Salary Cap Flexibility

The other day I looked at the teams with the worst salary cap situations which of course brought up a lot of comments on how certain teams can create a ton of cap space through cuts. While projecting cuts to that level is close to impossible we can certainly see what the maximum cap space every team can create via cutting players. So let’s look at the teams with the most and least cap flexibility in 2018.

To estimate the cap space that can be created for each team what we need to do is determine the effective cap space created by a release. Since every player released will be replaced by a player earning at least $480,000 a team is only gaining cap room if a player will save more than $480,000 on the cap, so if the effective cap space created is less than $480,000 we are considering that player “un-cuttable”.  These numbers will change in February when certain players have injury only guarantees become fully guaranteed, but for the time being we will consider all players at their current figures. I also want to note that there are some guarantees that have likely voided because of suspensions (Lawrence Timmons, Ezekiel Elliot, etc…) but until I confirm those Ill just keep them as is.

To really better understand the cap health of a team I looked at few categories. The first is the percent of roster that can be cut, which tells us where teams are in regards to being really leveraged by bad contracts and just how far a team would have to gut their roster to reach the numbers here. The average is 74.2%. The next categories tell us the amount of cap room created, the dead money needed to create that space, and a dead to saved to better see how leveraged the team would be with dead money. The NFL averages are $56.7M, $34.6M, and 0.66. The final category was cap space created without releasing any QBs on the roster. The reason I did that separate is because most teams don’t release QBs. There will be exceptions (Bills, Bears, and potentially Chiefs and Dolphins) but as a rule that is money that likely wont exist.

Remember that all these numbers represent the max creation of cap room. If you want a better and more realistic idea of how much cap room you can create use the OTC calculators to cut players on your favorite team that you think are viable cuts. If you would like I can also do another post where we eliminate cuts based on playtime.

One final thing when I have the entire table at the bottom- the cap created is not a teams ultimate cap room it is just how much more they can create. If you want to estimate the max cap room go to our salary cap page for 2018 and add the cap created to the effective cap space number.

The Most Flexible Teams

  1. Raiders– Though the Raiders are struggling this year I still get many questions about how they can afford their best players after some recent signings, but the contract structure they use makes it easy. Oakland could create up to $91 million in cap room by slashing the roster and only take on $12.6M in dead money in doing so. Their DTS ratio of 0.14 is lowest in the NFL and its because they have been able to stick with a non-prorated bonus philosophy for pretty much everyone except draft picks. So for the foreseeable future the Raiders have zero issues with the cap, no matter what their stated cap space is.
  2. Bengals– I considered a few teams here but went with the Bengals since they are at a point where many cuts are feasible. The Bengals aren’t as solid as Oakland when it comes to flexibility, but they generally only use moderate signing bonuses and don’t guarantee beyond year 1. The Bengals, for better or worse, are also a loyal team when it comes to contracts. They don’t release guys early in deals and generally chase value since they have already made an up front investment. That leaves them with a situation like this year where they could create nearly $90M and in their case I would say the QB cut or trade is entirely possible. Though the Bengals are very loyal I would think given the team age and how bad a season this was that the cuts will be higher in number in 2018.
  3. Buccaneers– Tampa Bay is really the originator of the Raiders contract style but don’t get as much credit since the organization is more of a failure in large part because the free agent mistakes have been awful and their QB didn’t get them to the playoffs yet the way Carr did Oakland. Like the Raiders they have an incredibly low DTS ratio of 0.16 and can create nearly $78 million in cap space. Would you trust their current front office to spend it? Probably not, but they have the ability to be right up there with the biggest spenders this year.
  4. Titans– Tennessee can create nearly $76 million on just $18 million in dead money so really nobody is safe in Tennessee. Unlike the other teams the Titans are in the position in many ways because they don’t really try or ever take risks with their contracts. They are arguably the cheapest team in the NFL so Im not sure if this really benefits them the way it would a risk taking organization that thinks they can add to the roster in free agency rather than one that generally scours the waiver wire for bargains.
  5. Bears– I went back and forth between the Packers and Bears for this spot but ultimately went with Chicago based on the less dead money portion of the equation. Chicago can make up to $66 million with just $21 million dead compared to $73M and $29M for Green Bay. Green Bay overall is run better but I think the Bears are at the point where they can jettison a lot of bad deals signed over the last few years. With a young QB, cap room and the ability to create so much more space I would expect an aggressive offseason for the Bears.

