21. Washington Redskins
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $9.5 million
Despite Dan Snyder’s penchant for overspending on the open market combined with the Redskin’s desirable cap situation, Washington didn’t make as big of a splash as one might have expected.
The Redskins got a bargain with their signing of Andre Roberts (four years, $15 million). Since Washington can save $3 million against the cap by cutting Roberts after 2015, you can count on this being at least a two-year, $8 million deal. The structure of newly signed Shawn Lauvao’s deal (four years, $17 million) also says he’ll be a Redskin for a minimum of two years. Washington’s biggest move was the four-year, $27.5 million contract given to former Cowboy Jason Hatcher. His $9 million signing bonus is prorated over the contract’s four years, meaning its unlikely Hatcher is let go any time before 2017.
22. Arizona Cardinals
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $8.9 million
The Cardinals strengthened one of the league’s worst offensive lines with the signing of left tackle Jared Veldheer to a five-year contract worth $35 million. Because Veldheer’s 2015 dead money hit is greater than his 2015 cap hit, the $10.5 million in fully guaranteed salary that Veldheer received actually reads more like $13.5 million. Other notable moves include the signings of a couple of Ted’s (Larson and Ginn), as well as re-signing edge-rusher Matt Shaughnessy. The Cardinals are still around $9 million under the 2014 cap.
23. Tennessee Titans
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $8.8 million (figure doesn’t include the signing of Michael Oher)
Either the Titans weren’t very high on Alterraun Verner or Verner wasn’t high on Tennessee, as the cornerback skipped town fairly cheaply. I have not yet seen exact specifics on either Dexter McCluster or Michael Oher’s signing with the Titans, but it seems both players were overpaid. The media-stated $7.5 million that McCluster received in guarantees is a lot for a guy who’s neither a running back nor a wide receiver. And while Oher’s reported four-year, $20 million deal is fair valued for a right tackle, the fact that Ozzie Newsome made no attempt to resign Oher is a definite red flag.
The acquisition of free agent Wesley Woodyard was a low-risk move; the deal contains just $4.75 million in fully guaranteed money. As for the ongoing CJ?K drama, well it’s still ongoing. Johnson’s release would save the Titans $6 million against the 2014 salary cap.
24. Carolina Panthers
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $8.4 million (figure doesn’t include the signing of Roman Harper)
Dave Gettleman’s use of the $13.1 million defensive end franchise tag on Greg Hardy prior to free agency consumed the majority of Carolina’s free agent spending money. This series of events has put the Panthers in quite the tough spot.
Aside from the fact that the Panthers’ entire secondary has fled, their wide receiver depth chart reads as follows: Marvin McNutt, Dexter Washington, Tavares King, R.J. Webb, Kealoha Pilares, Toney Clemons, Brenton Bersin.
(One of the seven names on that list is a name I made up, and I’m not sure even Dave Gettleman could tell me which of the above is fake.)
After things went sour with Steve Smith, it was imperative for Gettleman to find a way to replace him with free agent Hakeem Nicks. Aside from the fact there was an obvious connection present (not only did Gettleman draft Nicks when with the Giants, but Nicks is from the Charlotte area and played his college ball at UNC), Nicks stated he was willing to take a one-year “prove it” deal (which he did, from Indianapolis). I understand why Nicks chose the Colts over the Panthers—Andrew Luck and the dome at Lucas Oil is more appealing from a value-rehabbing perspective than the run-heavy Panthers offense. But money talks, and Gettleman could have found a way to lure Nicks in.
With around $8 million in spending money before the recent signing of Roman Harper, Gettleman better act quickly if he plans on entering the draft with at least one NFL-caliber receiver on his roster.
25. Dallas Cowboys
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $7.7 million
If we’re all going to bash Jerry Jones for his perpetual cap mismanagement, then we’ve got to credit him when he does something right. While parting ways with DeMarcus Ware may have been a no-brainer due to the $7.4 million he saved Dallas against the 2014 cap, releasing a franchise cornerstone is never easy. Jones also designated Miles Austin as a June 1st cut. While this will give the Cowboys needed flexibility to sign their incoming rookies when June 1st comes around, the downside is that Austin will still count for $5.236 million against the salary cap in 2015.
Dallas’ current cap situation isn’t enough for them to bring in any difference-making free agents (though you never know with Jones). However, they may have put themselves in a position to extend either Dez Bryant or Tyron Smith before their values inevitably increase..
26. Kansas City Chiefs
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $6.6 million
If you’re searching for a reason behind the Chiefs’ inability to keep their 2013 talent (Branden Albert, Tyson Jackson, Jon Asamoah, Geoff Schwartz and Dexter McCluster have all signed elsewhere in the first week of free agency), look at Kansas City’s past mismanagement of Dwayne Bowe.
Placing the franchise tag on Bowe in 2012 led to the receiver being vastly overpaid last offseason—his $56 million deal containing $20 million in guaranteed money made him one of the league’s top-5 highest paid receivers. Bowe isn’t worth that amount of coin to any team, but his salary-to-production value is diminished even further in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense led by check-down connoisseur Alex Smith.
