An Updated Look at Every Team's Cap Situation Heading into Start of Free Agency
Spending big doesn't guarantee NFL success, even in the modern free-agency era. However, spending intelligently on the right pieces will help put a team in a better position. Not all needs can be filled through the draft, so making the right moves in free agency is important.
A team's financial capital heading into free agency is extremely important. Again, spending for the sake of spending shouldn't be the goal, but teams that need to fill holes in a hurry will need the money to fill them.
With free agency right around the corner—it officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 12—now is a perfect time to examine which teams have plenty of cap space to play with, which will need to go bargain hunting and which need to make moves to get under the $177.2 million cap.
We'll take a look at all 32 NFL teams and the current cap numbers (courtesy of Spotrac.com), biggest free-agency needs and any relevant rumors for each.
Current cap numbers include pending moves that won't become official until the start of the new league year.
Current Cap Space: $20.41 million
The Arizona Cardinals find themselves in an unusual situation this offseason. The franchise is only two years removed from a 13-3 season and has many notable veterans like Larry Fitzgerald, Tyrann Mathieu and Chandler Jones on its roster. However, it's also entering a different era with new head coach Steve Wilks at the helm.
While Arizona isn't in the middle of a total rebuild the way teams like the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets are, some big changes do have to be made.
The biggest need for the Cardinals is at quarterback. Carson Palmer has retired, and Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley are all pending free agents. Landing a proven starter like Kirk Cousins in free agency would fill a major need and possibly put the Cardinals back in the playoff picture.
"I've played with a wide array of quarterbacks in my career, and I really don't worry about it too much," Fitzgerald told Dan Bickley of AzCentral.com. "But acquiring a guy like Kirk Cousins would definitely put us on the right track. And I like our prospects."
Arizona doesn't have the cap space to give Cousins the best financial offer, but the Cardinals can offer him a decent one. The Cardinals could also look to a quarterback like AJ McCarron or Teddy Bridgewater in free agency.
The Cardinals could also use help along the offensive line and a few new pieces on defense. Arizona isn't in an enviable spot financially, but there should be enough free money to add notable pieces ahead of the draft.
Current Cap Space: $14.81 million
The Atlanta Falcons had ups and downs in 2017, but they're still one of the better teams in the NFC. They've made the postseason for two straight years and should be in good shape for another run if they can maintain their roster.
This, of course, is going to be the tricky part. The Falcons aren't flush with cap space, and they have a number of key players headed toward unrestricted free agency.
Defensive tackles Dontari Poe, Ahtyba Rubin and Derrick Shelby are pending free agents. So is defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Andre Roberts are as well. While Atlanta can reload to a degree through the draft, keeping at least a few of these players has to be a priority.
The Falcons also want to work out an extension for quarterback Matt Ryan, though they don't appear to be in a rush.
"I think you would like to go into the season making sure that things are secured, but there's no time frame," general manager Thomas Dimitroff told reporters at the NFL combine.
If the Falcons can get a new deal done this offseason, they may be able to clear cap space by backloading it. As of now, Ryan is expected to carry a cap hit of $21.65 million. If they can create some space, the Falcons will have a better chance of re-signing key players and could bring in a marquee free agent or two.
Current Cap Space: $9.00 million
As of now, the Baltimore Ravens aren't in a position to be major players in free agency. They have a little more than $11 million in cap space, and players like Ben Watson, Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro are headed toward unrestricted free agency.
Cutting wideout Jeremy Maclin, who had just 440 receiving yards in 2017, would clear $5 million in cap space. This would give the Ravens a little breathing room.
Of course, there are other ways the Ravens can make a big splash ahead of the 2018 draft.
According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, the Ravens have been talking to the agent of Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry about trading for him. The standout slot receiver is set to sign his non-exclusive franchise tender, which would then allow the Dolphins to move him.
Should the Ravens acquire Landry, they would almost certainly work out a contract extension as part of the deal. This would allow them to land Landry without paying close to $17 million for him this season. Securing him would take care of Baltimore's biggest offseason need.
