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NFL Free Agency 2013: Salary Cap Implications for Every Team

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

NFL Free Agency 2013: Salary Cap Implications for Every Team

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    The deadline to utilize the franchise tag has passed with just eight teams participating, setting the stage for the start of NFL free agency.

    There will be no shortage of rumors between now and when the feeding frenzy begins on March 12, and teams will certainly be making more moves until then. 

    Which teams are best positioned to land some big fish? And which ones will have to feed on the free-agent scraps because of bad cap situations? Click through to find out.

     

    All cap figures are from Spotrac.com.

    2013 NFL salary cap: $123 million, per NFL.com.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Cardinals aren't exactly in a good position as an organization right now. 

    If the numbers hold up, they have somewhere around $7 million in cap space, much of which should go toward signing their draft picks. They freed some money up when they released Stewart Bradley and William Gay.

    Arizona can save more money by getting Kevin Kolb to restructure his contract and making more cuts, but it is difficult to believe the Cardinals will be able to land any major players in free agency until that happens. 

    Left tackle and quarterback are huge needs for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, Matt Moore is the best option at quarterback and the offensive tackles on the market might be too rich for their blood.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $116,675,450

Atlanta Falcons

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    For a team that was an avoided collapse away from the Super Bowl last season, the Falcons are in pretty good shape heading into free agency.

    Atlanta recently dumped plodding veteran Michael Turner, the aging John Abraham and the disappointing Dunta Robinson to get below triple digits in terms of millions in cap spending. 

    The Falcons should use some of that to lure back William Moore, Vance Walker and Tony Gonzalez—if they can finish persuading him to forgo retirement—so there may not be a plethora of cap space left once free agency opens up.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $99,389,311

Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco bagged his golden goose, leaving the Ravens picking at the bones of free agency with their remaining cap space.

    The $120 million contract they gave Flacco was structured so it wouldn't completely destroy their cap this year, but having somewhere around $14 million to spend likely means they will lose a couple of their own key free agents.

    Most notably, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger or Ed Reed could escape via the free-agent hatch, though Ozzie Newsome likely has a contingency plan named Courtney Upshaw for Kruger's departure.

    The Ravens can ill afford to let all of those guys go, though, which would hamstring them on the open market. Newsome has some Disney magic to work over the next few weeks.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $110,710,763

Buffalo Bills

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    Despite the spending frenzy the Bills enjoyed last offseason that included a massive contract for the relatively disappointing Mario Williams, Buffalo still has a good amount of cap space to work with this year.

    The Bills were even able to place the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd and still retain close to $20 million in cap space thanks to the retirement of Chris Kelsay and rolling over nearly $10 million in cap space from last year.

    Spending on the free-agent market might be more muted as Andy Levitre remains a priority for the Bills, but they could land a few quality guys if Levitre gets away.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $103,335,506


Carolina Panthers

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    There will be no free-agentpalooza in Carolina this year.

    The Panthers are hovering around the salary cap just a couple of seasons removed from signing Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams to massive contracts. One of those has been well worth the investment while the other has, perhaps, lived up to the contract in just a handful of games since then.

    Despite restructuring contracts for Greg Olsen, Jonathan Stewart and Ryan Kalil, the Panthers have plenty to do to be able to come up for air. That likely means their best cornerback, Chris Gamble, will be gone soon (via Chris Wesseling, NFL.com).

    Carolina won't be doing much in free agency this year.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $123,423,759


Chicago Bears

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    The Bears are not far behind the Panthers in terms of cap space right now, but they have been able to add rather than merely slash thus far in the preseason.

    Henry Melton, Chicago's pass-rusher extraordinaire at defensive tackle, was slapped with the franchise tag last week, ensuring he will remain a Bear for at least one more season.

    Perhaps the Bears can restructure or extend some key players—most notably Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings—to free up some more cap space, but it does not appear they will be big players on the market.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $118,841,295


Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Bengals won the cap-space lottery, entering the offseason with the most room of any team.

    They already spent over $11 million of it placing the franchise tag on Michael Johnson, and they still have a ton of money to burn.

    Re-signing Andre Smith at right tackle will be a priority, but the Bengals have a host of options with which to fill up the cap space in free agency. They could be bidders in the Mike Wallace Sweepstakes, which would give Andy Dalton an incredible arsenal at wide receiver.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $76,748,850

Cleveland Browns

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    Your new cap-space leaders in the clubhouse after the Bengals tagged Michael Johnson are the Cleveland Browns, who have around $45 million to spend on free agents.

