Any other contracts you’d like me to analyze? Let me know on Twitter.

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