2012 NFL Free Agency: 9 Teams That Will Overspend in the Offseason
NFL free agency and draft spending sprees are often more about ego or desperation than value.
Ultimately, franchise success depends upon maneuvering your team through the dollar signs, weaving past pre-draft hype and temptingly attractive free agents. Finding out which are David Akers, which are Albert Haynesworth and figuring out how to snag the right ones will determine your team’s fate for years to come.
Have you noticed that some NFL owners will use every penny they have under the cap, every penny left over from last year’s cap and borrow every penny they can against next year’s cap to sign whatever free agent they have their heart set upon?
They (yes, you, Daniel Snyder) throw money at their team and hope that it magically turns into the Steelers.
Some owners (yes, you, Mike Brown) seem content to let their teams languish in mediocrity as they go about their 1-percenter lives.
Then there are the loose cannons like Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis, whose very unpredictability in the spending department can be depended upon to entertain us in the absence of actual football.
Jones even threw money at Bill Parcells for a couple of years in order to make a splash and build a stadium. You have to admit—it worked.
Davis used to simply outbid everyone else for his favorite player de jour. Usually it was a speedster, but sometimes it was a disaster on the level of someone whose name must never again be uttered in the Black Hole. (His initials are J.R.)
Then there is the apparently irresistible lure of finding that one missing piece—“if only we had a big WR,” “if only we had a left tackle"—then we’d win it all, for sure we would.
Even otherwise sane NFL bosses can, when fueled by owner-competitive juices, be coaxed by the likes of Drew Rosenhaus into opening their deep pockets for the most outrageously wrapped duds in football history. I’m telling you; it’s a sickness.
Peyton Manning: Desperation Reigns Supreme
Have you heard? Peyton Manning may be on the market? The Manning factor will be the rallying cry for several desperate franchises.
I cannot imagine Manning being unwilling to restructure his current deal to be incentive-laden or to negotiate a contract with a new team in the same manner.
However, those incentives are going to be huge and will unbalance any team’s finances.
Nobody planned on Manning being available. So no one could structure their 2011 salaries to position themselves for a run at Manning in 2012.
This would have required a crystal ball, in which case you would have predicted the stock market (and could make those incentives really huge).
Or you could have assembled a pass-protecting offensive line, which might be the single greatest component in tempting Manning to stick those golden hands under your center.
No team can truly afford to suddenly sign Peyton Manning, but someone will.
Kansas City Chiefs: First on the Manning Dance Card?
The Kansas City Chiefs theoretically have the coin to snag Peyton Manning.
At $24 million, the Chiefs have the fourth-most cap space in the league.*
However, they only have a couple of OT’s under contract for 2012 and veteran center Casey Wiegmann may retire. Perhaps the Chiefs could bring in Jeff Saturday on a package deal? Just a thought.
If this team wants Manning, it will also need to make sure WR Dwayne Bowe remains a Chief. Rumors are pointing to the franchise tag landing on KC’s star wideout (not used as of Sunday, March 3).
I wonder if Manning could turn talented-but-uneven Jonathan Baldwin into another Reggie Wayne? You never know.
Then they could dump Kyle Orton and clear more cap room. Poor Kyle. He and Jason Campbell need to start a support group for QBs with just plain old rotten luck.
Franchising Bowe would possibly put Brandon Carr on the loose now that the Chiefs have picked up CB Stanford Routt, but is defensively minded head coach Romeo Crennel really going to give up one of the best young corners in the league?
GM Scott Pioli might use Routt as leverage to get Carr wrapped up for less, although why his agent would fall for this is a mystery.
The team has also brought in Kyle McCarthy as a backup for star safety Eric Berry, who missed all of 2011 due to injury.
Will the team jettison underperforming defenders Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson? The Patriots certainly would have and Pioli helped build that dynasty.
The Chiefs have, in fact, started down the Patriot Way by trying to pick up lower-round gems like Kendrick Lewis (a gamble that certainly paid off with a current salary of less than $500,000).
They will undoubtedly be competing with New England in Rounds 3 through 8, looking for more of the same.
However, if the Chiefs land Manning, they will be forced to significantly overspend on free-agent weapons designed to win now.
Much as Pioli would love to land Manning as the starting QB (after all, he has experienced the joys of a franchise QB in New England), that kind of price tag is going to raise his blood pressure.
*Cap numbers quoted in this article are from Pro Football Talk as of Feb. 12..
Jacksonville Jaguars: A True Wild Card
New owner Shahid Khan seems refreshingly sincere in his desire to maintain the Jaguars as a local attraction. Living up to his passionate promises will require lots of upgrading from his (hopefully) deep pockets.
Jacksonville’s philosophy has recently been to not spend heavily in free agency. And that’s not working too well in Florida.