    New owner Jimmy Haslam III could be looking to make a big splash to generate some buzz, though hopefully for his sake Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi use that money wisely.

    Cleveland is moving to a 3-4 defense, meaning Paul Kruger could be getting his payday from a rival team now that Anthony Spencer is off the market. There will be plenty of big-name free agents tied to Cleveland and other teams with cap space; it will certainly be interesting to see how things shake out.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $74,411,914

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Cowboys weren't exactly swimming in cap space this offseason. For some reason, they decided to hit Anthony Spencer with the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, meaning he will cost 120 percent of his last season's salary.

    At $10.6 million, the 3-4 outside linebacker is now is the second-highest-paid Cowboy behind Tony Romo.

    Although it is puzzling enough why the Cowboys would pay that much for a player that could flounder in a new scheme—Dallas is switching to a 4-3—the fact the move puts them over the cap is even more head-scratching.

    Jerry Jones is sure to slash some more salary before March 12 to comply with the cap, but the Cowboys will have to do most of their work in the draft.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $126,883,955


Denver Broncos

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    The Broncos don't have much in the way of cap space, but they are well-positioned without having to spend much in free agency.

    Peyton Manning will eat up a big chunk of that cap space, but he is a big reason why the Broncos won five more games last season than with Tim Tebow the Broncos ran away with the AFC West.

    After using the franchise tag to retain Ryan Clady, the Broncos appear to have about $7 million in cap space. That number could swell to $13 million once they release D.J. Williams, good enough to lure a reliable running back.

    Perhaps Steven Jackson and Charles Woodson will want to join Peyton Manning in the old-timers' club for a serious run at a championship or two.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $114,653,249

Detroit Lions

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    Surprisingly enough, despite having the highest-paid receiver and second-highest-paid quarterback in the league, the Lions are in decent shape when it comes to cap space.

    Granted, $10 million-$12 million isn't exactly a truckload of money—try telling that to the average citizen—but they have room to keep Louis Delmas and perhaps sign some depth elsewhere.

    The Lions have also been linked with Reggie Bush, though it seems it would take a bear market for the 28-year-old running back to sign in the Motor City.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $113,734,850


Green Bay Packers

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    Ted Thompson is notoriously frugal when it comes to free agency.

    Charles Woodson is really the only big name he has signed during his tenure with the Packers. Thompson chooses to focus on drafting and developing talent and utilizing cap space to keep those players.

    Green Bay does have some wiggle room to spend money, though, and it might be shoring up some positions in free agency. The offensive line and running back positions could use a little attention in particular, and the Packers should have enough cap space to address that in free agency should they so choose. 

     

    2013 Cap Number: $102,353,178


Houston Texans

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    The Texans are firmly in their championship window right now, and the evidence lies in the amount of cap space they have right now.

    Unfortunately, they also have several departing free agents to try to retain. Connor Barwin, Glover Quin and James Casey have been key—if not big—contributors to the team in recent years. Without the ammo to make big offers, the Texans could lose out on one or a few of them.

    Houston will struggle to keep its own free agents, let alone spend much on the open market.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $114,713,930

Indianapolis Colts

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    One team that seems to have gotten little attention in free agency is Indianapolis, where the Colts have amassed a nice stack of cash to spend. General manager Ryan Grigson is practically giddy about the $44 million in cap space he will have to spend in the next few weeks.

    Grigson can go to work addressing the pass rush after letting the aging Dwight Freeney go, or perhaps he will focus on improving the offensive line. Why not both? He certainly has the space.

    The Colts have hit the NFL franchise lottery, it seems. One down season was all it took before they made the playoffs again, and they have plenty of opportunity to build from there.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $78,720,718

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    There will be no punter jokes here. The Jaguars have suffered enough at the hands of the departed Gene Smith.

    Despite having nearly $30 million in cap space should they choose to exercise the $21 million in rollover they have available, the Jaguars might be sitting on their hands for much of free agency. That is if Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union is on the mark:

    The Jaguars made it obvious they will be on the sidelines when the free agency signing period starts March 12.

    New general manager Dave Caldwell’s policy is to build through the draft and avoid the high-priced free agents. He provided an example when the Jaguars declined to bid for quarterback Alex Smith, who was traded this week to Kansas City.

    Building through the draft is the right idea, but at the expense of utilizing cap space? The Jaguars will eventually have to get to the salary floor, but it seems like their priority will be keeping their own free agents, namely Derek Cox.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $94,433,564

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Chiefs were a busy bunch on franchise-tag deadline day, announcing they had placed the tag on Branden Albert at the last minute alongside announcements they had re-signed Dwayne Bowe and Dustin Colquitt to long-term deals.