The Ravens aren't that far off from being a playoff contender again—they weren't eliminated from contention until Week 17—and adding a guy like Landry might be enough to get them back into the postseason picture. If they can't land Landry, we probably won't see the Ravens make any major moves until the draft.
Current Cap Space: $25.64 million
The Buffalo Bills have already made a couple of free-agent moves this offseason, inking cornerback Vontae Davis to a one-year, $5 million deal and signing Chris Ivory to a two-year, $5.5 million pact. Even after adding Davis and Ivory, though, the Bills have the space to add talent to their playoff-caliber roster.
However, much of what the Bills do this offseason will come down to how they decide to handle their roster. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus March 16. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported last month that the Bills were interested in trading him.
Buffalo also needs to figure out if veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams wants to come back for another season and if the team wants to re-sign him.
Depending on what transpires with Taylor and Williams, Buffalo could be in the market for a quarterback and a defensive tackle. Most likely, the quarterback would be a short-term guy who can start while the Bills develop Nathan Peterman or a rookie from this year's draft.
The Bills also need help along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the pass rush—Buffalo produced just 27 sacks last season. The Bills should be able to meet one or two of these needs in free agency.
Buffalo made its first playoff appearance in 18 years last season and is in position to build on that campaign heading into 2018.
Current Cap Space: $24.47 million
The Carolina Panthers sit roughly $10 million below the league average in terms of cap space—though teams drowning in cash like the Browns and Jets skew this average. Carolina isn't in bad shape, but the Panthers have a lot of their own players to address before turning to the open market.
Pending free agents on the roster include backup quarterback Derek Anderson, pass-rusher Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, safety Jairus Byrd and All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell. Defensive end Charles Johnson and running back Jonathan Stewart have already been released.
Signing at least a few of these guys has to be part of the game plan, though head coach Ron Rivera has admitted Norwell may not return.
"Andrew being an All-Pro this year, that's certainly raised the bar and deservedly so," Rivera told reporters.
The Panthers may be players for one or two notable external free agents this offseason, but it's more likely they use their cap space to re-sign players who helped them reach the playoffs in 2017. They may look for a starting-caliber guard or defensive back on the open market, but long-term replacements for guys like Stewart will probably be found in the draft.
Current Cap Space: $64.56 million
The Chicago Bears believe they have their franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. Now, it's time to spend their sizable cap capital to surround him with talent.
The Bears have already provided Trubisky with solid offensive and defensive lines, plus a remarkable tandem of running backs. What the Bears lack s talent in the secondary and at the wide receiver position.
"The receiver position is a need position for us," GM Ryan Pace told reporters at the combine, adding, "I think that's an area where you can get better quickly through free agency or the draft."
Fortunately for Chicago, this is a good year to go searching for a receiver in free agency. Names like Wallace, Gabriel, Allen Robinson, Terrelle Pryor, Eric Decker and Danny Amendola should hit the open market. Maclin could end up there too if the Ravens decide to part ways.
Expect Chicago to go hard after one or two of the available receivers while addressing the position in the draft as well. Cornerbacks like Malcolm Butler, Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne should also be on Chicago's radar.
If the Bears can figure out how to upgrade their 32nd-ranked passing attack (175.7 yards per game) and field a secondary that complements their quality pass rush (42 sacks), they'll be a much more competitive team in 2018.
Current Cap Space: $35.40 million
The Cincinnati Bengals are sitting pretty with just over $38 million in cap space. This doesn't put them near the top of the league in terms of available cash, but the Bengals should have enough to go after guys they really want in free agency.
The thing is, the Bengals aren't traditionally major players in free agency. They more often put capital toward re-signing their own guys—though they won't overpay to do so. This is why Cincinnati lost both Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth last offseason. The line Cincinnati fielded in 2017 without those two was a disaster, and the Bengals should be motivated to rebuild it this offseason.
Rebuilding the defensive line, long a strength of the team, also has to be a priority. As a team, the Bengals ranked 31st in rushing (85.4 yards per game) and 30th in run defense (127.9 yards per game allowed) in 2017.
