With the 2011 season behind us, it is officially time to look forward to one of the first big topics of the 2012 season: Which teams have room to work with under their salary cap?
One of the new rules that the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011 brought into play is that unspent money from the previous year can be carried over to the next.
That means that teams that had wiggle room under last year’s salary cap will be able to spend that money in 2012, which is great news for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs.
One thing to keep in mind is that these salary-cap numbers do not account for free agents from the 2011 roster who have not been re-signed for the 2012 year. It is also important to remember that teams must reserve approximately $5 million for their incoming rookies from the NFL draft.
That being said, let us take a look at teams that have the salary-cap space and the roster holes that will combine to make them big buyers in this offseason’s free-agent market.
The Washington Redskins will start the 2012 season with about $47 million in salary-cap space.
That may seem like plenty of money to work with in the free-agent market, but keep in mind that this is a team with a lot of holes in its roster.
The Redskins will likely use this offseason to try to shore up their offensive line and their flagging secondary. They are also in desperate need of a long-term solution at quarterback.
Some of those solutions will be available to Washington through free agency, but keep in mind that they haven’t yet taken care of their own big-name free agent, London Fletcher.
Expect for that deal (if it happens) and the one for Adam Carriker to take a big chunk out of the available funds.
The Denver Broncos are in a bit of a tricky position with the upcoming free-agency period. Although they have somewhere in the neighborhood of $48 million in cap space, they also have 19 free agents from their 2011 roster to deal with.
This type of turnover could turn the Broncos into a substantially different team if the front office elects to let many of their free agents go in favor of trying to lure other players to the Mile High City.
On the other hand, the Broncos could spend the majority of their offseason negotiating contracts with those free agents that they wish to keep as the building blocks of their future team. It’s a bit of a toss-up right now whether they will be buyers on the free-agent market.
The Cincinnati Bengals will have approximately $60 million to work with before they hit their salary cap this year, which gives them plenty of room to grow.
A young team with low expectations, the Bengals were a pleasant surprise behind rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in 2011. Perhaps some of the money the Bengals have to work with in 2012 will go towards bringing in a few free agents to help strengthen the team and turn it into a true contender.
Of course, the Bengals' history has proven that there is also the chance that the team will elect to spend one more year on the frugal side of the free-agency market.
This is the last year that they will have that option however. In 2013, a salary floor will force the Bengals to spend the lion’s share of their cap space.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have tended to be particularly conservative (some might call it stingy) when it comes to free agency, preferring instead to build their team through the NFL draft.
That’s not going to be the case this year.
General manager Mark Dominik has recently gone on record, stating that the Buccaneers are planning on being more active in free agency for the 2012 season.
After claiming their unused 2011 cap space, the Buccaneers will have roughly $60 million to play with, so they could potentially make a big splash in the free-agent market.
The Jacksonville Jaguars only had about $17 million in salary-cap space for 2012 before they rolled over the $32.9 million that they didn’t spend last year.
Things are suddenly looking up in Jacksonville.
With that kind of cash, the Jaguars will be able to pursue multiple big-name free agents to breathe new life into a club that struggled in 2011, while possibly still saving some money from this year’s salary cap to roll over into 2013.
With $38.9 million in salary-cap space for the upcoming 2012 season before they carried over their spare $24 million from the 2011 season, the Kansas City Chiefs are sitting on a pile of money.
Plenty of that money will be put towards re-signing current players whose contracts are expiring, but CEO Clark Hunt has also made it clear that the Chiefs intend to bring some players in through free agency.
Given the way the Chiefs have pinched pennies over the past few years while their young 2008 squad has gelled into a solid team, the 2012 free-agency period stands to be a nice change of pace for fans.