NFL Free Agency 2013: How Salary Cap Situation Will Affect Every Team
Free agency is looming, and that means salary caps will be at the forefront of every NFL fan's mind.
Some needn't worry, as their teams can work within very favourable cap situations. Included in this group are a pair of AFC North rivals who share the same state.
For others, though, free agency will be one frustrating exercise in wheeling and dealing. This is certainly the case for two fierce NFC East rivals still adapting to a year-old league penalty.
Here's how the salary cap situation will affect every NFL team in this year's free agency.
New Limit Supposed to Give Teams More Room
The NFL has set a new cap limit this year. It is designed to give teams more room.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reported that the new limit is set at $123 million. That's up from the 2012 limit of $120 million.
ESPN.com's John Clayton details how the figures are determined by something called "carryover" money. That means that finances not spent under the previous year's cap are available now.
These facts form the latest numbers that are used for this article. The numbers will be taken from Spotrac.com.
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys find themselves around $5 million over the cap. Part of the issue is the bizarre decision to place the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.
That means Spencer will account for $10,627,200 against 2013's cap. Despite his stellar campaign in 2012, keeping Spencer around on that sort of money seems a strange choice.
After all, the Cowboys are readying a switch to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin. While Spencer played defensive end for Purdue at the collegiate level, he is shining as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
The Cowboys need some room to work under the cap. They could use a natural 4-3 linebacker and possibly the right kind of defensive end and space-eating defensive tackle.
The good thing for the Cowboys is there isn't one of their own free agents they should be in a hurry to re-sign.
NFC East: New York Giants
Unlike 2012, the New York Giants find themselves in a relatively healthy situation regarding the salary cap. They are around $9 million under.
The G-men helped themselves by releasing the high-profile trio of Michael Boley, Ahmad Bradshaw and Chris Canty.
Still, Big Blue have two pressing priorities in free agency.
They are anxious to retain tight end Martellus Bennett, according to the New York Daily News. It's a smart move, as Bennett showcased his talent and potential in 2012 and can be a key weapon for Eli Manning.
Perhaps more pressing, though, is resolving Victor Cruz's future. Plenty of teams are already keen on signing the dynamic wideout, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Cruz is a restricted free agent, and any interested party would surely have to part with major compensation. However, if the Giants can't find the money to reach a deal, some may be tempted.
Head coach Tom Coughlin must decide if his needs at defensive tackle and defensive back are great enough to divert money away from Cruz.
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The so far disappointing veteran survived the cuts and will be required to help lead a new defensive scheme. Of course, what would help Asomugha is improved play at safety.
However, the Eagles must balance that against any desire to retain cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. There's also the significant matter of improving a porous offensive line.
Philly has also been linked with a move for right tackle Eric Winston, and left tackle is still a question mark.
NFC East: Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins are still over the cap thanks to last year's league-imposed penalty, so the 2012 NFC East champions don't have a great deal of options in free agency.
Instead, general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan have smartly opted to retain useful players. The latest is left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who just signed a five-year contract, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Of course, as good as those moves are, the Redskins still have needs to address. Primarily, they need plenty of help in the secondary.
One way they can create funds is to wave goodbye to struggling cornerback DeAngelo Hall. CBS Sports indicates that the Redskins are strongly considering releasing the motormouth cover man.
One player the Redskins seemingly don't want to see is tight end Fred Davis. The Giants are reportedly keen to retain Davis, who bore the franchise tag in 2012.
He's had his problems, serving a suspension for drug abuse in 2011 and missing nine games last season due to injury. However, when healthy and available, Davis is one of the best young players at his position in the league.
The Redskins offense certainly needs him in 2013.
AFC East: Buffalo Bills
Their most pressing choices in free agency involve the futures of offensive linemen Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart. The Bills also need help at linebacker and could use another wide receiver to help Steve Johnson as well.
Keeping Levitre might be tough, with the Chicago Sun Times suggesting the Chicago Bears are part of an interested quartet.
AFC East: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins took care of their biggest free agency need when they applied the franchise tag to defensive tackle Randy Starks. They also moved fast to keep Matt Moore and Brian Hartline in the fold.
The even better news is that the Dolphins still have plenty of cap space. Spotrac.com lists their total cap figure at $88,957,784. That's well below that league limit.
