The Cardinals have big decisions to make about their 2014 salary cap.
The Arizona Cardinals are going to have to battle a very difficult opponent that isn't an NFC West foe. The salary cap will prove to be one of the more challenging opponents Arizona faces, and they have to find a way to beat it.
The Cardinals have to contend with three players who will count for at least $11 million each against the cap in 2014 in Carson Palmer, Calais Campbell and Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona’s ability to spend will be reduced due to nearly $10 million in dead money.
The Cardinals don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, and there will be positions where money must be spent.
It’s going to be difficult for general manager Steve Keim to handle all of the free agents and work on getting a draft class under contract.
Start the slide show below and put some numbers to the situation. Information comes courtesy of Spotrac.com. All figures with individual players are their 2014 cap hit, unless stated.
Spotrac has this listed as the overall Arizona breakdown.
When you look at the table, one of the key figures to keep in mind is the cap number located on the far right. The numbers in parentheses are dead money, which would come into play should that player be released from the roster.
Farther down on the page, there is a breakdown of the dead-money situation. Nearly all of the money is going to former offensive linemen Levi Brown and Adam Snyder. Those two players have managed to restrict the Cardinals in 2014.
The biggest piece of data is on the bottom of the page. The number $2,137,644 is what Arizona is expected to have for cap space as it stands now. That figure assumes a $126.3 million salary cap for 2014. The available amount is that figure less salaries, bonuses and practice squad paychecks.
Restructuring contracts can make the difference whether or not the Cardinals will be players in free agency. Keep going and see how this breaks down by position.
Carson Palmer: $11 million
Drew Stanton: $2.66 million
Ryan Lindley: $596,327
Palmer’s salary comes from his $9 million base pay for the upcoming season. Stanton makes a hefty chunk of change for a player who hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2010. Lindley will be in his third season and is still a cheap player since he is still in his rookie contract.
Arizona doesn't need to shell out any more money at this position.
Rashard Mendenhall: UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Ryan Williams: $1,593,274 ($535,442 in dead money)
Andre Ellington: $520,966
Stepfan Taylor: $545,125
The good news is that Arizona seems to have struck gold in Ellington. He had a solid rookie season and could contend for the starting running back job in 2014. Williams spent the entire season healthy and inactive, so Arizona needs to make a decision about keeping him. If he gets cut, the Cardinals would have slightly more than $1 million tied up in the position.
The Cardinals could potentially invest in a big-name free agent at this position if not for the other needs Arizona must meet.
Larry Fitzgerald: $18 million ($10 million dead money)
Michael Floyd: $2,719,500
Andre Roberts: UFA
LaRon Byrd: $572,168
Teddy Williams: $570,000
Jaron Brown, Brittan Golden and Javone Lawson each have cap numbers between $495,000 and $500,000 for the coming season.
This is where the Cardinals have to make a key decision on Larry Fitzgerald. His cap number accounts for more than 10 percent of the total projected salary cap. Trade rumors involving him came up at the trade deadline, but a deal wasn’t made. There haven’t been any discussions about potential trades, but it is an option.
The team could also see if Fitzgerald wants to restructure his contract to help free up some space under the cap. Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic wrote that the team has yet to approach Fitzgerald’s agent about restructuring his deal. Fitzgerald won’t take a pay cut, so restructuring his deal looks to be the best answer for the overall benefit of the team.
The rest of the players at this position have salaries that are low-cost and have little impact on dead money should they be released.
Rob Housler: $951,023
Jake Ballard: RFA (restricted free agent)
Kory Sperry, Jim Dray, Jeff King: UFAs
This is a position where the Cardinals have one player under contract as of right now. Bruce Arians likes to use two-tight end formations. This will force Arizona to spend money on a second and third tight end in order to keep those formations in place. Even teams with elite tight ends, like New Orleans and Denver, still keep extra tight ends on the roster in case of injury.
The team only has a couple million dollars to work with, and being forced to add another tight end or two solely for depth will hit the cap number. There’s no indication who Arizona might pursue in free agency. This could be a need to address at the NFL draft in May solely to find a cheaper player to fill the roster spot.
Bobby Massie: $680,845
Nate Potter: $584,856
Bradley Sowell: $570,000
Daryn Colledge: $7.275 million
Jonathan Cooper: $3.306 million
Paul Fanaika: $780,000
Earl Watford: $603,716
Lyle Sendlein: $4.125 million
Eric Winston: UFA
Arizona will need to address the left tackle position after Brown was traded to Pittsburgh during the season. Sowell started the final 12 games for Arizona but isn’t a long-term answer.
Colledge’s salary stands out as being much higher than anyone else on the offensive line. Winston is an unrestricted free agent. Arizona might need to open the wallet to try and retain his services for 2014. With all of the other needs on the offensive side of the ball, it’s going to be a fight for money under the cap.
It only gets more complex when you add in the defensive side of the roster. Mix in needs on special teams and the situation becomes even direr. We’ll start looking at the defense on the next slide.
Dan Williams: $2.185 million
Campbell: $11.25 million
Darnell Dockett: $8.75 million
Dontay Moch: $570,000
On the line, Arizona has two players making a combined $20 million and virtually no depth under contract behind it. Ideally, Campbell and/or Dockett could restructure their deals to free up cap space. Either way, Arizona needs to have additional players behind the starters. And Moch is the only second-stringer with a deal right now. The need for depth will try to snag some bucks out of the free-agency wallet.
Karlos Dansby, Matt Shaughnessy: UFA
John Abraham: $3.375 million
Lorenzo Alexander: $1.455 million
Sam Acho: $763,607
Alex Okafor: $613,607
Daryl Washington: $6 million
Jasper Brinkley: $2.2 million
Kevin Minter: $997,995
Arizona looks like it has a solid set of linebackers for the upcoming season and could potentially not spend any money at this position. That would mean Dansby would walk after a career season. It would be a shock to see the Cardinals let Dansby go for a second time since he was a key part of the defense last season.
But if they spend money on Dansby, what other position do they not spend money on?
Patrick Peterson: $5,863,962
Jerraud Powers: $4 million
Justin Bethel: $598,556
Rashad Johnson: $2.133 million
Tyrann Mathieu: $713,281
Curtis Taylor: $645,000
Tony Jefferson: $498,366
The cornerback and safety positions combine to make another set of difficult choices. Antoine Cason is a free agent as is Javier Arenas and Yeremiah Bell. The Cardinals need to have some depth at cornerback and safety. That costs money that is in short supply for the team.
Long snapper Mike Leach: $1,091,667
The question to ask isn’t what’s here, but rather what’s not here?
If you said kicker and punter, you’re right. Both kicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil are set to be free agents in 2014. Arizona would have to spend money on Feely or another kicker. They would have to open the wallet to Zastudil or another punter. Either way, the team needs a kicker and a punter.
Arizona has to spend on those two positions. They’re too valuable to the team to have someone else cross-train (for lack of a better term) for those two roles.
When you put it all together, the Cardinals have plenty of needs and not enough cash to go around as of now. Some of the larger contracts need to get restructured to free up some money.
Or Groupon needs to come up with a coupon for free agents to help the Cardinals.