The Least Flexible Teams

  1. Redskins– I’m not sure anyone can really explain what has gone on in Washington over the last few years with the way they have approached their roster. Though there are teams that can create less room the 1.47 DTS ratio is far and away the worst in the league in 2018. They could cut up to 80% of their roster so at least that means they should only be stuck for one more season without contract flexibility. They need to re-evaluate their way of doing business.
  2. Saints– You cant have a list like this without New Orleans, who can create the 4th least amount of room in the NFL at just $33 million and would take on $35 million in dead money just to do it. The Saints continue to use large bonuses, void years, and every other mechanism possible to defer cap charges to the future. They drafted well this year and were more cautious with their contracts than in the past so they may move out from here in the future but there is not a lot they can do in 2018 outside of restructures.
  3. Lions– The Lions got into one of the most leveraged contracts of all time when they re-signed Matt Stafford and used a $50 million signing bonus because of their cap issues. The team could create a max of just under $29 million in cap room which is on par with the likes of the 49ers and Browns who simply have no roster to cut since they purged their teams. Detroit can only cut 66.7% of their players, 3rd worst in the NFL behind the contract loving Dolphins and the barren Jets.
  4. Ravens– The Ravens get the double whammy of being in the worst cap situations group and least flexible group. There is just nothing for Baltimore to do when you compare them to the rest of the NFL. They have gone deep into the hole on too many contracts after their Super Bowl win. The Ravens are restructuring too often and have begun to over-guarantee contracts doing the two year guarantee along with the big signing bonus.
  5. Steelers– What is a team that can create the 9th most cap room via cuts doing on this list? The answer is in the DTS ratio which is second highest in the NFL. The Steelers contract system calls for large signing bonuses for their players and no guarantees beyond the first year. Since the Steelers haven’t been in as much cap trouble as they were in the past that generally means they technically could release players after one year even if realistically it wont happen. To create the $70M in cap space the team would need to take on a whopping $85 million in dead money which is certainly not advisable.

The Final List

TeamPlayers CutCreated Cap SpaceCreated Dead MoneyDTS RatioCreated Cap Space (no QB Cut)
Raiders76.2%$91,041,021$12,760,3030.14$91,041,021
Bengals82.4%$88,894,200$29,690,8690.33$75,324,200
Chiefs77.8%$82,330,851$50,886,2650.62$65,810,851
Buccaneers81.0%$77,746,024$12,115,4670.16$77,126,024
Titans76.1%$76,004,642$18,701,0030.25$73,909,642
Cardinals78.9%$73,913,620$40,356,7910.55$60,393,620
Packers75.0%$73,194,374$28,819,8620.39$52,549,374
Seahawks73.0%$71,123,844$46,538,8060.65$64,390,512
Steelers82.5%$70,344,061$85,269,3331.21$58,604,061
Bears78.0%$65,918,629$20,940,1820.32$54,898,629
Falcons68.3%$65,642,579$29,295,1200.45$43,102,579
Jaguars76.5%$62,864,639$25,557,2770.41$44,291,639
Patriots75.0%$60,643,398$35,189,2000.58$53,123,398
Rams77.5%$60,153,655$26,292,5130.44$59,605,877
Texans74.5%$58,447,199$26,917,0180.46$58,212,199
Eagles72.0%$57,213,514$48,441,5130.85$55,343,514
Broncos75.0%$56,852,256$39,533,8810.70$56,584,398
Dolphins64.3%$52,120,698$38,518,5750.74$37,400,698
Chargers71.4%$51,626,362$34,883,3550.68$43,956,362
Giants74.5%$49,692,014$46,542,6030.94$40,372,014
Vikings70.0%$48,754,419$27,621,1060.57$48,679,419
Bills72.2%$46,096,498$45,598,3650.99$37,136,498
Panthers70.5%$45,722,356$47,112,0961.03$39,627,356
Colts81.6%$44,562,516$33,393,3960.75$42,562,440
Jets65.9%$43,918,436$26,430,7420.60$43,693,436
Cowboys68.2%$43,658,885$45,613,9461.04$43,531,401
Ravens74.0%$41,645,619$45,984,6691.10$41,645,619
Redskins80.0%$33,755,875$49,736,9031.47$31,235,875
Saints69.4%$33,706,930$35,352,6111.05$33,631,930
Browns74.1%$29,624,788$15,900,9890.54$29,512,887
Lions66.7%$28,985,808$20,173,0490.70$28,985,808
49ers70.6%$28,431,385$16,776,3300.59$28,356,385

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc