2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Teams That Have Dug Themselves into a Cap Hole

Mike StangerCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Teams That Have Dug Themselves into a Cap Hole

0 of 5

    Austerity seems to be the big word nowadays. From the European Union to the Pittsburgh Steelers, countries and NFL teams are paying for their past sins and are now forced to cut back.

    Yes, even the NFL isn't immune from austerity measures. While the league itself is awash in cash, some teams have spent like drunken sailors the past few years and have woken up with a wicked hangover.

    By digging themselves into a cap hole, these teams may be forced to cut key veterans. Furthermore, they won't have the cash to re-sign their young stars or fill gaps in their roster with free agents.

    Although trying to get exact salary cap information is about as easy as determining our national debt, most sources are consistent as to what teams are in cap holes.

    Indeed, for these teams, the time has come to pay the piper.

New York Giants

1 of 5

    It only seems appropriate that a Super Bowl-winning team from New York is up against the cap. How much against or over is debatable.

    Whereas The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has the New York Giants $1,673,916 over the cap, Spotrac has them slightly under, at $2,322,922.

    Regardless of the exact value, the Giants are still strapped for cash. Many veteran contracts have eaten away at the estimated $120 million cap value for 2012.

    According to values provided by Spotrac, Eli Manning ($15,190,475), Antrel Rolle ($9,100,000), Justin Tuck ($8 million) and Chris Snee ($7,783,333) alone take up roughly $40 million in cap space.

    The irony in this is that Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham may be allowed to walk because of cap space. The greater irony is that Manningham may join David Tyree and Santonio Holmes as a group of players who made game-changing, mythical-type catches for their teams in the Super Bowl yet were no longer with those teams shortly afterwards.

Arizona Cardinals

2 of 5

    If I were a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, I would sue for fraud. According to Spotrac, the team is around $42,000 over the cap. And that's the most optimistic value I've seen.

    How can a team as mediocre as the Cardinals be over the cap?

    Well, for starters, they take a $20 million hit in 2012 with Larry Fitzgerald's contract. Moreover, they will have another $35 million against the cap from contracts to Levi Brown ($18,225,000), Kevin Kolb ($10 million) and Darnell Dockett ($7,150,000). Add in Fitzgerald's contract, and the four contracts combined account for almost half of the total cap for next year.

    The Cardinals also have $7,333,333 tied up in Joey Porter's contract, but they will probably release him to free up the $5,750,000 in his base salary.

Carolina Panthers

3 of 5

    The Carolina Panthers are another one of those teams that make you scratch your head and wander how they can be near or over the cap.

    Spotrac has them around $2 million under the cap, while footballoutsiders.com has them roughly $5 million over.

    The big surprise with the Panthers’ cap value is that Cam Newton isn’t the main driver of it.  At a mere $5,005,659, his contract is a pittance compared to others.

    Thomas Davis ($11,900,000), Charles Johnson ($10,000,000) and Chris Gamble ($9,750,000) take up roughly $30 million team’s cap space. Add in Jordon Gross ($9,333,333), DeAngelo Williams ($8,200,000) and Steve Smith ($8,196,464), and you can see where all the money is going.

    The team is definitely paying Cadillac prices for Pinto production.

New York Jets

4 of 5

    The Giants aren’t the only team in New York with cap issues. The New York Jets are struggling too. Spotrac has them $2,333,718 over the cap in 2012. However, the Jets are paying champagne prices for stale, bitter beer.

    First of all, they have $14,250,000 tied up in Mark Sanchez this year. That alone should make Jets fans vomit. Add to his bloated salary the contracts of David Harris ($12 million), D’Brickashaw Ferguson ($11,651,666), Darrelle Revis ($11,503,621) and high-priced pouter Santonio Holmes ($9,250,000).

    Holmes and veteran loud-mouth Bart Scott ($5,950,000) may be salary-cap casualties this year.

    And there is absolutely no way Plaxico Burress is returning to the zoo.

    Look for Rex Ryan to gain another 50 pounds from drowning his stress eating Twinkies and greasy burgers.

Pittsburgh Steelers

5 of 5

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have probably garnered the biggest cap-space spotlight. Their cap value changes as frequently as the weather and has been reported to be as high as $27 million over the cap—although that value appears extreme—and $12 million by footballoutsiders.com. The $2 million value and salaries reported by Spotrac seems more realistic.

    Some of the players who have restructured their contracts to reduce the cap hit include Lamar Woodley ($4,940,000), Lawrence Timmons ($3,985,000), Ike Taylor ($4,279,166) and Willie Colon  ($2,850,000). Others waiting in line are Ben Roethlisberger ($16,920,000), Troy Polamalu ($6,250,000) and James Harrison ($9,430,500).

    More space will likely be made by either restructuring the contracts of other veteran players or outright releasing them. The list includes Casey Hampton ($8,056,667), James Farrior ($3,825,00), Larry Foote ($3,600,000), Chris Kemoeatu ($4,354,000) and the heart of the franchise, Hines Ward ($4,610,000).

    The by-product of all this is whether or not the Steelers will be able to sign Mike Wallace to a long-term deal. If they can’t, they’ll either place the franchise tag on him, which is expensive or unlikely, or offer him a first-round tender, which almost guarantees that he will be playing somewhere else next year.

    All of Steeler Nation waits anxiously for the events to unfold.