With the most cap space of any team (approximately $31 million) and relatively few of their own free agents players to re-sign, the Jags can choose from several options:
1. Bring in Peyton Manning, put sophomore Blaine Gabbert on the bench so that he can gather his wits and bring in Reggie Wayne and whatever other receivers Manning’s presence may attract.
The downside is that doing this will probably result in the loss of a few of the players that made the Jaguars defense respectable in 2011.
2. Try to build up the offense with talented free agents and hope Gabbert takes a giant leap in 2012. If you go this way, you need to overspend significantly to improve the O-line or Gabbert is going to end up as the next David Carr.
Keep as many of the defensive guys as you possibly can to give the offense growing room.
3. Stockpile draft picks and build slowly.
New head coach Mike Mularkey was brought in to be an offensive guru, so I’m betting it’s No. 1 or No. 2—both of which will result in overspending. However, is it overspending if you can afford it?
Probably not, technically, but it won’t help if they don’t choose the right products.
Due to the 52-card pickup nature of their situation, the Jacksonville Jaguars could well be the most intriguing team over the next two months.
Khan and his moustache are about to make their grand NFL entrance. What the heck, I hope that he shoots for the stars.
Denver Broncos and John Elway: Making a Team in His Own Image?
To Tebow or not to Tebow? I honestly would not put it past John Elway to go after a quarterback.
However, Elway has a problem. He wants a quarterback like himself. Well, you see, John, there is no one like you.
Donovan McNabb has been the closest perhaps, but who knows where he is anymore?
Vince Young? I’m not sure Young is mentally equipped to work under Elway’s scrutiny and John Fox’s offensive neglect.
However, signing a scrambling quarterback would at least signal a commitment to a Tebow-esque offense, and that would be a flatout vote of confidence from this particular Mile High regime.
However, Denver personnel were reportedly impressed by Brandon Weeden at the combine. Drafting this mature, NFL-ready passer would be very bad news for Tebowites everywhere.
The truly ironic thing is that if Tebow were a better passer, he would be the new Elway.
What do these people expect? Just because your new front office is run by No. 7 doesn’t mean that you will automatically find his replacement on the free agency rolls or at the combine.
Will the team spend big on some desperately needed WRs with Tebow as the gunslinger? They have added former Jag Jason Hill, who had a late breakout season in 2011.
Well, that's a step forward in the WRing corps, but how about someone to tote the rock? Willis McGahee wants a raise. He's due about $1 million from a four-year deal signed in 2011. He won't get it, but he'll probably still be a Bronco. And the horses will still try to get his replacement in the draft, since Knowshon Moreno is virtually useless.
Will they reward Matt Prater with the extension he deserves and stock up on running backs and defense?
This is John Fox, after all—I’m betting strongly on defensive overspending.
Surely star safety Brian Dawkins is going to retire. Surely. The Pro Bowler and Man of the Year finalist should go into coaching if he still wants to work this hard.
That leaves the Broncos D in need of a dominant and hard-hitting safety as well as a D-lineman or two. Mike Kils of The Denver Post reports that they may go after Patriot Brandon Meriweather, or Jacksonville’s Dwight Lowery.
I don’t think the Jags are going to let Lowery get away. Meriweather is probably an option, but why not develop your two young men who showed promise last season (Rahim Moore, Quinton Carter)? Sure, they were exposed in the playoffs, but they’re practically teenagers!
The post-Elway era in Denver has proved that Pat Bowlen was just plain ole lucky with his dominance from ’83-’98. He hasn’t been able to assemble a winning team since, hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since and has rotated head coaches in a thus-far vain attempt to make lightening strike twice.
I would not be surprised to see the Broncos hire expensive defensive free agents and reach severely on offense. Again.
Oakland Raiders: Long Live the (New) King?
Even if Mark Davis wanted to remake the team, he really doesn’t have the money. The Silver and Black are $22 million over the cap before adjustments. After taking the big-picture look incorporating all of the loopholes, new GM Reggie McKenzie has less than $4 million to play with.
They’re stuck with Carson Palmer, who is $12.5 million (and about 100 draft picks).
That is in the lower ranks of elite QB pay—remember Brady and Manning are in the $18-20 million range. Is he worth that? The jury is still out. Talk about a personnel challenge.
The Raiders will send a big message to the other teams by how they handle DT Richard Seymour. At $14.1 million against the cap if they cut him, and given that this is already Seymour’s second team, I would not be surprised if they at least try to restructure and Seymour agrees.
According to John Clayton’s tweet (via SB*Nation), Da Raidas are seriously considering sending Michael Bush to Cincinnati. That would be cool for Cincy since it could then throw Cedric Benson off the boat before he sinks it.
Yeah, but then who will back up Darren McFadden when he gets hurt again? Because you know he will.
