They basically broke even with the salary cap on Friday, with Lynch’s cap number remaining the same and Jermaine Kearse taking up the same $2.4 million slot that Zach Miller vacated. So, the Hawks still have around $24 million to work with as free agency ramps up this weekend and begins Tuesday.
That’s plenty of money for the Hawks to sign tight end Julius Thomas at $8 million a year ($6 million cap hit in 2015), defensive tackle Stephen Paea at $6 million a year ($3.5 million in 2015) and cornerback Tramon Williams at $5 million a year ($3.7 million in 2015).
They also could afford extensions for Russell Wilson (net $5.6 million additional hit in 2015), Bobby Wagner ($1.6 million) and J.R. Sweezy ($600,000) and save money with a short extension for Brandon Mebane or save more by releasing him.
That would drop them down to between $6 million and $9 million in space — enough to re-sign long snapper Clint Gresham, a backup quarterback and cheap backups at guard and linebacker.
Minimum deals would cost no more than a net $150,000 — thanks to (a) the Top 51 rule, which means bottom-salary players (typically $435,000) are removed from the cap count as higher salaries are added, and (b) the minimum salary benefit, which means veterans with minimum salaries count only as third-year players ($585,000 this year).
The Hawks will want to keep about $5 million free for rookie signing bonuses, practice squad and injury replacements next season.
So there it is: An offseason plan that brings in three key free agents to replace Byron Maxwell, Miller and Kevin Williams (and maybe Mebane).
Along with the return of Lynch and 11 possible draft picks, it’s a plan that should make the Hawks even better than they have been the past two Super Bowl years.