    Add to that their polarizing trade for Alex Smith, and the Chiefs suddenly find themselves devoid of any cap space. 

    Matt Cassel and Tyson Jackson represent $22 million in cap space the Chiefs can save by cutting them, but Dwayne Bowe's $11 million per year deal will eat into a big chunk of that. 

    There are plenty of holes on that team, and plugging a few with some key free agents will help clear up their murky draft situation, but they may not have the firepower to do much more in free agency.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $125,406,991

Miami Dolphins

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    Jeff Ireland set the Dolphins up for a nice free-agency period if he can get those elusive free agents to sign on the dotted line. Fans of the Marine Mammals are weary of the rejected overtures other free agents have spurned.

    There is a lot of chatter about the Dolphins going after a big name like Mike Wallace, but they are likely to try to keep some of their own talent with a big chunk of that cap space. 

    Miami got the ball rolling by hitting defensive tackle Randy Starks with the franchise tag at the last minute, knocking their cap space down around $37 million in the process. Jake Long, Anthony Fasano or Brian Hartline could be next, followed perhaps by Sean Smith.

    All those contracts would eat into Ireland's spending power.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $86,652,784

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Michael Jenkins experiment is officially over in Minnesota, leaving them with a seemingly disgruntled Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and a box of chocolates at the receiver position.

    Jenkins' release also saved the Vikings another $2.2 million in cap space, putting them around $18 million when counting the cap rollover from last year.

    Whether that means they chase a receiver in free agency or the deep draft remains to be seen, but they have plenty of their own free agents to consider. Jerome Felton—yes, he's a fullback, but he is a good one who did help pave the way for a 2,000-yard rusher—Chad Greenway and Geoff Schwartz, for starters.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $105,199,739

New England Patriots

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    The Patriots did not use the franchise tag for the first time since 2009, meaning they will open up free agency somewhere around $25 million in cap space.

    That is a dangerous number for other teams that snuck up on the rest of the league. The Patriots were, yet again, on the doorstep of a Super Bowl berth last year. They have the ammo to reload and try again.

    Granted, they will likely try to keep Sebastian Vollmer, Wes Welker and Aqib Talib, the latest of whom they traded for in the middle of last season. Keeping all three will cost a pretty penny, meaning a guy like Mike Wallace could be out of reach.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $95,846,634

New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints are in some cap trouble.

    Despite restructuring several contracts—Brodrick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs—the Saints still sit above the salary cap.

    More savings can be had by restructuring Drew Brees' massive contract and getting other players to take pay cuts or cutting them altogether.

    All of that is to say the Saints aren't doing much in free agency. Their salary-cap woes are a likely reason they didn't slap left tackle Jermon Bushrod with the franchise tag, though they would like to keep him. It seems unlikely at this point unless they can carve out enough space and find he will give them a bit of a discount.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $124,024,318

New York Giants

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    The Giants don't figure to be big players in free agency, but that's because they've already made some good moves.

    New York locked up its big left tackle, Will Beatty, to a long-term deal, buying protection for Eli Manning's blind side through 2017, assuming Beatty stays healthy and productive. This came after the team let go tough-but-oft-injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw.

    It will be a series of low-cost moves for the Giants in free agency at this point, unless they can find a way to shave several million more off their cap number.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $118,881,198

New York Jets

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    It is surprising to see the Jets with around $9 million in cap space after being so far over the cap just a few years ago.

    New York recently cut Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith, giving them some breathing room in free agency. That may not be enough, however—$9 million is just enough to get draft picks signed and make some other small moves.

    This could spell the end of free agent Dustin Keller in New York. Unless the market is bare for him, Mark Sanchez's favorite target—when he was on the field, at least—could be in a new uniform next season.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $114,746,216

Oakland Raiders

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    Having climbed from the fires of salary-cap hell into the dark uncertainty of Hades, the Raiders have a long way to go before they reach the surface.

    There can and will be plenty of cuts between now and March 12, but how much will they be able to free up? Phillip Wheeler and Desmond Bryant headline a group of free agents the Raiders can ill afford to lose all at once, but they may not have a choice in some cases.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $121,265,174

Philadelphia Eagles

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    The post-Andy Reid era has begun in Philadelphia, and there is some room to make moves this offseason.

