The Cap Space Required to Sign Draft Picks

For whatever reason there seems to be a ton of confusion about the amount of cap room actually required to sign rookies following the draft so I wanted to put something together pretty quickly to maybe help clear that confusion.

Every team in the league is assigned a rookie pool which is the maximum amount of cap room that can be used in the first cap year on rookies. We estimate this numbers on our draft page and they can be quite large for a team with a large number of picks that has high picks in the first round. But that is not the number that is actually needed on the team salary cap to sign those players.

Until the players sign their contracts they don’t really count on the cap (from a technical standpoint they are tendered at the minimum salary). Once the players sign their contracts their year one number becomes part of the accounting system and thus cap space is required to sign the player. How much depends on their cap number and the teams overall roster salary structure.

In the offseason the NFL uses something called the top 51 rule for reasons that don’t really make much sense since an NFL roster is now 53 players. Basically the rule states that in the offseason all likely to be earned bonuses and incentives, signing bonus prorations, etc…count on the salary cap but only the base salaries for the top 51 salary cap charges for active players actually counts on the cap.

Since every team has 51 players already under contract what that means is that every rookie that signs will either bump a player out of the top 51 or will fall outside the top 51 completely. If they bump a player outside of the top 51 we simply subtract out the base salary of that player to determine the cap space required to sign the player. For example the top pick in the draft will have a cap number around $6.39 million. If the Cardinals 51st player has a base salary of $645,000 the cap space required to sign the player will be about  $5.745 million. The Cardinals lowest drafted player will have a cap charge of around $513,000. He is going to fall outside of the top 51 so that means his base salary won’t count towards the cap. So to sign him back out $495,000 and you will need about $18,000 in cap space to fit him in.

So most teams really are in no salary cap danger of not being able to sign rookies. Based on our current estimates we only show four teams that may not have the cap space to sign rookies. Three of those teams are within $630,000 and have money coming off the books- two with June 1 releases and one with the Adam Thielen extension. The Bucs are the only team that probably has to make a significant move down the line.

Here are the estimates we have for the actual cap space required to sign the draft picks and how much remaining cap room each team should have after signing the players. Please note that the rookie pool numbers are slightly different than our draft page simply due to some rounding I did manually when updating the chart.

TeamRookie PoolBase Salary ReplacedCap Space RequiredCurrent Cap SpaceRemaining Cap Room
New York Giants$13,798,911$6,390,000$7,408,911$10,680,273$3,271,362
Oakland Raiders$13,698,199$4,710,000$8,988,199$27,661,022$18,672,823
Arizona Cardinals$12,535,531$5,550,000$6,985,531$18,224,075$11,238,544
Green Bay Packers$10,304,256$5,475,000$4,829,256$14,079,669$9,250,413
San Francisco 49ers$10,042,359$3,420,000$6,622,359$34,513,707$27,891,348
Tampa Bay Buccaneers$9,754,140$4,065,000$5,689,140$1,777,557-$3,911,583
Buffalo Bills$9,718,708$5,700,000$4,018,708$31,367,908$27,349,200
Cincinnati Bengals$9,674,026$6,045,000$3,629,026$22,741,964$19,112,938
New York Jets$9,149,218$3,495,000$5,654,218$25,554,400$19,900,182
New England Patriots$8,971,021$6,270,000$2,701,021$15,699,638$12,998,617
Detroit Lions$8,943,880$4,830,000$4,113,880$27,822,248$23,708,368
Jacksonville Jaguars$8,719,020$3,840,000$4,879,020$13,888,315$9,009,295
Washington Redskins$8,466,333$5,250,000$3,216,333$12,845,220$9,628,887
Denver Broncos$8,360,175$4,335,000$4,025,175$11,687,067$7,661,892
Pittsburgh Steelers$8,177,305$5,400,000$2,777,305$6,201,131$3,423,826
Atlanta Falcons$8,096,466$4,755,000$3,341,466$2,844,049-$497,417
Indianapolis Colts$8,034,404$5,130,000$2,904,404$59,668,486$56,764,082
Miami Dolphins$6,942,365$3,840,000$3,102,365$37,872,320$34,769,955
Minnesota Vikings$6,894,598$4,260,000$2,634,598$2,003,682-$630,916
Carolina Panthers$6,830,339$3,915,000$2,915,339$2,717,890-$197,449
Baltimore Ravens$6,664,465$4,335,000$2,329,465$13,649,481$11,320,016
Kansas City Chiefs$6,517,591$3,765,000$2,752,591$21,941,220$19,188,629
Houston Texans$6,436,663$3,765,000$2,671,663$41,411,792$38,740,129
Philadelphia Eagles$6,401,688$3,915,000$2,486,688$19,219,391$16,732,703
Los Angeles Chargers$5,924,585$3,765,000$2,159,585$12,299,299$10,139,714
Tennessee Titans$5,839,168$3,345,000$2,494,168$31,189,139$28,694,971
Los Angeles Rams$5,534,523$3,765,000$1,769,523$4,575,533$2,806,010
Cleveland Browns$5,258,306$4,335,000$923,306$33,627,575$32,704,269
Seattle Seahawks$4,237,607$2,205,000$2,032,607$11,034,522$9,001,915
Dallas Cowboys$3,963,588$3,420,000$543,588$19,420,144$18,876,556
New Orleans Saints$3,512,951$3,045,000$467,951$8,809,162$8,341,211
Chicago Bears$2,986,572$2,550,000$436,572$16,847,591$16,411,019

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