At the cusp of the offseason, there was a lot of optimism about how the team was poised to build on reason success: solid young core still on rookie deals, lots of cap room to address immediate needs, extra draft picks thanks to trades and likely still money leftover to manage successful for the next few years. Thus far it's gone according to plan.
I outlined my vision for how the team would spend its money in a Fanpost back in late February (link). Most of the plan turned to reality albeit with some differences in contract value/length. The players targeted for resigning was projected to take up $30M in cap but actual figures came in slightly less at $29.3M ($670k less) even when replacing Thomas Howard with James Harrison and Michael Johnson still carrying the franchise tag. There were additional players resigned who I did not expect to come back (Newman, Maualuga and Tate) who accounted for an additional $6.6M.
So far only one of the two players expected to be released have actually hit the street (CB Jason Allen) although I expect it unlikely Jamaal Anderson survives final cuts. There are also still contracts yet to be finalized, namely Atkins and Dunlap. So at this point it's premature to see if the team will have the $13M in cap room I projected when the season starts however a quick 53-man roster cutdown forecast shows it won't quite that much namely due to the Newman/Maualuga/Tate deals. I project $9.3M in cap room which is certainly more than you need for injury replacements but it's slightly below the arbitrary $10M cushion that has been floating around the media based on what the team is trying reserve for Dalton and Green future contracts.
The key will be how the Atkins situation plays out. If they can't work out a deal, I expect the team to franchise him next year. This may seem crazy to the casual fan but from a financial standpoint it's a no-brainer. If they extend him this year, he'd pocket close to $20M in the first year and another $6.5M next year. If they franchise him, the two year total would be closer to $10M. The cap savings this year alone provide the necessary funds for next year's franchise tag. The Ngata comparison isn't totally correct as he didn't earn his massive contract until after he was tagged and that was $12.4M rather than the sub-$9M that Atkins would see in 2014.
Leaving Atkins' contract unresolved puts the DE situation at risk as Johnson and Dunlap could end up elsewhere in 2014. I don't believe that will actually happen since I think the team will be happy to pay one of them but it's hard to see two $10M+ DE's especially with another 7-figure salary guy on the defensive line in Atkins. Plus there's a reason why they drafted Margus Hunt and resigned Wallace Gilberry to a multi-year deal.
The team will still be sitting pretty in 2014 no matter what. With an estimated $26M in cap room plus ~$8M in carryover, 51 players under contract and only a few UFA's of note (MJ93 and Anthony Collins are the headliners), the team still has the cap flexibility to make any moves it deems necessary. They also likely pick up four comp picks albeit 6th/7th rounders but nevertheless guys who will very likely make next year's roster.
So the offseason has been a success. Here's hoping that the real season is even stronger!