5 Teams Facing Dire Salary Cap Situations in 2014
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
Salary cap planning can be a nightmare.
Not only do you have to find a way to fit every player under the allotted yearly cap—$123 million in 2013—but you must also plan for future years, in which the growth of the salary cap is unknown.
In some cases, though, you can see the wrath of the salary cap coming a mile away. We haven't even started the 2013 season yet, and some teams might already be in a bind come 2014.
Whether it's a result of a spending spree this year, a few mistakes in year's past, too many restructured contracts or any combination of the above, these teams are going to have to pay the piper at some point.
All salary information courtesy of OverTheCap.com.
San Diego Chargers
Estimated 2014 cap space: $1,318,792
Biggest 2014 cap hit: QB Philip Rivers, $15 million
The new era in San Diego begins with the team looking ahead to a slim cap situation.
The Chargers have made a couple of signings over the past two years that will amount to big spending against the 2014 salary cap: Wide receiver Robert Meachem is set to count roughly $6.9 million against the cap while Eddie Royal's number is $6 million.
The Chargers aren't in too much of a bind here; they have some flexibility with offensive tackle Jeromey Clary, center Nick Hardwick and Eddie Royal's contracts all easily unloaded for big cap savings. Any one of those three moves would bring the team closer to cap freedom.
Under new direction with head coach Mike McCoy and GM Tom Telesco, the ties to the current roster are not as strong as they were under the old regime that brought these players into the fold. The Chargers could be in store for some big changes in their personnel.
Estimated 2014 cap space: $63,433
Biggest 2014 cap hit: QB Ben Roethlisberger, $18,895,000
The Steelers have been in a dire situation with the salary cap for a couple of years now, and although the team isn't over the cap as was the case this year, things don't look too much brighter in 2014 with just five figures worth of cap space.
The top five contracts for the Steelers take up roughly $65 million in cap space for 2014, leaving the Steelers with around 50 percent of the cap to spend on the other 48 players on the active roster, depending on the cap for the 2014 season.
The problem, however, is that there aren't any moves the Steelers could make to free up significant cap space. Between safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor, tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers don't have a lot of options in terms of players with high cap figures and low dead money.
Much like this offseason, it could be a lot of little moves that help give the Steelers some cap relief.
Estimated 2014 cap space: -$15,505,473
Biggest 2014 cap hit: DT Ndamukong Suh, $21,412,500
The Detroit Lions had a top-two pick in three of four years from 2007 to 2010. That helped them land them wide receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but unfortunately for the Lions, all three were brought in before the rookie wage scale was put in place.
As a result, the Lions are still paying for big rookie contracts to Suh and Stafford, while having already restructured and extended Calvin Johnson's deal. Those three players are projected to take up $53,790,500 worth of cap space in 2014. That doesn't leave a whole lot to work with for the other 50 players on the roster.
The Lions could save $6 million by moving on from safety Louis Delmas, or $5.5 million by moving on from wide receiver Nate Burleson. Running back Jahvid Best was put on notice with the signing of free-agent running back Reggie Bush, and if Best can't stay healthy in 2013, the team could unload his $2.2 million salary for 2014 and get roughly half of it back. They could also net $3 million of cap space by cutting Mike Thomas.
Aside from Burleson, those players could be facing do-or-die seasons next year as a result of the savings that would result from moving on from them.
There are plenty of moves the Lions could make, and they'll have to explore them all as they look to knock over eight figures off their cap spending for 2014.
New Orleans Saints
Cary Emondson-USA TODAY Sports
Estimated 2014 cap space: -$19,411,639
Biggest 2014 cap hit: QB Drew Brees, $18.4 million
The Saints have made a number of big-name signings over the past few years, bringing in guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Curtis Lofton and running back Darren Sproles along with the mega deal signed by quarterback Drew Brees last offseason.
Those have added up to some scary numbers for the Saints as we look beyond the 2013 season.
Unfortunately, the Saints don't have the luxury of waiting until the last minute. Fortunately, they have one gigantic get-out-of-cap-jail-free card in defensive end Will Smith. Cutting him now would only save the team roughly $1.8 million against the cap, but a bigger deal would be the $13.9 million they would save against the cap in 2014 by moving on now.
They'll need to start making moves soon if they want to retain safety Malcolm Jenkins and tight end Jimmy Graham, both of whom are set to become free agents in 2014.
Brees' contract only gets bigger over the last three years of the deal, as well, with an $18.4 million cap hit in 2014, $26.4 million in 2015 and $27.4 million in 2016. Even after the Saints inevitably pull themselves out of their sticky situation with the cap, they'll have to keep a close watch on their check books in years to come.
Estimated 2014 cap space: -$25,809,649
Biggest 2014 cap hit: QB Tony Romo, $21,773,000
At nearly $26 million over the cap, the Cowboys are already next season's biggest spenders before they make a single signing.
They were not big players in the free-agent market this offseason, either, after starting the offseason around $100,000 under the cap (according to the Dallas Morning News), and that was only after re-working deals for—deep breath—linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Miles Austin, cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick, center Ryan Cook, right tackle Doug Free, defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, and guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings.
Even after restructuring all those deals, they'll still have to make some moves just to get under the cap in 2014. On top of that, defensive end Anthony Spencer and linebacker Sean Lee are both set to become free agents.
Center Phil Costa was put on notice with the selection of Travis Frederick, and the Cowboys could free up $1.5 million on the cap by cutting Costa. They could also save $4.02 million by cutting Doug Free, but with $7 million in dead money on that move (and an offensive line which is completely bereft of depth) the Cowboys might have to hang onto him.
It could be another bloodbath in Texas next offseason.