Since the inception of the salary cap era in 1994, the NFL has been a league built upon parity. The notion that in any given year, any team has the ability to shock the masses and contend for a playoff berth is what glues fans to their television sets every Sunday during the season. In all but one season since 1996, there have been five teams to make the playoffs that did not do so in the previous year.
The salary cap, along with advanced drafting and scouting reports, have created an entity in which small market teams have just as good of a chance (on paper at least) to put a contending football team on the field. However, while it's much easier to build a competitive football team in today's league, it's also extremely difficult to keep one together. That's a notion that even the most respected general managers around the league can not avoid.
In fact, it's often the premier general managers that find their teams in salary cap "jail" at least once during their tenure. The reason behind that fact is simple.
The most successful teams in recent history found their key pieces in the NFL draft. Although free agency is a useful tool, it often causes teams to overpay for older players who can never live up to their contracts. However, when a team consistently drafts well, it can reap the benefits of several players on the roster producing above their pay-grade.
What do Joe Flacco, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Osi Umenyiora, Kenny Phillips and Will Beatty all have in common? They are all recent Super Bowl champions, they have all played their entire career with the teams that drafted them and they will all hit the open market this offseason. Besides Flacco, none of the aforementioned names are a lock to re-sign with their current team.
Heading into the offseason, there are several teams that do not have the salary cap room to retain the talent that they have groomed through the draft, or have acquired elsewhere. There are other teams that are just completely incompetent and will once again find themselves at the top of the draft next April. Regardless, let's take a look at seven squads who may have tempered expectations by the time Week 1 rolls around.