2014 NFL Free Agency: How NFL's Most Cap-Rich Teams Should Approach Deep Market
Free agency looms for the NFL.
With the salary cap set at $133 million—$7 million higher than initially projected—there will be plenty of money flying around starting March 11. But which teams are better positioned to land marquee free agents?
Better yet, what should those teams really do with all that cap space?
Click through for analysis on the five teams with the most money to spend in the coming weeks.
All cap information courtesy of overthecap.com.
Estimated Cap Space: $39.1 million
Positional Needs: offensive line, running back, safety
For all the drama embroiling the Miami Dolphins this offseason, the team is actually in decent shape from a personnel standpoint.
Miami improved to 8-8 last season with a second-year quarterback who had to deal with an offensive line that was like a mashup of glass shattering, a basset hound's howl and Nickelback's latest single.
The Dolphins are keen on prying offensive tackle Eugene Monroe away from the Baltimore Ravens, per The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson:
The Dolphins also very much like Eugene Monroe and plan to pursue both Monroe (if he gets to free agency) and Albert, with the hope of landing one of them, according to sources briefed on the team’s thinking. The Dolphins like both, and would be happy to land either.
Whether Monroe even makes it to free agency is very much in question, with Baltimore eager to keep him.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he’s “very optimistic” about keeping Monroe. But a deal wasn’t imminent as of Tuesday afternoon. And though Monroe’s wife is from Baltimore, Monroe likes Florida and has friends in South Florida. The Dolphins would have a legitimate shot if he makes it to free agency.
There may be a bit of gamesmanship here, with the Dolphins floating their interest out there so Monroe doesn't simply re-sign in Baltimore. It would be a boon for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to have a quality, healthy left tackle protecting his blind side, but that's not the only position on the line Miami needs to address.
The guard position needs some major help, too, with Richie Incognito gone along with his public relations tornado. The market isn't flooded with great options, with 26-year-old Jon Asamoah being arguably the best option if Kansas City doesn't re-sign him.
Speaking of retaining players, the Dolphins should spend a big chunk of that cap space keeping some key contributors. Namely, defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai and cornerback Brent Grimes should be priorities. If they choose to keep all three—assuming deals get done—much of that cap space could vanish.
Estimated Cap Space: $40.9 million
Positional Needs: linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line, running back, pass-rusher, cornerback, safety
For all the success the Indianapolis Colts have had in the past two seasons, it's a wonder that they have so many needs. Of course, good coaching, great quarterback play and an easy schedule certainly helped.
If the Colts are going to stay atop the AFC South and get anywhere in the postseason, general manager Ryan Grigson is going to have to address some of these needs.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne aims to come back from his season-ending knee injury this year, but who knows how effective the 35-year-old wideout will be this coming season (he turns 36 in November).
Grigson doesn't need to go crazy in free agency—particularly with such a deep draft at the position—but adding a quality receiver so the Colts have someone decent aside from T.Y. Hilton and a healthy Wayne can only help.
That defense should be a bigger priority, as The Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder points out:
"We have an owner that's supportive," Grigson said. "Even in the locker room after the game, he's so supportive in what we feel we need, he will let us get. He will be supportive of that and we can go get it."
One of the things the Colts will look at is whether they have the appropriate pieces to play their aggressive 3-4 defense. Grigson suggested that two years is not enough time to rebuild the personnel after going from a traditional 4-3 under former coach Caldwell to Pagano's 3-4. Perhaps the front seven will be a focus of the team's free-agent efforts again.
Among the top options for the Colts on that front seven are Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith, outside linebacker Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers and middle linebackers Karlos Dansby (Arizona Cardinals) and Daryl Smith (Baltimore Ravens).
The Colts will also want to spend some of that money to keep Vontae Davis, for whom Grigson traded a high-round draft pick a couple of years ago.
Estimated Cap Space: $56.1 million
Positional Needs: quarterback, wide receiver, pass-rusher, offensive line, linebacker
The rebuilding continues in Jacksonville, where general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley enter year two.
The team's biggest need is at quarterback, where Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have manned the helm like Captain Jack Sparrow after getting into the store of rum. The Jaguars may consider bringing back Henne, but they are far better off using that No. 3 pick to grab their favorite college quarterback.
