2022 NFL Offseason Series: NFC South

2022 NFL Offseason Series: NFC South
Assessing the upcoming offseason for each 2022 NFC South team, broken down by division, including projected cap space, players under contract, notable free agents, potential extension candidates, franchise tag possibilities, & trade/cut options.

Offseason Division Pieces

Atlanta Falcons

Projected Top 51 Cap Space: $12M

Under Contract (31): FULL ROSTER

2022 Dead Cap: $15.6M

Notable Restricted Free Agents: Olamide Zaccheaus (WR, 24), FULL LIST

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Cordarrelle Patterson (RB, 30), Younghoe Koo (K, 27), Dante Fowler Jr. (DE, 27), FULL LIST

Franchise Tag Candidate: None.

Draft Picks: R1, R2, R2 (TEN), R3, R4, R5 , R6

Extension Candidates

Jake Matthews (OT, 29)
Matthews has been a staple on Matt Ryan’s blindside since entering the league in 2014. Not yet 30, a looming QB change for Atlanta should make shoring up the offensive line even more of a priority this offseason. The going rate for new LT contracts ranges from $17M-$23M currently.

Cordarrelle Patterson (RB, 30)
One of the toughest players we’ve had to attempt to evaluate over the past decade, Patterson appears to be pioneering a whole new “role” inside this modern offense, taking twice as many  receiving snaps as he has rushing snaps, though still largely considered a halfback in the league right now? So should he be paid like a 30 year old running back? Or a 30 year old WR3? We’ve split the difference, and the math sees a $9M per year extension in his future.

Potential Trades/Cuts

Matt Ryan (QB, 36)
After a disastrous start, Ryan and the Falcons' offense found their sea legs about halfway through 2021. Was it enough to keep him in the fold for 2022? Maybe. His contract certainly doesn't make it easy to move away. Matt Ryan's 2022 cap hit is a whopping $48.6M currently, with a whopping $40.525M of dead cap attached to it. A post 6/1 designation would need to be processed before March 18th, when a $7.5M roster bonus is due, to split the dead cap into a more reasonable $24.9M in 2022, & $15.6M in 2023, representing $23.75M of cap savings next year.

Mike Davis (RB, 28)
Davis was brought in to be the lead back this past March, but was quickly supplanted by Cordarrelle Patterson's outstanding campaign. With the latter scheduled for free agency, Davis might stick based out of necessity. But Atlanta could use the $2.5M in cap savings that come with moving on.

Calvin Ridley (WR, 27)
Ridley's return to Atlanta is TBD as he continues to remain away from the team due to a mental health battle. His $11.1M option salary for 2022 is already fully guaranteed, and will stay on the books until further notice.

Grady Jarrett (DT, 28)
Jarrett's production peaked in 2019, when he was truly one of the best interior defenders in all of football. While the 28 year old still has plenty to offer, a $23.8M cap hit scheduled for 2022 seems unlikely. The Falcons can certainly option to restructure/extend him for cap purposes, but if the opt to move on entirely, there's $16.5M to be freed up.

Carolina Panthers

Projected Top 51 Cap Space: $28M

Under Contract (40): FULL ROSTER

2022 Dead Cap: $7M

Notable Restricted Free Agents: Phillip Walker (QB, 26)

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Stephon Gilmore (CB, 31), Haason Reddick (OLB, 27), FULL LIST

Potential Franchise Tag: None.

Draft Picks: R1, R4 (HOU), R5 (JAX), R5, R6 (LV), R7 (TEN)

Extension Candidates

Stephon Gilmore (CB, 31)
It didn't take long for Gilmore to find himself back in the Top 10 CB ranks according to PFF. At 31 years old, a top of the market contract is likely out of the equation here, with Darius Slay’s $16.6M AAV signed at age 29 currently the oldest major contract on the books. Gilmore carries an $11M+ valuation into 2022. There's an outside chance that Carolina slaps a franchise tag on Gilmore to stop him from hitting the open market, but at $17.5M, it's a steep move.

Haason Reddick (EDGE, 27)
The numbers have been really good for two years now, first as a Cardinal, and lately with the Panthers. It stands to reason that someone is going to pony up a multi-year extension to charter his production, so why not Carolina? Bud Dupree’s 5 yr, $82.5M deal in Tennessee seems to be the benchmark.

D.J. Moore (WR, 24)
Moore is entering a contract year in 2022, with an $11.1M option salary to boot. He's posted 3 straight 1,000 yard seasons, with 12 touchdowns across that span. There's probably not a top of the market contract in his future, but a deal in the $18M per year range is certainly within reason.

Potential Trades/Cuts

Sam Darnold (QB, 24)
It's unlikely there will be a taker out there for Darnold at his current $18.8M price tag, but the Panthers agreeing to take on a portion of the salary could get a trade done. That's assuming of course that Carolina can acquire a proper upgrade for themselves at the QB position.