We may see the Bengals a little more active in free agency this year than in years past. Aside from punter Kevin Huber and center Russell Bodine, there aren't many guys Cincinnati should be anxious to retain. Tight end Tyler Eifert is at times a dominant player, but he also has an extensive injury history, so re-signing him is no slam-dunk decision.
"He dealt with an ankle injury that was legitimate," head coach Marvin Lewis told the media at the combine. "Everybody saw what happened. He dealt with an elbow when he was playing football and when you play football, things happen. Hopefully all the things he's dealt with in his back are corrected."
If the Bengals are going to get back to being a playoff team in 2018, they'll have to do more than focus on their own this offseason.
Current Cap Space: $108.92 million
This offseason, the Browns are armed with more cap space than any other team—and that's fortunate. As only the second NFL team to ever go 0-16, the Browns need as much incoming talent as any team in recent memory.
First off, Cleveland needs a franchise quarterback. It has the cash to go hard after a Cousins or a Bridgewater, but it also has the first and fourth overall picks in this year's draft. It's more likely the Browns find their next potential franchise quarterback in the draft. However, adding a veteran like McCarron or Josh McCown as a short-term starter would make sense.
The Browns also desperately need a No. 1 cornerback and a free safety—rookie Jabrill Peppers was woefully miscast there last season. While Cleveland is expected to tender exclusive rights free agent Josh Gordon, it could still use a wideout to partner with him and Corey Coleman.
Running back Isaiah Crowell is the only big-name Brown headed toward unrestricted free agency. However, Cleveland doesn't seem especially interested in re-signing him. Among the reasons why: Crowell has been vocal about his displeasure with his workload, and this year's draft is loaded with running back talent.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, former Penn State back Saquon Barkley is in play for the Browns at No. 1 overall.
There's no denying the Browns were bad in 2017. However, new general manager John Dorsey has the cap space and the draft capital to make them better very quickly.
Current Cap Space: $1.58 million
Under the guidance of owner Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys have had a tendency to do things their own way. That's why it shouldn't be surprising to see them use the franchise tag on defensive end Demarcus Lawrence despite having little cap space to work with.
"We won't let D-Law not be a Dallas Cowboy next year. We'll get that straight right now," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said, per Dave Helman of the team's official website. "We'll do everything we can to try to make something work."
Lawrence signed his tender shortly after Dallas extended the offer, and now the Cowboys are looking at virtually no cap space. This means some additional, cap-saving moves are likely coming.
Getting a long-term deal done with Lawrence before the start of free agency would be ideal. Extending guard Zack Martin, who is set to count more than $9 million against the cap this season, would be an equally prudent move.
Trading wide receiver Dez Bryant would save more than $16 million in cap space, though the Cowboys don't seem eager to move him.
If the Cowboys don't make something happen soon, they're going to have a hard time even navigating the draft financially.
Current Cap Space: $23.90 million
The Denver Broncos still have one of the better defenses in the NFL, but its window as a championship-caliber defense is closing. If the Broncos want to take full advantage while they can, they need to get things figured out on the other side of the ball.
Step No. 1 will be finding a starting quarterback, preferably one who can play right away. While Denver is armed with the fifth overall pick in the draft, there's no guarantee a rookie would be an immediate upgrade over Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch. Because of this, Denver will probably chase a free agent like Cousins, McCarron, Bridgewater, Sam Bradford or Case Keenum. They may also try to acquire Taylor from Buffalo
According to Troy Renck of ABC Denver, Cousins is Plan A, followed by Keenum, while Bradford, McCarron and Taylor serve as backup plans. Of course, it's looking like Denver may already be out of the race for Cousins (more on that later), so perhaps the Broncos should be sifting through their other options.
Once Denver has its quarterback situation figured out, it can turn to needs on the offensive line, at tight end and at wide receiver. If the Broncos can fill one of them in free agency, they'll have more flexibility in the draft.
Everything for Denver, though, starts at quarterback.