Of course, they'll need to provide their new quarterback with some weapons. Receiver Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely, and Cecil Shorts III has had trouble staying healthy.
The free-agent receiver market might be the deepest position in free agency. The Jaguars could feasibly go after Denver's Eric Decker, the Packers' James Jones or Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants, three of the top options in free agency, though Nicks might be too much of an injury risk himself.
Jacksonville needs help on both sides of the line, as well.
With Brad Meester retiring at center, the Jaguars might be in play to sign the biggest prize at the position, Cleveland's Alex Mack. Others like Kansas City guard Jon Asamoah and offensive tackle Zach Strief of the New Orleans Saints are good potential targets if they hit free agency.
Defensively, Cincinnati's Michael Johnson would be a big boost at defensive end, well worth the price for the needy Jaguars.
Estimated Cap Space: $56.8 million
Positional Needs: linebacker, quarterback, running back, wide receiver
The Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins have been kindred spirits this offseason.
Like Miami, Cleveland has been mired in controversy and drama over the past couple of months. The Browns are similarly positioned well from a personnel standpoint, and their cap situation is even better.
With $56.8 million to spend, newly minted general manager Ray Farmer has plenty to work with heading into free agency.
His biggest priority will be to get the team out of a decades-long quarterback purgatory. But that's not really something Farmer can address in free agency with 33-year-old, inconsistent Michael Vick being the best option. Brian Hoyer seemed capable enough of being a bridge to this year's rookie—assuming the Browns take one—when he gets healthy.
The Browns need to address the quarterback position on defense, middle linebacker, after recently letting go of popular D'Qwell Jackson. Like at quarterback, though, there aren't many good options on the market. Daryl Smith and Karlos Dansby might be the best options, but they are on the older side and better suited for 3-4 schemes.
New England's Brandon Spikes might be the answer. The 26-year-old is known as a run-stopper, but he is well-suited to operate in the middle of the Browns defense.
There is also a dearth of talent at running back, a position that has a good market as well. Houston's Ben Tate seems like a great fit in Cleveland, but the Browns could do well with Oakland's Rashad Jennings or even his Raider teammate Darren McFadden.
First thing's first, however—keeping center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward. Both will cost a pretty penny, which will eat into the salary cap. But they are key, young contributors who are worth keeping.
Estimated Cap Space: $66.5 million
Positional Needs: quarterback, pass-rusher, offensive line, wide receiver, running back, safety, cornerback
It seems the Oakland Raiders have a need at every position except punter and kicker, and Sebastian Janikowski is no spring chicken.
Reggie McKenzie stepped into a minefield when he took the general manager gig in Oakland. The Raiders were a mess. Worse, they were in cap hell with no easy road out.
Two years later, McKenzie has successfully piloted the Raider Riverboat up some treacherous waters, and he enters the 2014 offseason with the most cap space in the league.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Raiders should just spend willy-nilly. Coming from the Ted Thompson school of general managing, though, it's unlikely McKenzie will go wild.
That is not to say he won't spend any of that hard-earned cap space, however. He has to spend a significant amount just to get under the 89-percent cap floor.
Bleacher Report's Chris Hansen has an offseason blueprint for the Raiders:
The problem isn’t necessarily getting to the minimum spending threshold; it’s finding the right talent to pay. The only current players who may deserve an extension before 2016 are center Stefen Wisniewski, wide receivers Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, and safety Tyvon Branch.
A center, a safety and two No. 2 wide receivers don’t exactly eat into the funds the Raiders need to spend. McKenzie really has no choice but to turn to free agency to fill the gaps on the roster and to reach the minimum salary threshold.
Given that the Raiders have to spend eventually, agents would be crazy not to at least check with them before letting their clients sign with another team—especially agents with young free agents. When they do come calling, the Raiders may be able to offer what many other teams won’t: another opportunity for a big payday at or before they turn 30.
McKenzie will also need to spend significant money to keep two of their best players, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer and pass rusher Lamarr Houston. There shouldn't be much of an issue there, though they might be forced to put the franchise tag on Houston.