Christian McCaffrey (RB, 25)
Despite 4 years, $44M+ left on his contract, McCaffrey's guarantees run out after 2022, putting this at a practical 1 year, $8.6M commitment. With the Panthers in a bit of disarray offensively, it stands to reason they'll listen to offers. A pre June 1st move means $18.5M of dead cap to Carolina, which can split into $5.7M/$12.8M over two years if processed after that date.

New Orleans Saints

Projected Top 51 Cap Space: -$61M

Under Contract (40): FULL ROSTER

2022 Dead Cap: $12.5M

Notable Restricted Free Agents: Deonte Harris (WR, 24), Shy Tuttle (DT, 26), Carl Granderson (DE, 25), FULL LIST

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Terron Armstead (LT, 30), Marcus Williams (FS, 25), Jameis Winston (QB, 27),FULL LIST

Franchise Tag Candidate: Marcus Williams (FS, 25), projected $13M

Draft Picks: R1, R2, R3 (COMP), R3 (COMP), R4, R5, R7

Extension Candidates

Terron Armstead (LT, 30)
He’s been one of the best left tackles in football for awhile now, but has also never played an entire 16 game season in 9 years. With a contract set to expire this winter, and the Saints (naturally) in cap trouble heading toward the 2022 league year, it’s going to be complicated (but not impossible) to squeeze in the highest average offensive lineman contract in NFL history, but I’d still bet it gets done. The going rate is north of $23M per year.

Deonte Harris (WR, 24, RFA)
Currently serving a 3-game suspension for an off-field incident, Harris is a do-it-all player both as an offensive weapon and kick returner. He’s a downfield threat, an option in the slot, and certainly out of the backfield as well, putting him in legitimate conversation for a restricted offer sheet in the next few months. A second round tender ($3.9M) is highly likely from New Orleans, but a multi-year extension might be the smarter move. Tim Patrick’s 3 yr, $34M deal is a potential ceiling.

Marcus Williams (FS, 25)
Williams played 2021 on a franchise tag, and there's a decent chance New Orleans slaps another one on him next month. His patience has likely paid off, with new deals for Jamal Adams, Harrison Smith, & Justin Simmons pushing the safety market near $18M/year. Smith's $16M mark becomes the baseline here.

Marcus Davenport (DE, 25)
Davenport will be entering a contract year in 2022, with a fully guaranteed $9.8M option salary to boot. He's been a dominant edge defender when active, but staying on the field has been a problem as the 25 year old has seen action in just 47 of a possible 65 regular season games thus far. Davenport currently projects to a 4 year, $93M extension.

Potential Trades/Cuts

Michael Thomas (WR, 28)
Thomas' $15.35M salary for 2022 is guaranteed for injury currently, so the Saints are relying on the fact that he can pass a physical at the start of the league year to let them off the hook financially speaking. The current contract has 3 yrs, $51.95M left, but just the 2022 season contains early guarantees, so finding a trade partner isn't entirely out of the question here. If the plan is to release him, a Post June 1st designation seems the only answer, allowing the $22.7M of dead cap to split into $8.9M next year ($15.8M saved), $13.8M in 2022.

Malcolm Jenkins (FS, 34)
Jenkins still has games left in him, but the Saints will need to be creative with their financials yet again in 2022, putting his $11.7M cap figure on notice. A post June 1st release frees up $7.75M.

Bradley Roby (CB, 29)
Roby was acquired from Houston for a 3rd & 6th round pick, so it stands to reason that New Orleans would prefer to get another year out of the defensive back. A restructure is probably more likely here, a move that can free up $6.8M of cap space in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected Top 51 Cap Space: $31M

Under Contract (34): FULL ROSTER

2022 Dead Cap: $3.4M

Notable Restricted Free Agents: FULL LIST

Notable Unrestricted Free Agents: Chris Godwin (WR, 25), Leonard Fournette (RB, 26), Rob Gronkowski (TE, 32), Ronald Jones II (RB, 24), O.J. Howard (TE, 27), Ryan Jensen (C, 30), Ndamukong Suh (DT, 34), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE, 32), FULL LIST

Franchise Tag Candidate: Carlton Davis (CB, 24), projected $17.5M

Draft Picks: R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R7

Extension Candidates

Carlton Davis (CB, 24)
A quad injury has slowed Davis’ season following a superb 2020, and his rookie contract is set to expire this coming March. Can the Bucs keep this current NFC contender together while also paying Davis top of the market CB money? Davis currently projects to a 5 year, $98M extension.

Vita Vea (DT, 26)
Vea’s not quite having the Top 5 DT year that 2020 was, but his ability to be involved in the pass rush makes him a bigtime weapon for Tampa over the next few years. He’s been extension eligible for a year now, and holds a $7.6M salary in 2022. UPDATE: Vea locked into a 4 year, $73M extension with the Buccaneers

Potential Trades/Cuts

Cameron Brate (TE, 30)
With Rob Gronkowski & OJ Howard both headed for free agency, Brate is currently the only TE option on the roster. But a minimal production year factored with $6.8M of savings to be had puts him squarely on the bubble regardless.