They seem set to part ways with high-profile names like Reggie Bush and Jake Long. However, retaining tight end Anthony Fasano would be another smart move for the Dolphins.
Adding a marquee wide receiver appears to be the priority, though. Premier deep threat Mike Wallace is the name most strongly linked.
Wallace will demand major money, but his game-stretching ability could be the spark an otherwise solid core needs.
AFC East: New England Patriots
Their key free agents are Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer and Aqib Talib. However, the Patriots haven't been in a rush to re-sign any one of this trio.
The Patriots might also make a play for veteran interception king Ed Reed. Belichick should be serious about using his cap space to properly fix his inconsistent pass defense.
AFC East: New York Jets
The New York Jets don't have a lot of cap room. However, Gang Green helped themselves by releasing veterans like Bart Scott and Calvin Pace.
It's clear that Rex Ryan's underachievers need help on offense. Bringing back tight end Dustin Keller would be a good start. However, the Jets could also use a power back and a quality wide receiver. That means Keller could find himself the odd man out.
NFC North: Chicago Bears
The smartest move the Chicago Bears will make all offseason was quickly tagging defensive tackle Henry Melton. That move ensures their defense will still be strong in 2013.
However, the Bears only have just under $4 million in cap space. That meager amount might not be enough for them to finally fix their pitiful offensive line.
One move they could make is adding tight end Jared Cook. The Chicago Sun-Times indicates the Bears are interested in the young playmaker.
The Bears have been lacking a dynamic tight end for too long. If he can stay consistent, Cook certainly fits the bill.
The status of aging defensive general Brian Urlacher may dominate most of the headlines. However, the Bears' best move will be to tweak some cap space for Cook and a capable lineman.
NFC North: Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions once again have major needs at linebacker and in the secondary. Yet in typical fashion, they seem more concerned with boosting their already potent offense.
That could mean they only have the means to suitably address one area of their roster. It might be time to finally get their powerful defensive line some real help.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers will have over $20 million in cap space and some key decisions to make. The primary one will be whether or not to bring back receiver Greg Jennings.
That could adversely affect any attempts to keep tight end Jermichael Finley in Green Bay. With Erik Walden and Frank Zombo ticketed for free agency, depth at outside linebacker could also become an issue.
NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
Wallace would aid quarterback Christian Ponder's development. He would also prevent defenses from bringing safeties up to stop Adrian Peterson.
However, those considerable benefits certainly won't come cheap. That's the dilemma for the Vikings front office staff, who must also resolve the futures of some key free agents.
Linebacker Erin Henderson heads that group and is a budding star. Offensive lineman Phil Loadholt is a key member of the front five that knocked open so many holes for Peterson.
Speaking of key blocks, that's just what free-agent fullback Jerome Felton delivered on a consistent basis. The Vikings must tread carefully in free agency and not risk losing the core that helped them surprise many in 2012.
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
Retaining key linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger should be the Baltimore Ravens' priority. However, the Super Bowl champions only have $13 million in cap space.
Handing out a bumper contract to Joe Flacco has naturally drained the Ravens' resources. That could make things tricky, as division rival Cleveland is already expressing interest in Ellerbe and Kruger.
As if that alone isn't worthy of concern, the Ravens are heading for a standoff with veteran flanker Anquan Boldin. Yet as well as Flacco and his receivers played in the playoffs, the defense still leads this team.
With Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed a free agent, the Ravens can't afford to lose many more key defenders.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
Adding the right fits to their new 3-4 scheme appears to be the Browns' priority. They certainly have the resources to do it.
The Browns boast one of the healthiest salary cap situations in the NFL. Spotrac.com shows the Browns close to $48 million under the league's limit.
Making moves for playmakers like Ellerbe and Kruger is certainly a smart first step. Adding an athletic, consistent tight end to aid new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's schemes would also be a smart move.
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
Like the Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals are in an enviable salary cap situation. They have just under $43 million worth of space.
That might encourage them to quickly secure a long-term deal for franchise tag holder Michael Johnson. The talented defensive end is set to earn $11,175,000 under the tag in 2013.
Most of their other key free agents are also on defense. Fellow Lineman Robert Geathers is a valuable pass-rusher.