Current Cap Space: $27.25 million
The Detroit Lions have a top-end quarterback in Matthew Stafford. They also have a quality receiving corps and a couple of building blocks along the offensive line. What Detroit doesn't have is a dominant defense, which is why defensive guru Matt Patricia was hired as head coach.
It won't be a surprise if Detroit goes after a running back and some new talent for the offensive line in free agency and the draft. The Lions had the league's worst rushing attack and watched Stafford get sacked 47 times last season.
It will be even less of a surprise, though, if Patricia wants to spend big on defense in order to support his ever-shifting scheme.
"Everyone needs to be multiple," Patricia told reporters. "If you're going to do [only] one thing on a football team, it better be outstanding. The rest of it, you look at it and say, 'OK, what can this guy do well? And how many different positions can we put him in to execute at a high level?'"
Detroit has already dedicated more than $17 million to franchise-tag edge-rusher Ziggy Ansah. Next, we could see the Lions go after premier free-agent defenders like Trumaine Johnson and Dontari Poe.
A reunion between Patricia and Malcolm Butler could even be in the cards despite Butler's Super Bowl benching.
"I love Malcolm a lot," Patricia said. "He's like all my players, he's like one of my sons."
Green Bay Packers
Current Cap Space: $16.50 million
The Green Bay Packers have a few spots of need on the roster—like cornerback, pass-rusher and tight end. Considering how much the Packers struggled without Aaron Rodgers last season, it wouldn't hurt to find a better backup QB as well.
However, one priority for Green Bay is to ink Rodgers to a long-term extension.
"I think we certainly would like to get it done sooner rather than later," new GM Brian Gutekunst recently told reporters.
Depending on the terms of Rodgers' extension—assuming it gets done this offseason—Green Bay may end up with a little more money to play with. However, it may be some time before Rodgers is willing to agree to a new deal.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports recently reported that the two sides will likely wait until Cousins has his new contract—and likely becomes the NFL's highest-paid player—before agreeing to terms on their own deal.
With the possible exceptions of cornerback Davon House and safety Morgan Burnett, there aren't any internal free agents the Packers should be too concerned with re-signing. Green Bay may also consider parting with receiver Randall Cobb, which would free up nearly $10 million in cap space in 2018.
Expect the Packers to bring in one or two notable free agents from the open market while continuing to focus on the draft (a typical Packers strategy). NFL Media's Ian Rapoport has reported the Packers are interested in recently released Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Current Cap Space: $63.00 million
Assuming Deshaun Watson comes back at 100 percent after his torn ACL, the Houston Texans appear to have their franchise quarterback. If J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus return at 100 percent from their season-ending injuries, Houston should also have one of the best defensive fronts in the league.
This season, the Texans' focus should be on surrounding Watson with talent and adding elite talent to the secondary. As good as the Texans defense could be at times, it still allowed an average of 237.4 yards per game through the air, 24th in the NFL.
Getting Watson another pass-catcher who can stretch the field and improving the offensive line in front of him should be priorities. So should adding a top-tier cornerback or safety before the draft. However, the Texans are adamant they won't overspend just because they have a lot of cap space.
"It has to make economic sense for us to do it as well so we're never mortgaging the future," GM Brian Gaine said, via the team's official website.
Houston needs to find the right balance between chasing free agents and re-signing its own.
Notable Texans scheduled to become free agents include Eddie Pleasant, Johnathan Joseph, Andre Ellington, Marcus Gilchrist, Chris Clark and longtime backup QB T.J. Yates.
Current Cap Space: $73.88 million
The (hopeful) return of quarterback Andrew Luck should make the Indianapolis Colts a more competitive team in 2018. Even if he's back to 100 percent, though, new head coach Frank Reich and the Colts are in need of a talent influx. Thankfully, Indianapolis has plenty of cap room and should be in position to make some major moves in free agency and the draft. The Colts currently own the third overall pick.
The first step should be to shore up the offensive line in front of Luck. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly are solid building blocks. Adding a guy like Norwell at guard or Cameron Fleming at right tackle would help improve the group.
