|Speculating about free agency is a pastime for fans of teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs—or in today's case, have already been eliminated.
But, with free agency now on the horizon, it's time to curb the wild speculation and separate the contenders from the pretenders. In other words, it's time to establish which NFL teams actually have the cap space to compete in free agency and which teams will sit by the sidelines.
ESPN's John Clayton provided a great breakdown of each team's projected cap space headed into 2013, and these figures are used in this article—along with analysis, of course.
These projected cap numbers are subject to change as teams cut and restructure contracts over the next two months. But, anyway, here's an idea of how each NFL team shapes up financially heading into a free-agency period that figures to feature plenty of talent.
By inking Kevin Kolb to a $62 million deal in 2011, the Cardinals not only whiffed on a franchise quarterback, they also dug themselves into a huge hole. Arizona is over the cap heading into the 2013 offseason, which is very troubling news for a team that so desperately needs to overhaul its offense.
In order to get under the cap, the Cards will have to restructure some contracts, or perhaps, cut a notable name or two.
From Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com:
According to figures reported by John Clayton, the Cards are currently set to come in around $720,000 above the 2013 salary cap. That means at the very least there will be some restructuring to do. To have any flexibility for free agents or the like will take some paperwork.
That’s why, beyond Kevin Kolb’s injuries, it will be important to try and restructure his deal (his cap number is around $13 million this coming season), or extend safety Kerry Rhodes ($6M), or make a call on linebacker Stewart Bradley ($6.5M).
The cap numbers of Larry Fitzgerald (more than $10M), Darnell Dockett ($7.7M) and Adrian Wilson (more than $5M) also could be looked at in some way, shape or form.
Projected cap space: -$723,000
The Falcons won't have much cap space to work with this offseason, but this team doesn't necessarily need it. With so much talent on both sides of the ball, Atlanta can focus on re-signing its two biggest impending free agents: Brent Grimes and Sam Baker.
Things could get tricky if Tony Gonzalez decides to return for one more year, though.
From Pat Yasinkas of ESPN:
They have $113 million committed toward a cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. Don’t expect a free-agent frenzy from the Falcons, because they could use most of their cap room to re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes and left tackle Sam Baker.
The Falcons won’t be getting much help from carry-over money, because they finished the 2012 season a league-low $425,000 under the cap.
Projected cap space: $4.9 million
Surely, the Ravens will miss Ray Lewis, but there is a silver lining to his retirement. Baltimore will save $4.35 million, which is pivotal for a team that has a slew of marquee players slated for free agency. Among those players is quarterback Joe Flacco—the team's first priority and a candidate for the franchise tag—as well as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbee and Cary Williams.
From Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
The Ravens are expected to face a tight salary-cap situation even with Lewis' departure because they are expected to have to use the franchise tag to retain quarterback Joe Flacco, barring an advancement in contract discussions that hit an impasse in August with talks tabled until after the season.
If Ed Reed decides to return for another season, then it might have to be with another team. That is, unless he takes a pay cut. Reed made $7.2 million this season, a hefty price tag for a 34-year-old safety.
Projected cap space: $15.1 million
The Bills might not contend for a few years, but losing impending free agents Jairus Byrd and/or Andy Levitre could set them back. Both players deserve substantial raises, and if Buffalo doesn't provide that, then other teams will. Fortunately, the Bills have one of the healthier cap figures in the NFL.
From Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com:
NFL clubs do not get the established salary cap for the new league year until March, but it’s projected to be around $121M. The Bills do not provide their cap figures as a team policy.
Reports indicate they’ll be around $15M under. That number obviously is subject to change between now and the opening of free agency.
John Clayton projects the Bills will actually have closer to $20 million at their disposal. Either way, Buffalo has one of the NFL's healthier cap figures but expect it to use it on its own guys, not any big-name free agents.
Projected cap space: $20.6 million
The Panthers enter the 2013 offseason with the third-worst cap figure in the NFL. By handing out huge extensions to its own players over the last few years, Carolina has dug itself in a hole that will be exceedingly difficult to climb out of.
Handing DeAngelo Williams a $43 million deal in 2011 is just one example of this front office's ill-advised moves.
From Pat Yasinkas of ESPN:
I don’t know if former general manager Marty Hurney deserves all the blame or if he was acting on orders from above, but the contracts given to guys like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, Jon Beason, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey in recent years have left the Panthers in a real salary-cap mess.
Whoever ends up as the new general manager is going to have his hands tied in a lot of ways, because most of those contracts include so much guaranteed in base salaries and so much pro-rated money that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get out from under some of the team’s biggest contracts by releasing players.
Projected cap space: -$11.8 million
The Bears enter the 2013 offseason with reasonable flexibility, but Phil Emery can greatly increase the team's cap space by inking Julius Peppers, Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman and/or Brandon Marshall to contract extensions.
Chicago will need to create some more cap room in order to re-sign some of its impending free agents, a list that includes Brian Urlacher and Henry Melton.
From Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times:
There will be an incremental increase in the salary cap to $121 million, and the Bears’ combined cap number of their top 41 players is about $14.5 million under that. That includes a carryover of space from this season.
According to a league source, the Bears are among the top 10 teams in terms of cap space.
Projected cap space: $13.3 million
The Bengals enter the 2013 offseason with $55.1 million—yes, you read that right—in cap space. No team in the NFL has more cash to spend but don't expect Cincinnati to go on a shopping spree. This franchise rarely pursues expensive free agents, so expect most of this money to go toward extensions for Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson.
From John Clayton of ESPN:
The "haves'' are in good shape. The "have nots'' have to be creative. Thanks to the carryover, there is $350.7 million of cap room in 2013, but $200.3 million of carryover is part of that.