However, retaining linebackers Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga could be deemed a greater priority. The Bengals should keep their defense together, even if it means resisting the demands of offensive tackle Andre Smith.
With whatever is left over, the Bengals should invest in another wide receiver to ease the pressure on A.J. Green.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have already made their big move by dumping outside linebacker James Harrison. Releasing the stellar veteran helps give the Steelers close to $5 million in cap space.
In typical fashion, the Steelers appear unwilling to be held to ransom by key free agents. They are seemingly making no attempts to block the exits of Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace.
Getting younger on defense has been a priority for a while. To that end, re-signing young corner Keenan Lewis would be a smart next step.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have over $11 million in cap space and have already made their best move. They wisely re-signed playmaking safety William Moore.
He was the Falcons' best free agent, and keeping him was key to improving the defense. However, more great news could be just around the corner.
The NFC runners-up have emerged as a leading candidate to sign running back Steven Jackson. The former St. Louis Rams star would certainly be an upgrade over the released Michael Turner.
The Falcon have the room to bring in Jackson and give Matt Ryan a more versatile and reliable weapon in the backfield. If they do, the Falcons have to be the favorite to retain the NFC South crown and maybe even go one step further than last season.
NFC South: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are $7 million under the cap and don't have many tough free-agency choices to make. Bringing back defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, a pleasant surprise in 2012, would be their best first move.
The Panthers have created cap room by parting ways with veterans like cornerback Chris Gamble. They are also intent on restructuring deals. One of those could be the contract of offensive lineman Jordan Goss.
These moves could be the precursor to signing a quality wide receiver to partner the superb Steve Smith. Head coach Ron Rivera recently seemed to indicate that that's an area the Panthers could target once free agency begins.
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are currently over $4 million on the wrong side of the salary cap. That's certainly not an ideal situation for a team looking to install a new 3-4 defense.
As well as finding players for a new scheme, the Saints also have key offensive players set for free agency. Backup passer Chase Daniel and tackle Jermon Bushrod will draw interest from other teams if the Saints don't move fast.
At the moment, it appears as though restructuring deals is the main idea. Veteran defenders Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma could both be asked to rework their existing contracts, according to the Times-Picayune.
The Saints face one of the trickiest situations in the league. The core of their once strong roster is slowly being eroded.
It will take some very smart drafting and fiscal tinkering to get the Saints ready to contend again in 2013. The draft is likely where they will have to go to find the pieces for their 3-4 switch.
To get under the cap, it will probably require some tougher choices regarding the Saints' veterans.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have between $10-11 million available under the cap. Their position is reasonable, but nothing more.
To begin with, they are perilously close to losing star defensive end Michael Bennett. The Tampa Bay Times suggests teams are already queuing up for the versatile lineman.
The problem for the Bucs is that although Bennett is vital to their defense, they also need cornerbacks.
However, Tampa Bay can be a tough team to read in free agency.
Last offseason's splurge was very much out of character. As a result, they don't have a lot of cap room this year. So the Bucs may be better off trying to retain their own key people rather than looking elsewhere.
Either way, it will be a balancing act for the rebuilding NFC South team.
AFC South: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans' salary cap situation gives them around $9 million in available space. Their free-agency situation will be determined by the futures of some key situational players.
One of those is safety Glover Quin. He became a key part of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' dime schemes in 2012. There's also H-Back James Casey, a vital blocker in head coach Gary Kubiak's zone-based ground game.
Preserving the core of the roster that has won the last two AFC South titles has to be the Texans' priority.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have $42 million worth of cap room. They also don't have many priorities regarding their free agents.
That leaves the team free to improve its 26th-ranked defense. Head coach Chuck Pagano appears set to raid the Baltimore Ravens defense he once directed.
The Baltimore Sun indicates that the Colts will make a push for rush end Paul Kruger. Adding playmakers to make their hybrid 3-4 schemes work has to be the priority in Indianapolis.
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have several needs to address as they attempt to rebuild after a 2-14 year. Quarterback would seem to be the most obvious.
However, new head coach Gus Bradley appears committed to redesigning his defense. The Jags have already released defensive backs Dawan Landry and Aaron Ross.