Indianapolis could also use a receiver to pair with standout T.Y. Hilton and a pass-catching tight end to help stretch the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, it would behoove Indianapolis to improve the secondary. It would also be smart to bring in some pass-rushing help, especially as the team transitions to a 4-3 base defense. Rebuilding the defensive front will be the most immediate challenge of the transformation.
Since the Lions franchised Ansah and the Cowboys franchised Lawrence, there aren't many quality pass-rushers headed to the market—and this could be where Indianapolis goes with the No. 3 pick. However, there are plenty of solid receivers and cornerbacks the Colts could target with their hefty chunk of cap space.
The one thing Indy can't do is allow Luck to come back and again carry a talent-starved roster on his shoulders.
Current Cap Space: $29.52 million
The Jacksonville Jaguars came very close to reaching Super Bowl LII, and they have enough cap space to build on last year's successful roster. The already took a big step by extending quarterback Blake Bortles with a three-year, $54 million deal.
The deal saves Jacksonville $9 million in cap space this offseason while ensuring the franchise won't lose Bortles to another team should he suddenly become an All-Pro next season.
"This wasn't a decision where he's going to be here for a year and we're going to be keeping our eyes out," GM David Caldwell told reporters. "We'll always look to upgrade our team everywhere, but this was a decision for the future of that this is a guy that can grow into the guy for the long term."
Of course, there aren't realistically many positions on Jacksonville's roster that could be upgraded—other than quarterback, if you want to argue that. While the Jaguars may target one or two premier players on the open market, it's more likely they'll look to extend and retain their young players.
Wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are both pending free agents. So are linebacker Paul Posluszny and tight end Mychal Rivera. While the Jaguars may not want to bring everyone back, it would make sense to at least retain either Lee or Robinson.
It would also be wise to bring back backup QB Chad Henne for insurance purposes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Current Cap Space: $20.07 million
The Kansas City Chiefs are officially moving on to the Patrick Mahomes era, which is going to give the team some flexibility in free agency. The Chiefs' current cap number is dependent on the pending trade of quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins.
Moving on from veterans like Smith and linebacker Derrick Johnson will allow the Chiefs to add a few high-end players to an already playoff-caliber roster.
Kansas City should see safety Eric Berry healthy and back in the lineup. However, the defense could still use an influx of talent in the secondary. Kansas City surrendered 247.0 passing yards per game last season, fourth-most in the NFL. It has also agreed to trade Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Chiefs could also use help in the pass rush—they logged just 31 sacks in the regular season—and at defensive tackle. The Chiefs, who ranked 25th against the run, weren't especially stout on the defensive interior either. This becomes an even bigger need if defensive tackle Bennie Logan doesn't return.
In addition to Logan, pending free agents like wideout Albert Wilson, punter Dustin Colquitt and safety Ron Parker could also be in-house priorities. These are players who will need to be replaced in free agency or the draft if they do leave.
The Chiefs should have enough cap space to successfully navigate this offseason.
Los Angeles Chargers
Current Cap Space: $23.21 million
The Los Angeles Chargers were very close to being a playoff team in 2017, despite lacking a decided home-field advantage in most of their games played in Carson. This means the Chargers are looking at a retooling more than a rebuild this offseason.
There are a few positions L.A. could look to upgrade through free agency—like right tackle, center and kicker. However, most of the Chargers cap cash will likely be used to bring back pending free agents of their own and extend contracts.
Re-signing safety Tre Boston has to be a priority for the Chargers, as he emerged as a legitimate playmaker last season with five interceptions and 79 sacks last season. It would also make sense to bring back future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates for another run.
“We’ve still got some things to talk over, but I also realize how much he brings to our football team,” general manager Tom Telesco said of Gates, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. “He showed that last year. So they’re not always easy answers, but he showed at the end of the year what he can still do."
Expect the Chargers to put more of their focus on the draft than free agency. They may find Philip Rivers' eventual replacement and a complement for Melvin Gordon there. According to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times, the Chargers are also interested in drafting their next kicker.