Are the Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis rumors true? I think so. New England was probably going to cut him loose anyway, so why not?
Then there is Jason Campbell: Will he come back as second string? Can he start elsewhere? Probably not, but he’ll have to try because the Raiders can’t afford him.
Defensively, Oakland just tagged safety Tyvon Branch and is working on a long-term deal.
The Raiders may have backed themselves into a corner where they will have to drastically change the composition of their team. With no money to spend and few quality draft choices, they need to make dramatic cuts in order to hit the market and do the necessary shopping.
Besides, there’s that whole “it’s my team now” thing.
Indianapolis Colts: Total Speculation
The team is at $116 and change if everything stays the way it is and Manning were somehow to play for the horseshoe.
With less than $4 million, Jim Irsay would have to do some serious roster cutting before signing his draft picks—and this would have been the case even if Manning’s neck were not an issue.
Indy is stuck for another week in the quagmire of Manning uncertainty. I can’t see how they can possibly not release the quarterback before the deadline—unless this has all been for show and Manning agrees to unprecedented restructuring.
That way, they still take a $10 million hit. But if they cut him after March 8 it’s $44 million! And trading him might be as bad as $38 million. Yikes.
No wonder Bill Polian got fired.
New GM Ryan Grigson intoned to the New York Times: “Peyton has to be healthy; it has to be something that’s spoken on, investigated and talked about.”
No, uh... kidding.
Say that they cut Manning loose. How will they position Andrew Luck for success?
This team needs offensive linemen, a WR or two, a TE to replace Dallas Clark. Oh, and an entire defense for its new defensive coach.
The Colts will either pay Manning the $10 million it would cost to keep him and hope for the best or gut the team and start over.
I would not put money on it, but I think that they will go on a massive release-and-trade campaign. Irsay’s ego is deeply involved and he wants to wipe Manning off the Colts map and start over with Luck (hoping for the metaphorical kind as well).
He’ll give up Manning’s weapons: Clark, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne—maybe even Pierre Garcon? Irsay and new GM Grigson would be insane if they let Garcon leave—he’s young and good.
How much of that “good” was due to Manning remains to be seen.
They’ll go through the defense and force Dwight Freeney, Gary Brackett and Antoine Bethea to restructure or leave. I hope that FA Robert Mathis has already packed.
Center Jeff Saturday has experienced the joy of playing one season without Manning and is near the end of his career with a bright post-football future. Would he really go into rebuilding mode? I wouldn’t bank on it.
Thanks to a decade of success in “the house that Manning built,” Irsay may actually believe that this transformation is easy. Perhaps he has found a version of Bill Parcells' 1-(800)-REBUILD.
See above note on the Broncos, Jim.
New York Jets: Stop the Madness!
There is a complete website devoted to the New York Jets salary cap. Everything you want to know when, in your spare time, you decide to look up the contracts of the Jets entire 53-man roster.
That gives a whole new meaning to those “crazy Jets fans” who show up at every draft.
Pro Football Talk puts Gang Green at almost $121 million. Including carryover cap space from 2011, New York has about $8.39 to spend (as of Feb. 12). Unless a whole bunch of clauses all kick in and then it ends up over the cap.
Should I point out that this is not enough money to sign Peyton Manning?
The Jets will be cutting and restructuring machines in March, but I think they’ll also be overspending like 1920s speculators. Hopefully without the same result.
He’d better handle this offseason well. You know how Jets fans can be, well, boisterous.
The entire linebacking corps was exposed last year and I can’t imagine Gang Green hanging on to ILB Bart Scott.
However, they have to do something with this group and the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta postulates that something may be Ravens LB Jarret Johnson.
Fine, now you just need three more linebackers, a pass-rusher or two and backup offensive linemen. And, oh yeah, a running back.
If Rex Ryan is still coaching this team, the philosophy is run and defense. Right now he has no run and very little defense.
The team needs to be blown up and re-group with veterans—and start to show some support for Sanchez.
Whether or not Mr. Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum have the necessary fortitude to do this remains to be seen.
The Jets won’t be able to sign any marquee free agents without the kind of massive cuts that Congress has been arguing about for months.
I honestly would not put it past them to have the nerve to do it. Capitol Hill, pay attention.
Washington Redskins: Again?
Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Marques Colston are all on Shanahan’s wish list. None are cheap.
Let’s say that they decide to put off fixing the pass protection since they figure that Griffin can run his way out of annihilation. They still need to be able to execute the famous Denver cut-block system—sorry, zone block.
TE is handled after the team franchised Fred Davis and the running backs hung in there respectably in 2011, so Shanahan can go lower rounds there.
The defense has some unquestioned rising stars, but defensive leader London Fletcher just changed agents. Uh-oh. That’s a sure signal he’ll want a decent payday. If Synder doesn’t spend in this case, he should have his checkbook repossessed by sounder minds.
