The NFL's business season is nearly at hand, with free agency set to open on March 11. And while business isn't as sexy as games, getting the numbers right is a major part of every team's road to a possible Super Bowl championship.
Part of the business season includes big-name players renegotiating their contracts in order to provide temporary salary cap relief, and for the teams on this list, it's likely necessary that it happens.
Here are five star NFL players who are destined for contract renegotiation this offseason, with all contract numbers coming courtesy of Spotrac.com.
The New Orleans Saints finished 11-5 in 2013 and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs before bowing out to eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle. All in all, it was a successful season for coach Sean Payton's team.
But in order for the Saints to reach the NFC's rarefied air currently occupied by the Seahawks and 49ers, the roster needs improving, and with the team over the cap by $11.8 million, general manager Mickey Loomis has some finagling to do, especially with star tight end Jimmy Graham set to hit the market.
Enter quarterback Drew Brees, who signed a five-year, $100 million deal in 2012 and has a cap hit of over $18 million next season. Brees knows that he'll probably have to restructure his deal to give the team some cap relief, telling Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune:
Listen, I get compensated very well. I don't take that for granted for one second. But I play this game because I love this game, I love this locker room and I love the opportunity to win a championship... Whatever I can do to help this team, if they want to come to me and extend me even further, that'd be great.
With Graham, right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian de la Puente and safety Malcolm Jenkins among the Saints players entering free agency, the onus could be on Brees to free up some money for the team to make another Super Bowl run.
And to Brees' credit, he seems amenable to doing so.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and find themselves over the cap by $9.6 million as they enter the offseason.
General manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin have many big decisions to make as there are several aging players on the roster possessing large cap numbers but diminishing skills.
Safety Troy Polamalu hasn't been the same player in years, but he has the largest cap number in the league at his position (almost $11 million), while linebacker LaMarr Woodley carries a $13.59 million cap hit despite only accruing five sacks in 2013.
Because of their financial situation, it's quite possible that the Steelers will have a new look and feel in 2014. But one player sure to be on the roster is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger carries a cap charge of nearly $19 million next season, and he is a prime candidate for restructuring.
Back in November, with the Steelers floundering at 4-6, Roethlisberger told Jory Rand of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh that he would be willing to take a team-friendly deal to offer cap relief:
Obviously, I would do whatever I needed to do, but that’s something that can be discussed when the time comes. And that’s not really my thing. I play football. I have people that deal with that stuff, so I’ll do whatever it takes to stay here and to be a part of this team and to help this team out.
The Steelers finished strong and barely missed the postseason at 8-8, but for a proud franchise that's won two Super Bowl titles in the past decade, that's not good enough, and Roethlisberger knows it.
Look for Roethlisberger to clear up some much-needed cap space for the Steelers as they reload and gun for a seventh world championship.
The Dallas Cowboys finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and they are nearly $21 million over the cap for their troubles. Nice job, Jerry Jones!
With the Cowboys strapped for cash, one would think that might limit their plans on spending, but in Dallas that's rarely the case. Executive vice president Stephen Jones, son of Jerry, said this of the team's cap situation to Carlos Mendez of the Star-Telegram:
It’ll limit you. At the same time, I think we can manage to get through it, get done what we need to get done and get better. I think we’ll always manage through it, but we’re still in a tight situation after coming off the penalties [losing cap space in 2012 and ’13] and things like that. We're still up against it.
If the Cowboys want to get done what they need to get done and get better, they'll need to restructure the contract of quarterback Tony Romo.
Romo has a massive cap hit of $21.7 million next season, and there's simply no way that can end up being the number. Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News agrees, writing that he expects Romo's contract to be restructured.
Once Romo restructures, the Cowboys will have a chance to be active, but there will still be bloodletting to do to get under the cap.
The New York Giants missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season, and quarterback Eli Manning had a dreadful campaign, tossing a league-high 27 interceptions.
Despite that, Manning still has a championship pedigree, being the owner of two Super Bowl MVP awards. There's no question he'll be Big Blue's quarterback in 2014 and is a prime candidate to bounce back and have a much better season.
But before that happens, Manning might have to restructure his deal. His cap number is slated to be $20.4 million, and with the Giants' roster riddled with holes and question marks, giving the team some financial relief would be in the best interest of winning.
Speaking on this topic back in December, Manning told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, “I haven’t thought about it, but if they come to me, yeah, we’ll discuss it and figure out a plan."
The Giants aren't in a terribly precarious cap situation, as they're under by $16.3 million. But considering how disappointing 2013 was, it's natural to assume that owner John Mara, general manager Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin will want to improve the roster by leaps and bounds to get the team back into the postseason.
That means that Manning could be restructuring his deal this offseason.
The fact that the New England Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship Game was made even more impressive when considering the number of injures to key players the team overcame along the way.
One of those injuries was suffered by stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who tore his right Achilles in September and missed the rest of the season.
Now, the 32-year-old Wilfork carries a cap number of $11.6 million into next season, and with the Patriots only $5.7 million under the cap, he could be looking at a contract restructure.
The Patriots have a number of key free agents, including cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman. Any money that could be freed up would help, and Wilfork is a prime candidate for that goal.
Erik Frenz of Boston.com (he's also B/R's lead AFC East writer) wrote this column about Wilfork potentially restructuring his deal, and it's definitely possible to do it in such a way that it works for both the team and player.
Wilfork has proven to be a team player in his time in New England. Restructuring his deal would help the Patriots as they seek to return to the Super Bowl.