Los Angeles Rams
Current Cap Space: $42.55 million
The Los Angeles Rams are in an interesting position because they already have two trades set up to be executed at the start of the new league year. First, they'll acquire Peters from the Chiefs, and second, they'll be shipping defensive end Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins.
Moving Quinn frees up some cap space, while acquiring Peters means the Rams can afford to let go of Johnson.
The Rams used the non-exclusive franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner on Tuesday, which means Sammy Watkins is guaranteed to be a free agent.
Even after using the tag, the Rams will have enough cap cash to be players on the free-agent market.
There aren't many glaring needs for the Rams, other than replacing their departing free agents. They could use improvements on the interior of their offensive line to help spring MVP candidate Todd Gurley. They could also use an edge-rusher to complement the powerful interior defensive line.
L.A. had 48 sacks during the regular season, but 11.0 of those came from defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Another 8.5 came from the departing Quinn.
Given the talent pool expected to be available in free agency, it would make sense for the Rams to go after a top-tier guard while waiting for the draft for an elite pass-rushing prospect. The rest of their spending will likely be done to fill out depth and to get guys like Donald—who is in the final year of his current deal—extended.
Current Cap Space: -$18.53 million
The Dolphins aren't in great shape cap-wise. Once Landry signs his franchise tender and the acquisition of Quinn becomes official, the team will be substantially over the cap. Miami may be able to find cap relief, though.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins will part ways with tight end Julius Thomas and linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Salguero also believes Miami may rescind the fifth-year option on Ja'Wuan James.
These three moves would save Miami roughly $21 million and would get the team under the cap.
The money-saving moves may not end there, though. There is still the possibility that the Dolphins could trade Landry, which would wipe his salary of nearly more than $16 million off the books. Per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins have given Landry permission to facilitate a trade.
Getting a long-term deal done with Landry would also almost certainly lower his 2018 cap number. The addition of Quinn may also prompt the Dolphins to move on from another pass-rusher, such as Cameron Wake. Releasing Wake would save another $5 million.
Even though the Dolphins will be able to get under the cap—possibly without moving Landry—Miami probably won't be a major player in free agency.
Current Cap Space: $48.10 million
It's not a stretch to say the Minnesota Vikings are close to being a complete team. They managed to make the NFC title game with a journeyman at quarterback and without standout rookie running back Dalvin Cook for the majority of the season.
Minnesota's defense was ranked first in both points (15.8) and yards (275.9) allowed per game.
If the Vikings can find an upgrade at quarterback, they will likely be Super Bowl contenders. And that quarterback could very well be Cousins. At least one other team believes Minnesota has the inside track.
"The Jets are worried he might already be destined to sign with the Vikings instead," Ralph Vacchiano of SNY recently wrote. "According to a team source, they are aware of the leaguewide speculation that Cousins is ticketed for Minnesota and they are taking that threat seriously after some informal, preliminary talks with his camp this week."
If the Vikings land Cousins, they may still bring back one of their three free-agent quarterbacks—Bridgewater, Keenum and Bradford—as a backup. Still, they'd be set with their starter and could then focus on retaining players like running back Jerick McKinnon and kicker Kai Forbath—though if Cook is healthy, McKinnon won't be a priority.
The Vikings may also be able to bring in one or two other notable free agents, though aside from the offensive line, they don't have many glaring areas of need.
New England Patriots
Current Cap Space: $19.60 million
We're used to seeing the New England Patriots adjust from year to year, remaining consistent throughout roster changes. While New England is probably best known for relying on the "Patriot Way," a reliance on the system hasn't stopped Bill Belichick and Co. from making splashes in the offseason—just look to last year's trade frenzy for some examples.
This offseason, the Patriots are going to have some serious work ahead of them. Yes, New England was just in the Super Bowl, but its defense was one of the worst we've seen from the franchise in some time. It wasn't deep either, as evidenced by the woeful performance in the Super Bowl after Butler was benched.
"We put the players and game plan out there that we thought would be the best, like we always do," Belichick said after New England's 41-33 loss, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
Belichick can say what he will, but it feels unlikely Butler was benched solely because of the game plan. It feels equally unlikely that he'll be back in New England next season, which makes for one more piece the Patriots are going to have to replace. He is far from the only one.
