Looking for cap space this offseason? Then look at the AFC, where the top six teams in effective 2019 cap space exist per OverTheCap. Those teams, in order, are the Colts, Jets, Bills, Browns, Raiders, and Texans. Indianapolis actually has $117 million in effective space, almost $30 million more than second place New York. That’s even with $27 million going to Andrew Luck, but the Colts only have ten players set to make more than $2 million next season. Indy is in great position, coming off of a 10-6 season and having many key pieces in place at quarterback, offensive line, and on an emerging defense. They’ll have no problems retaining their own and should be able to compete for the services of any free agent.
Not so much the case for many NFC teams.
Teams set to have less than $20 million in cap space include the Panthers, Falcons, Saints, Bears, Bucs, Vikings, and Eagles, with Philly currently projected at $14.4 million over. Only three AFC teams are looking at less than $20 million, including the Patriots ($19 million), Dolphins, and Jaguars, the other team currently over the 2019 cap. The NFC teams in the best position for spending are the two teams now situated at the top of the 2019 NFL Draft:
The 49ers have $62 million in space and are picking second, while the Cardinals have $61 million and are picking first. The Cowboys are next at $53 million, followed by the Seattle Seahawks at $52 million. How will some of these financially struggling cap situations work themselves out?
The Eagles entire offseason centers around the decisions to be made at quarterback, which ideally for them likely includes an agreement with Nick Foles to keep and trade him. The team will likely exercise the $20 million option that puts them over the cap and then he can choose to pay $2 million to enter free agency, at which point the Eagles can then franchise tag him if they wanted to. Instead, the two parties could agree he doesn’t opt out and then trade him. Either way, Philly is probably closer to $4 million in cap space than negative $14 million. It’s still not enough.
The Eagles could save $7 million by releasing Timmy Jernigan, who missed all but three games. They’d save $8 million by releasing 37-year-old tackle Jason Peters. They’d save $5 million by releasing safety Rodney McLeod, who also missed 13 games. They’d save all $9.3 million of wide receiver Nelson Agholor’s salary. Is he a receiver you’d expect to be on that level of pay? They’d save $5.3 million by releasing defensive end Chris Long, who didn’t have as big of an impact this season as he did in 2017. They’d save $3 million to release backup lineman Stefen Wisniewski.
These moves would allow them more flexibility to re-sign defensive end Brandon Graham, who is a free agent. They might also want to retain Golden Tate, who could be a better option than Agholor. There’s also cornerback Ronald Darby, running back Jay Ajayi, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as unrestricted free agents.
The Minnesota Vikings famously aren’t getting away from Kirk Cousins $29 million salary next season and they have just $6 million in effective cap space. Releasing safety Andrew Sendejo will save them $5.5 million, and $4.5 million if they wanted to part ways with starting right guard Mike Remmers. That may not be enough room for them to entertain re-signing Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson, both of whom are free agents. That’s when the decisions get tough. Trae Waynes is set to make $9 million on his fifth-year option and the Vikings could save all of that if they released the starting cornerback. I don’t know that they’d entertain releasing Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen, or Kyle Rudolph, but as an unbiased observer, I did for a second.
The Buccaneers have just $12 million in cap space but can start chipping away on the roster immediately for new head coach Bruce Arians. I assume they’ll release defensive end Vinny Curry and save all $8 million of his salary. They could save another $10 million by letting go of receiver DeSean Jackson, who turns 33 next season and who was awful when playing with Jameis Winston (33.8 passer rating on Winston-to-Jackson). They’ll save $7 million by releasing tight end Cameron Brate, if they want to. A combined $7.5 million by releasing defensive linemen William Gholston and Mitch Unrein. Just those moves get Tampa Bay to $42 million in cap space and none of those contracts leave any dead money behind. With all that, there are still rumors that the Bucs could cut defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to save $13 million and make him one of the top free agents on the market.
The Chicago Bears will be a popular Super Bowl pick next season I bet, but they have just $13 million in effective cap space and a priority free agent in safety Adrian Amos. They may also want to retain starting right tackle Bobby Massie. They’ll save $6 million by releasing tight end Dion Sims (how do contracts like that even happen?) and $3 million if they want to cut backup QB Chase Daniel. The next place they could possibly go is $6.4 million in savings on linebacker Danny Trevathan.
Up next are the Saints, hot off the controversy of the season and still expected contenders for the NFC next year, with $14.4 million in effective cap space. Free agents include running back Mark Ingram, tight end Ben Watson (retiring), linebacker Manti Te’o, and cornerback P.J. Williams. They’re spending the third-most money in the NFL on their offensive line (Cowboys first, Eagles second) and they’ve been grooming some potential replacements, so would New Orleans risk letting go of one of their starting linemen? Left guard Andrus Peat is on the fifth-year option ($9.6m, non-guaranteed) and the Saints would save $6.4 million if they let go of right guard Larry Warford. They’d save $7 million on center Max Unger. No expectation that they will, just a thought. They’d save $4 million on safety Kurt Coleman, $3.7 million on receiver Cameron Meredith, and $2.5 million on receiver Ted Ginn. The Saints may also try to work with Drew Brees on his $33 million cap hit given his age and I’m sure Brees’s desire to win another Super Bowl before he retires.
At nearly $18 million in effective cap space, the Falcons must be looking to load up on defense, since that’s the side of the ball that Dan Quinn has done almost nothing with since taking over. They could save $12 million by releasing pass rusher Vic Beasley, who hasn’t been doing much of any pass rushing in the last two seasons. They’d save $7.9 million on cornerback Robert Alford. Another $4.5 million on defensive end Brooks Reed. And $3.2 million on guard Brandon Fusco. Their free agents include Bruce Irvin, Terrell McClain, Grady Jarrett, Tevin Coleman, Jordan Richards, Ty Sambrailo, and Andy Levitre.
The last NFC team I’ll look at are the Carolina Panthers, who have $19.1 in effective cap space. The Panthers free agents include Ryan Kalil, Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, Eric Reid, Mike Adams, Wes Horton, Devin Funchess, Daryl Williams, and Chris Clark. They could lose two starters on the offensive line (Kalil, Clark), plus a third who started at tackle in 2017 (Williams). They could lose both safeties (Reid, Adams), two on the defensive line (Horton, Peppers), a starting linebacker and a starting receiver. Now, some of these players need to be replaced anyway, but Carolina has a lot of work to do and their disappointing season was not at all surprising to me as I picked them to finish well out of the playoffs. Because the roster just does not look very good and now they have little cap space and lots to fix.
They save $6 million by releasing defensive end Mario Addison, but he’s been their leading pass rusher as of late. They save $9.2 million on the fifth year option of linebacker Shaq Thompson. They save $5 million if they release wide receiver Torrey Smith, which I’m sure they will. There’s $2 million on cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and $2.8 million on fellow corner Ross Cockrell. They could chip off $2.5 million with safety Da’Norris Searcy. The Panthers could edge their way to $30 million in cap space but they’ll still have a lot of starting and reserve roles to fill.