Earlier today we looked at the teams that were set to gain cap room on June 2nd and how that would move teams such as the Oakland Raiders from the danger zone to being comfortable enough to function once the regular season begins. What about the rest of the NFL and teams who are not going to benefit for the June 1 cut?
I had written a piece a month or two back detailing the difference in reported vs effective cap space. Feel free to follow the link, but to summarize we need to account for the fact that every team in the NFL at this point needs enough money to, at a minimum, expand the roster from 51 to 53 players and field a Practice Squad. In addition most NFL teams still need to sign their first round draft selection(only 4 have done so thus far), all of whom will impact the salary cap. The two additional players will cost a minimum of $810,000 and the full Practice Squad will cost $816,000, so $1.626 million is almost mandatory to function come September. So a number of teams are in danger. Lets look at the top 5:
Washington Redskins– Washington has $1.413 million in cap room and will gain about $170,000 more when Rob Jacksons suspension begins at the start of the year. Luckily they do have all their rookies signed but right now their effective cap room is -$28,000 and that’s assuming they don’t have to replace anyone during the course of the year on IR or PUP. The Skins have already reworked a number of deals to get under the cap and the logical move would be to release London Fletcher at some point during training camp. Cutting Fletcher should free up $4.8 million in cap room after June 1. I would think its going to be a big uphill battle for him to make the team just based on finances alone. If they intend to keep him he needs to take a paycut otherwise the Redkins will need to approach their defensive or offensive linemen about restructuring their contracts.
Chicago Bears– Like the Redskins they have their entire draft class under contract so that is a big help. Their effective cap space is $145,000 so they likely need to free up another $2-3 million to begin the season. The Bears are an interesting team, probably worthy of their own post, because they are in limbo. They are in many ways a rebuilding team looking to rebrand itself, but at the same time they won 10 games in 2012 and have a number of high priced players on the team. Their logical cap relief points are to work on extensions for QB Jay Cutler, WR Brandon Marshall, and DT Henry Melton. Cutler and Melton are in their walk year and Marshall is under contract for one more season. CB Charles Tillman, a Pro Bowler last season at 31, is in the final year of his contract while DE Julius Peppers carries a massive cap hit that could be renegotiated downward. LB Lance Briggs also carries a high cap charge with 2 years remaining on his deal The question is do any of them factor into the future and if the answer is no the Bears will have to look further down the roster at potential cuts such as WR Devin Hester or K Robbie Gould to create the extra space they need.
San Francisco 49’ers– San Francisco sits with $2.6 million in cap room but still needs to sign their 1st round pick and also will need to account for the fact that at the least WR Michael Crabtree is going to wind up on temporary IR meaning they need to carry at least 54 players. Their effective cap is -$406,000 right now. As we discussed before extending DE Justin Smith would be an option but he is at a negotiating high point at a very advanced age which may scare the 49’ers. Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner are both in walk year, but as some pointed out to me on Twitter Whitner would likely not be a candidate for extension. Brown’s salary is probably not high enough to create the room San Francisco needs. Cutting Whitner saves the team $3.85 million in cap now that workouts are complete. That is the cushion they need to be cap compliant come September. Another option would be to look to bring Frank Gore’s salary down and throw him a bit more guaranteed over a 3 year period. Not likely but I guess its another option.
Houston Texans– Houston has $2.8 million in cap to work with and still has their top 2 rookies to sign putting their effective cap space at only $300,000. Andre Johnson and Antonio Smith are two names they might be able to look to for cap relief. This is Smith’s last season under contract. Brian Cushing is a name that could also be extended but the cap relief there would likely be minimal and the same goes for G Wade Smith. This is a team that could be forced to make a tough decision or two either cutting a player they like or being forced to rework the contract of CB Jonathan Joseph, a good player but one whose price tag is probably now too high relative to the market. Like the Bears Houston is in a bit of a tough spot, though they are not in rebuilding mode. Most of their bigger price players are all important pieces of the team so its hard to envision them releasing anyone, but at the same time you have to be aware or your limits and the damage that can be done to the future by maintaining the status quo on a team that may have peaked two years ago when Matt Schaub got injured.
New York Giants– Sitting with $3.3 million in cap room Id consider the Giants the last team that might be in trouble. They still have their first round pick to sign and a strong chance that Henry Hynoski starts the year on a reserve list which puts their effective cap space right around $400,000. The Giants are trying to give it one last go this year and have loaded their team up with Minimum Salary Benefit veterans and reworked contracts of some veteran players to try to keep the group as intact as possible. The Giants have three players with over $9 million in cap charges, the highest of which is Eli Manning at $20.65 million. The Giants most likely want to hold off as long as possible on doing anything with his contract. The most logical candidate is Chris Snee who has reworked his contract numerous times with the Giants in his career and with 2 seasons remaining on his contract could be a cap casualty is he doesn’t look good in camp. His cap figure is $11 million with dead money of $4.3 million if cut beyond June 1. Antrel Rolle should also be in danger for similar reasons. The Giants situation may get even more complicated because they want to sign WR Victor Cruz to a long term contract and it seems as if WR Hakeem Nicks is going to want a new deal done as well. That puts the team in a position where cuts make more sense than adding more dead money to the 2014 cap by way of restructures.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.