Yet it’s the poor structure of Bowe’s contract that has made matters even worse. Due to leverage lost in negotiations dating back to the 2012 use of the franchise tag, Kansas City was forced to give the receiver a $15 million prorated signing bonus in his new deal. They also made his 2013 cap number just $3 million, meaning his cap hit in each of the final four years of the contract will be no less than $12 million. With a $16,250,000 dead money hit in 2014 that decreases to a still lofty $9 million in 2015, Kansas City can’t simply part ways with Bowe. Instead, they had to part ways with others.
27. San Francisco 49ers
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $4.4 million
After flirting with both Julian Edelman and Hakeem Nicks, the 49ers opted for some less sexy transactions. San Francisco’s major moves were replacing free agent Donte Whitner with Antoine Bethea and trading for Richie Incognito-BFF Jonathan Martin. Never expected to be a major player in free agency, the tremendously talented 49ers have very little spending money. The offseason will be considered a success if they can sign Colin Kaepernick to a long-term extension before his value climbs higher than it already is.
28. Chicago Bears
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $4.2 million
Martellus Bennett apparently wasn’t persuasive enough in his quest to sway big brother Michael to the Windy City. So the Bears settled for Option B—Lamarr Houston. The Bears gave Houston $8.9 million in fully guaranteed money, but also guaranteed his 2015 base salary for injury, meaning this contract actually reads as at least a two-year deal worth $14.9 million. The small signing bonus and therefore small dead money hits associated with the deal suggest the Bears could cut Houston any time after 2015.
After accounting for the release of Julius Peppers (and his accompanying $8.3 million in dead money), the Charles Tillman re-signing, and the acquisitions of outsiders Domenik Hixon, M.D. Jennings and Willie Young, Chicago is just about out of spending money. Phil Emery must now use a loaded draft to plug in any roster holes.
29. San Diego Chargers
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $3.8 million
Up against the cap at the start of free agency, San Diego’s biggest acquisition was Donald Brown (three-year deal worth $10.5 million). Brown got $4 million in fully guaranteed money. San Diego’s past cap mismanagement—their $12.5 million in 2014 dead money is the sixth most in the league—is a contributing factor to their current cap struggles. Don’t expect them to compete for any of the top remaining free agents.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $2.9 million
One of the more active executives in the days leading up to free agency, signing Jason Worilds to the $9,754,000 transition tag figure left GM Kevin Colbert in a tough spot. However, he still found a way to acquire a difference-making free agent in former Panther safety Mike Mitchell. Mitchell’s five-year, $25 million contains just $5.25 in guaranteed money. He is due a $2 million roster bonus next March, which means there is at least a chance that this will only be a one-year deal given Pittsburgh’s tight cap scenario. The Steelers are now likely out of spending money for the rest of free agency.
31. Detroit Lions
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $2.6 million
GM’s on the hot seat don’t always exhibit rational thinking. So while Detroit's long-term cap scenario is unsettling for Lions fans, it is not Martin Mayhew's chief concern—he won’t be around to deal with the consequences if the Lions fail to make the playoffs in 2014. The signing of Golden Tate, whose $3.1 million 2014 cap hit gradually increases over the life of this deal, will only contribute to the Lions future cap issues. But Tate is a playmaker—the type of player who might save Martin Mayhew’s job.
After re-signing Brandon Pettigrew and bringing in former Redskin Darryl Tapp, Detroit has exhausted its 2014 spending money. Mayhew could create some more space by extending Ndamukong Suh, whose current 2014 cap number is a whopping $22,412,500.
32. New Orleans Saints
Approximate Current Available Cap Space - $1.9 million
Have you ever really wanted something that you simply couldn’t afford, then impulsively said “screw it, I’ll figure it out later” before buying it anyways? Well that’s what Saints GM Mickey Loomis did with the signing of Jairus Byrd.
The Saints—who still have not locked up Jimmy Graham to a long-term contract—embody one of the NFL’s worst current cap situations. If Graham wins the grievance that he will reportedly file and ends up being paid the franchise number WR, the Saints will actually be over the 2014 cap. But they found a way to snag the play-making Byrd anyways, as Byrd’s 2014 cap hit is just $3.5 million.
This number jumps to $10.3 million in 2015, and remains in the $10 million per year cap hit range over the remainder of the deal. This means you can count on Byrd being a member of the Saints for a minimum of two years—it would be counterproductive for New Orleans to cut him after 2014 as they’d lose $4.5 million in cap room. If Byrd has a tremendous 2014, it’s possible that New Orleans will look to restructure this deal next offseason.
The Saints also created some extra 2014 cap room by extending Pierre Thomas and trading Darren Sproles. Although trading Sproles instead of simply releasing him outright didn’t net New Orleans any extra 2014 cap space, they did get an extra draft pick.