Eight teams, though, account for 79 percent million of total room. The Cincinnati Bengals saved $8.5 million of cap room in 2012 and made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. They have $55.1 million of room.
Projected cap space: $55.1 million
The Browns—another team that rarely spends big in free agency—happens to have the NFL's second-highest cap number. It's impossible to predict what Cleveland will do with its wealth until it hires a new general manager.
However, the Browns don't have any marquee players to re-sign, so they might actually have no choice but to pursue some notable names in free agency.
From Jamison Hensley of ESPN:
There's only five teams in the league who are projected to have over $30 million in cap space and two of them reside in the AFC North. The Bengals have the most projected cap room in 2013 with $55.1 million.
The team with the second-most cap room in the NFL is the Browns, who are projected to have $48.9 million. Indianapolis ($46 million), Miami ($35.8 million) and Tampa Bay ($31.3 million) round out the top five.
Projected cap space: $48.9 million
Jerry Jones has a penchant for handing out inflated contracts, and that bad habit will come back to haunt the Cowboys this offseason. Dallas' roster is studded with overpaid players, namely Doug Free and Jay Ratliff. These two are candidates for the chopping block, as is Miles Austin, who is scheduled to make $6.8 million this season.
From Jonathan Bales of DallasCowboys.com:
After running through the Cowboys’ contracts, you start to get a sense of why the team doesn’t have much money to dish around in free agency this year. Eight players have contracts worth a minimum of $25 million, six of which are over $48 million.
More concerning is the fact that the ‘Boys have three players whose recent production clearly doesn’t match their contracts—Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, and Doug Free—due to make $26.5 million in 2013 alone.
Projected cap space: $18.2 million
Peyton Manning is being credited for the Broncos' revival and understandably so. But, it's time to give John Elway serious props for putting this franchise in position to contend for years to come. Although Denver just inked Manning to a $96 million deal, it still enters this offseason with $18.5 million.
A chunk of that will go toward the re-signing of Ryan Clady. After all, if you're going to shell out nearly $100 million for a quarterback, you better make sure he's protected by a fortified offensive front.
Projected cap space: $18.5 million
With eight defensive starters entering free agency, the Lions' front office is going to be exceedingly busy.
On top of that, offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus will enter free agency as well.
From Dave Birkett of Freep.com
As of [December 11], the Lions had a projected $6.98 million in cap space for 2013. That includes $1.15 million in space they could roll over for next year but doesn't include potential tenders to restricted free agents like Jason Fox, Willie Young or Amari Spievey.
John Clayton's calculations differ quite a bit, but the bottom line here is that the Lions are in a very precarious situation. Detroit has a long list of free agents to sign and little space to re-sign them.
Projected cap space: -$1.1 million
Green Bay Packers
The Packers won't exactly enter the offseason with a wealth of cap space, but that could change if the team decides to restructure, say, Charles Woodson's contract. He's due as much as $10 million over the next two years, which is a hefty payload for a 36-year-old who missed most of 2012 with an injury.
From Bob McGinn of jsonline.com:
The salary cap will increase minutely next year to about $121.3M. Green Bay will roll over what's left under the present cap, or $7.1M, into 2013 because all of their moves are designed to facilitate contract extensions for Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and [Aaron] Rodgers in the next six to nine months.
Projected cap space: $7.1 million
On the heels of its second divisional-round elimination in as many years, Houston will look to polish off a roster on the cusp of championship contention. The Texans don't have too much to spend—especially with a few impending free agents to re-sign—but they could have enough room to lure in a handful of role players.
From Paul Kuharsky of ESPN:
Houston’s in better shape than I would have guessed, but has three significant guys with expiring contracts: Fullback James Casey, safety Glover Quin and outside linebacker Connor Barwin.
Projected cap space: $12.9 million
Colts GM Ryan Grigson enjoyed a phenomenal first season in Indianapolis. His first draft class is headlined by Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard, and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are due for breakout seasons in 2013.
Now, one year removed from a playoff appearance, Grigson has $46 million to spend. It remains to be see if he'll take an aggressive approach in free agency, but he's in an envious position nonetheless.
From Paul Kuharsky of ESPN:
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson will enter a whole new world with that $46 million of cap room a year after his team swallowed about $37 million in dead money plus a $19 million cap hit for Dwight Freeney in the final year of his contract.
Projected cap space: $46 million
The Jaguars are eons away from contention, but recently hired general manager Dave Caldwell has enough cap space to start building for the future. With just more than $20 million, Caldwell can begin overhauling a roster that's devoid of talent on both sides of the ball.
From Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida-Times Union:
Depending on reports, the Jaguars have $22 million in salary cap space this year and Khan has been willing to spend money to eat the remaining years on the contracts of Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey.
Because of his role in Atlanta. I’m familiar with pro free agency [this year] so that was a good selling point that I could hit the ground running and not have too many setbacks.”
Projected cap space: $22.1 million
Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid inherits a Chiefs team that isn't necessarily lacking in talent. Rather, it just might need the right coach to groom its young roster. However, Kansas City—like any other NFL team—can only get so far without a topflight quarterback, and Matt Cassel certainly is not one.
From Jeffrey Flanagan of FOX Sports Kansas City:
Matt Cassell, who had been the teams' starter for three seasons until being benched in 2012, could be a financial liability, especially as a backup quarterback.
Cassel is due to have a $7.75 million base salary in 2013, and a $9.825 salary cap number. It has been widely reported that if Cassel is released, the Chiefs would free up about $5.825 million in salary cap space.
If the Chiefs free up that cap space, then Reid could use it to bring in an old friend: Michael Vick.
Projected cap space: $16.1 million
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