11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $15.3 million
With a healthy $23.6 million in available 2014 cap space prior to free agency, the Bucs freed up $16 million more with the release of Revis. The new regime immediately spent these cap dollars in a cap-efficient manner—with the use of roster bonuses as opposed to prorated signing bonuses in the contracts of Alterraun Verner and Michael Johnson.
Not only did the Bucs sign Verner for less than expected, but they can part ways with him after 2014 at no cost (his 2015 salary is only guaranteed for injury). They can part ways with Johnson with no dead money attached after 2015. This method of not including prorated bonuses was also used in the Bucs’ new deals for Josh McCown, Anthony Thomas, Clinton McDonald and Brandon Myers. They still have greater than $15 million of 2014 cap space, meaning they’ll likely have some extra to carry over to 2015.
12. Indianapolis Colts
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $14.3 million
The Colts made some noise in free agency’s first week by dishing out new contracts to Vontae Davis, Arthur Jones and Hakeem Nicks. Davis’ $36 million contract was front-loaded, meaning the Colts will be able to cheaply part ways with him after 2015 if his performance declines. The structure of Jones’ contract reads as more or less a two-year deal worth $16 million, and the one-year deal given to Nicks was low-risk/high-reward.
Other notable moves made by GM Ryan Grigson include the replacement of recently cut center Samson Satele with free agent Phil Costa, as well as letting free agent Donald Brown walk in free agency—a signal that the Colts are ready to make the risky decision to hand Trent Richardson the full running back load.
Indianapolis still has plenty of 2014 cap space available, so Grigson might not be done dealing.
13. Seattle Seahawks
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $13.4 million
Winning a Super Bowl inevitably leads to tough decisions. After releasing Sidney Rice and Red Bryant earlier in the offseason, GM John Schneider released Chris Clemons this past week ($7.5 million in 2014 cap savings). Schneider was also unable to retain in-house free agents Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Breno Giacomini and Brandon Browner—major contributors in recent seasons.
However, by bringing back Michael Bennett at a discounted price, Seattle is still in a fortunate cap position—a fact that can’t be understated due to the expiring contracts of Russell Wilson, Russell Okung, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
14. St. Louis Rams
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $13 million (figure doesn’t include the re-signing of Roger Saffold)
One of the quietest teams of the past week, we may not have heard from St. Louis at all if not for Mark Davis. It was only after the Raiders owner pulled the plug on the agreed-to Saffold deal (citing a failed physical) that the Rams swooped in and resigned the versatile lineman to a 5-year, $31.7 million deal. Saffold’s contract specifics with the Rams are not yet available—the Rams have approximately $13 million in available cap space before accounting for his 2014 cap hit. As expected, Sam Bradford’s $17.6 million cap figure for the 2014 league year has greatly affected St. Louis’ ability to bring in free agents.
15. New York Giants
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $12.6 million (figure doesn’t include the signings of Walter Thurmond and Jon Beason)
Never looking to make a big splash, Jerry Reese shored-up Big Blue’s holes with a multitude of low-risk “small signings.” None of the newly-acquired Rashad Jennings, Geoff Schwartz, Walter Thurmond or J.D. Walton have any money guaranteed beyond 2015; the same is true for the re-signings of Stevie Brown, Jon Beason, Trumaine McBride and Henry Hynoski. With some spending money still at his disposal, look for Reese to continue probing the market.
16. Houston Texans
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $12.1 million
Rivaling the Bengals as the NFL’s least active free agent squad, the Texans’ $12 million in available cap space would increase to over $15 million with the release of Matt Schaub. Although they have the available cap space to make a play for a free agent, Houston seems content standing still. The Texans do have a fair amount of talent in place as well as the #1 overall selection in May’s draft. Their biggest offseason concern (aside from finding a franchise quarterback) is likely locking up J.J. Watt (a free agent after 2014) to a long-term deal.
17. Denver Broncos
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $11.7 million (figure doesn’t include the signing of Emmanuel Sanders)
John Elway hasn’t slept a wink in the past week. After locking up T.J. Ward for below market value, he signed Aqib Talib to a six-year deal worth $57 million. Last but not least, DeMarcus Ware was brought aboard. The importance of guaranteed money and contract structure in the NFL has never been clearer after Elway’s free agent splurge.
A perfect example of the media overstating a contract’s true guaranteed dollar amount, Talib received only $11.5 million in fully guaranteed salary (yeah, only). Given Denver’s current “win-now” roster structure, there’s a legitimate chance that the Broncos part ways with Talib after just one year. And with the $7 million in cap savings that gets credited to Denver if they release Talib after 2015, I’d be surprised if he remains a Bronco for more than two seasons.
I’d bet on Demarcus Ware, whose three-year deal with Denver is worth a total of $30 million, ultimately earning more than Talib. With half of his 2015 base salary guaranteed, the soon-to-be 32-year-old will be a Bronco is 2015 unless he suffers a serious injury late next season. T.J. Ward is the only one of the three that I can realistically see fulfilling the contract he signed.
18. New England Patriots
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $10.8 million (figure doesn’t include the signings of Julian Edelman, Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell)
The result of pushing forward some of Revis’ money into 2015, restructuring Tommy Kelly’s contract, and releasing aging run-stopper Isaac Sopoaga (these three moves account for a net of -$3.7 million in 2014 cap room) was extra spending money for New England. This enabled them to resign slot-master Julian Edelman as well as bring in Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell (three guys whose contract specifics I have not yet received).
Vince Wilfork, who is entering the final year of his deal, asked for his release. While granting Wilfork his wish would save the Pats $8 million in 2014 cap room, it’d leave a gaping hole on their defensive line.
19. Atlanta Falcons
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $10.6 million
Tony Gonzalez is not yet ready to admit his career is over. By failing to officially hand in his retirement papers, the Falcons were forced to release Gonzalez before they incurred the cap hit associated with his March 12th roster bonus. While this did not have any salary cap implications (Atlanta would have absorbed the resulting $1.75 million dead money hit even if Gonzalez officially retired), it means that Gonzalez is now free to sign with a contender during a stretch run if he so pleases.
Atlanta’s hand was forced even though they entered free agency with around $18 million in available cap space. This is the result of a busy Thomas Dimitroff in the opening days of free agency. Dimitroff signed outsiders Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Jon Asamoah - the three combined for a $10.3 million 2014 cap hit. After accounting for some other cap adjustments, Atlanta now has approximately $10 million in remaining cap room.
20. Baltimore Ravens
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $10 million (before the re-signing of Daryl Smith)
Ozzie Newsome’s top offseason priority, Eugene Monroe will be protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside for the foreseeable future. Monroe’s five-year contract worth $37.5 million contains $19 million in fully guaranteed money. The contract’s structure suggests Monroe will almost certainly earn at least $24 million (Baltimore saves only $600,000 against the cap by letting him go after 2015), and there is a legitimate possibility of him earning the contract’s full value. Newsome also locked Steve Smith into a team-friendly three-year deal after acquiring him from Carolina. With $10 million in cap space left, the Ravens still have money to spend.