Safety LaRon Landry is also a must-sign, as long as his Achilles continues to improve.
If all of this is starting to sound very, very expensive, that’s because it is.
Seattle Seahawks: Standing Pat or Reaching?
With almost $22 million to spend, the Seahawks are really the last realistic team with a shot at Manning.
Their defense was vastly improved in 2011, and they have a true stud at RB with Marshawn Lynch, one of the best WRs around in Sydney Rice—and a mediocre QB.
Will Manning go play eight games a year in the rain? Stranger things have happened.
It would not shock me at all to see Manning show up in Seattle, as long as the Seahawks pump up the O-line.
Can you imagine all those caffeine addicts screaming for Manning and Marshawn? Crank up the seismographs.
If they don’t go for Manning, I expect this team to actually spend wisely. They’ll sign a few and draft a few and most of it will improve the team without breaking the bank.
I don’t know if I can see offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell co-existing with Manning any better than he did with Brett Favre.
Heck, they could let Bevell go and use his salary for Manning’s—a small part of Manning’s.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: One Team That Should Overspend
Well, they have to do something.
We, the public, got all excited about the Bucs last summer. Man, they looked good.
I didn’t want to hear the best analysts predict that they wouldn’t make the playoffs, but I guess that is why they make six figures to talk about football.
What a meltdown there was in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers went from looking like a truly promising young team to looking completely lost and outclassed.
Result? New head coach Greg Schiano. Who?
I’m all for giving a guy a shot, but you do it when going from Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, not right after just having done it with Raheem Morris.
With the third-highest cap figure this month, the Buccaneers could go for the gold and finally try to get Josh Freeman somebody who can catch a football and a few somebodies who can block.
It’s looking good to lock up left guard Jeremy Zuttah. Then there is kicker Connor Barth, whom the team simply must retain—even if they have to tag him.
The Bucs are interested in both Mario Manningham and Vincent Jackson. I hope the crazy owners understand how much these young men will cost and are willing to pay it.
General manager Mark Dominik's ability to acquire players has presumably been impacted by the team's low-spending approach in the past several seasons.
The other problem is that nobody can stay healthy (except, apparently, octogenarian Ronde Barber).
We don’t know if some of the recent high draft picks are any good—half the time they’re hurt! And perhaps that answers the question.
If the team pulls back into its shell and continues the “build through the draft” thing, it will be a rough year again.
And will Barber stick around for it? Can’t you just give the guy a headset and pay him as a coach?
I can’t see Malcolm Glazer tuning in long enough to write all of the necessary checks so the team will probably sign one star for “butts in the seats” and then continue trying to draft guys who can play more than three games per year.
On the other hand, maybe Glazer’s eccentricity will work the other way for once. Uh-huh.
NFL Teams That Will Not Overspend
1. The Giants, Cowboys, Titans, Texans, Bears, Falcons, Lions, Ravens and 49ers are pretty happy with their teams and will use the money to keep their own free agents and add depth. San Francisco has just tagged safety Dashon Goldson.
2. The Eagles are probably gun-shy after last year.
3. The Chargers continue to live in a fantasy where Norv Turner is a winning coach, so I don’t expect much positive spending there.
4. The Dolphins, Vikings and Packers would probably like to overspend and fill in some gaping holes, but they don’t really have the money and are not in a position to dismantle their teams.
5. I do not have any idea what the Saints are thinking (or were thinking, for that matter). Drew Brees should own a new contract, not a franchise tag.
6. The Bills already overspent on their quarterback.
7. The Bengals. Seriously?
8. The Cardinals. Ditto, much as I would love to see Manning end up in the desert.
9. I really have no idea what the Panthers plan, but I do know that Jerry Richardson is among the more, um, thrifty of NFL owners.
10. The Browns should have been on this list, but unless they can grab RGIII (and they are hemming and hawing on that deal), I can't see them going "all in." They'll try to trade Peyton Hillis, sign one good WR and limp along. They might even draft Ryan Tannehill if they lose out to the Redskins on Griffin.
11. And you know that the Patriots won’t reach. This year they really need to spend some top-tier money on somebody who pans out in the wide receiver category. But they won’t.
Of course they are. That’s what they do.
12. Predicting the St. Louis Rams’ spending this March is more difficult. They will own a ton of draft picks and will absolutely use them to shore up the offense around Sam Bradford. However, will they also indulge in some veteran trading in the hope that it will put them firmly into the winning column?
They are ripe for the “we just need this one piece” type of overspending, and I am greatly disturbed by rumors that Jeff Fisher is even thinking about hiring Albert Haynesworth.
Jeff! Did you leave your football brain on Kilimanjaro? Don’t do it! That way lies madness.
I told you it was a sickness.