    Despite Michael Vick's $12 million bonus—a number Spotrac does not seem to account for yet—the Eagles have close to $14 million in cap space. They can dramatically increase that with the release of Nnamdi Asomugha should they choose to let the 31-year-old go.

    Their secondary is of primary concern, and they have the room to lure a good free agent or two to the City of Brotherly Love. Perhaps Dashon Goldson or William Moore will be making big hits in green next season.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $94,035,649

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers are in a rare bad position this offseason. Coming off their first .500 season since 2006 and missing out on a playoff berth, a bad cap situation looms over the Steel City.

    Even after restructuring contracts for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers are butting up against the salary cap. They will have some more to make as well as some cuts, but it doesn't seem like they will be big players in free agency.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $119,367,048

San Diego Chargers

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    The biggest move the Chargers made this offseason was jettisoning Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, but neither of those moves did anything to help their cap number.

    The Chargers have limited cap space considering they will need to sign draft picks, but they have a chance to free up plenty more if they can complete restructured deals with Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle.

    The priority will likely be keeping Louis Vasquez, the team's best offensive lineman. After that, general manager Tom Telesco is likely to plug holes with low-cost moves while looking to the draft to rebuild from the smoldering wreckage Smith left behind.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $115,809,442


San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers have done an incredible job of hoarding draft picks and re-signing key players before they can even sniff free agency in recent years. 

    They have not, however, hoarded cap space. It was likely a driving factor in their decision to trade Alex Smith—though getting a queen's ransom from the Chiefs certainly helped—and their decision not to tag Dashon Goldson.

    The talented safety hopes to stay, but his $8 million per year price tag might be too much.

    Keeping some of its own free agents and looking for low-cost options elsewhere will probably be San Francisco's modus operandi this offseason. After all, the 49ers' 2012 rookies barely saw the field because of roster quality, and they have 15 draft picks in this year's draft.

    The cupboard will be overflowing in San Francisco regardless of free agency.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $114,714,555

Seattle Seahawks

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    Depending on whether Seattle exercises their cap rollover from a year ago, it will either have a decent amount of cap space or just enough to sign its draft picks.

    As John Schneider graduated from the School of Ted Thompson, big free-agent spending is likely not in the cards for the 'Hawks. There are some tantalizing options—Paul Kruger comes to mind—but, as is typical with the Packers, the likeliest signings will come from their own team.

    They have a solid core, and Seattle will likely look to the draft to fill holes.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $106,360,410


St. Louis Rams

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    The Rams don't look very good on paper in terms of cap space right now, but there is potential for much more.

    Steven Jackson will be gone soon after voiding his contract, and the Rams could cut more players to make some room. That would leave them with upwards of $30 million to spend rather than the paltry $5 million-$7 million they have right now.

    If they get to that point, they could go after a receiver or an upgrade along that porous offensive line.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $115,033,835


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The Buccaneers had so much cap space last year that they have another big chunk this season despite having signed Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson to big contracts in 2012.

    The spending won't likely reach Congressional levels like last year, but the Bucs have plenty of room to add another big-name free agent or two. They will likely want to keep effective defensive end Michael Bennett in the process.

    That secondary needs a facelift, and the cornerback market is flooded. It would be a bit comical if they re-signed Aqib Talib at this point, but there should be other good options.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $90,385,545

Tennessee Titans

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    The Titans head into the 2013 offseason flying low with plenty of holes to plug. Thanks to nearly $13 million in cap-space rollover available, they will have some ammo to plug those holes.

    Tennessee got an early start when it signed veteran George Wilson on the cheap after the Bills cut him. 

    The decision to forgo the franchise tag for Jared Cook could prove costly for the offense if the Titans can't get him to sign a long-term deal or sign an adequate replacement, however. Andy Levitre could be their biggest target if the Bills let him get away; the interior of that offensive line needs plenty of work.

     

    2013 Cap Number: $102,544,156

Washington Redskins

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    Gone are the free-wheeling days of Dan Snyder's past. 

    The Redskins are no longer throwing an incredible amount of money away for the likes of Adam Archuleta, Albert Haynesworth or Donovan McNabb. That five-year, $40 million deal Pierre Garçon inked last offseason seemed like a relic from those days, but he lived up to the contract when he was healthy.

    The looming cap penalty has put a damper on the offseason thus far, preventing the team from negotiating contracts with their own players while they mull legal action.

    It seems unlikely they will win any cap relief considering their case to have the cap penalties removed was thrown out last offseason, meaning they will not have the temptation to slip into Snyder's old ways in free agency. 

     

    2013 Cap Number: $124,878,778

     

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