They have $34 million in cap space, so Bradley should be able to invest heavily in more than one area of his roster revamp.
AFC South: Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans appear set to try and use their $20 million in cap space to solidify the trenches. Their first move could be to find veteran help for their pass rush.
That could involve adding one of a trio of veteran rush ends. The Titans have been linked with John Abraham, Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans look to be strong contenders to land Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre.
Both signings would be smart moves for one of last season's main underachievers.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals
The new era in Arizona has already seen the Cardinals make some tough choices. None more so than parting company with safety Adrian Wilson.
However, moves like that have helped create just under $10 million in cap space. That could prove vital as new head coach Bruce Arians attempts to quickly revive the team.
The latest rumours suggest Arians could use some of the money to tempt Reggie Bush to the desert.
While Bush might be a solid addition, Arians may want to focus first on repairing a shoddy offensive line and fixing the quarterback issue.
The Cards must not overpay for Bush at the expense of addressing more pressing needs.
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have a little over $10 million in cap room. That apparently isn't enough to award a bumper deal to Dashon Goldson, who seems set to test the market.
However, the 49ers do have the room to bring back a valuable role player like tight end Delanie Walker. They don't have many more pressing free-agency needs and appear content to focus more on their own roster.
One interesting storyline will be the decision on the futures of nose tackles Ricky Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga. Both could play key roles in repelling the run from the 49ers' base 3-4 front.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have around $17 million free under the cap. They may stay patient before moving to keep defensive tackles Alan Branch and Jason Jones.
Both are useful members of Seattle's deep and powerful line rotation. The Seahawks also seem to be in the market for another edge-rusher for Pete Carroll's hybrid defensive fronts.
The team has shown interest in greybeard pass-rush ace John Abraham. It's smart to add to one of 2012's best defenses.
However, the Seahawks shouldn't forget about their obvious need at wide receiver. If they spend big on any one player, it has to be for a marquee pass-catcher to aid quarterback Russell Wilson.
NFC West: St. Louis Rams
An NFC West team desperately needing a quality wide receiver is an apt description of the St. Louis Rams. That need has been compounded by the seeming willingness to let Danny Amendola leave.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos made their smartest free-agency move early, putting the franchise tag on Ryan Clady. With the dominant left tackle secured for another year, the Broncos have just under $6 million in cap space.
They could create even more room if they opt to release Elvis Dumervil. The cat-quick pass-rusher is set to make $12,000,000 in 2013. That's the Broncos' second-biggest contract.
According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Dumervil could be sent packing if he refuses to reduce his salary. That move would free up some money to add a capable running back to complement Peyton Manning.
The Denver Post believes that player could be Rashard Mendenhall.
The Broncos should also consider adding a defensive tackle, with Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson both free agents.
Head coach John Fox can't fall into the trap of neglecting his defense just to give Manning more weapons. That's a mistake the Indianapolis Colts made for years.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are less than $10 million under the cap, having already made some bold moves. They traded for quarterback Alex Smith and signed cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The most interesting choice they may have to make in free agency regards offensive tackle Branden Albert. He's already received the franchise tag, but Albert's long-term future could be determined by who the Chiefs draft overall.
AFC West: Oakland Raiders
However, even with those moves, the Raiders only have $6 million worth of cap space.
They also have tricky decisions to make regarding two key free agents.
One is defensive tackle Desmond Bryant. The 27-year-old severely damaged his stock following an arrest for criminal mischief.
If the Raiders spend big to retain any member of their roster, it must be for tight end Brandon Myers. He was superb in 2012 and is fast becoming an indispensable weapon for the Raiders offense.
AFC West: San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have just over $9 million worth of room under the cap. However, that figure might not be so important, as new general manager Tom Telesco has quelled any idea of a spending spree.
That's a wise policy, considering the Chargers must deal with several key free agents of their own. Perhaps none is more important than key guard Louis Vasquez.
However, there are also a number of defensive players whose futures must be resolved soon. Cornerback Antoine Cason and linebacker Shaun Phillips lead that group.
The Chargers do have a talented base to work with. Protecting it may be the smartest way to handle their salary cap situation.
Be sure to pay close attention to how each NFL team balances its needs against the realities of its respective salary cap situations during free agency.