Other notable pending free agents include Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Harrison, Johnson Bademosi and Marquis Flowers.
New England cannot afford to re-sign all of these players, but it wouldn't be surprising to see them bring back Amendola, Lewis and Flowers at the least. It also wouldn't be surprising to see New England seek trades like last offseason. This would allow the Patriots to potentially add a difference-maker without using up their below-average amount of cap space.
New Orleans Saints
Current Cap Space: $30.86 million
The New Orleans Saints are right in the middle of the league in terms of cap space, though their number will drop once the three-year deal being given to safety Kurt Coleman becomes official. Bringing him in most likely means the Saints are willing to part with pending free agent Kenny Vaccaro.
One guy the Saints don't want to part with(and can't afford to) is quarterback Drew Brees. While Brees may be nearing the end of his career, he's still playing at a high level. New Orleans, in turn, gives Brees an opportunity to get back to the playoffs immediately.
Presumably, the two sides want each other.
"I think the important thing is Drew wants to be a New Orleans Saint," general manager Mickey Loomis said, per Herbie Teope of the Times-Picayune. "We want him to be a New Orleans Saint, so he's going to be a New Orleans Saint. That's what my expectation is, and we'll see about the timing of that."
The question isn't if the Saints will bring back Brees, but how much of their remaining cap space it will take to do so.
Once Brees is locked up—which assumes something doesn't go wrong—the Saints may then focus on retaining guys like linebacker Alex Okafor and backup quarterback Chase Daniel. They may also look for a reunion with tight end Jimmy Graham.
According to NFL Media's Tom Pelissero, the Saints are interested in bringing Graham back this offseason.
New York Giants
Current Cap Space: $22.88 million
The New York Giants have a massive decision to make this offseason. Do they go all in on another run with Eli Manning at quarterback, or do they start a youth movement to prepare for his eventual departure?
New head coach Pat Shurmur believes Manning has "years" left as an NFL starter, according to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano.
This suggests New York is likely to plan on building around Manning in free agency and the draft. This means the No. 1 goal has to be upgrading the offensive line. The line in front of Manning has been a weakness for some time, and that has led to consistent pressure on Manning and an inefficient running game.
As a team, New York averaged just 96.8 yards per game on the ground, 26th in the NFL.
Adding a premier guard or a top-end tackle in free agency would make a lot of sense. It would also make sense to add a quality runner to the backfield and a top-end cornerback to the secondary.
Orleans Darkwa was a serviceable back, but he wasn't a workhorse. Despite featuring some big names, the Giants defense allowed 252.4 passing yards per game, second-most in the NFL. It wouldn't hurt to upgrade the linebacker core either. New York has some quality pass-rushers, but it often struggled in the middle of the field.
The Giants don't have a ton of cash to spend, but if they can address multiple needs in free agency, they'll be free to use their second overall draft pick on a quarterback of the future.
New York Jets
Current Cap Space: $92.08 million
The Jets already had the second-most cap space in the NFL before releasing Wilkerson—a move that became official Monday. Now they have even more available cash and should be major players in free agency.
Naturally, the first order of business is to address the quarterback position. Obviously, Cousins is the top target. While New York may be nervous about losing Cousins to the Vikings, they aren't out of the race just yet.
"In the end, two teams, at most, will have a true opportunity to land Kirk Cousins," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora recently wrote. "And based on everything I heard last week at the combine, I anticipate those two teams being the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings."
The Vikings can offer Cousins a better chance to win now, but the Jets can offer him the most money and the chance to shine in a big market. Plus, New York is closer to contention than one might think. Adding a quarterback is the first piece; upgrading the offensive line and adding a premier wideout should be the next steps.
The Jets could also use a top-tier cornerback and a running back to complement Bilal Powell. Even if the Jets hand Cousins a massive contract, they should still be able to address one or two of these other needs in free agency. The rest can be looked at early in the draft.
Aside from tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and linebacker Demario Davis, there aren't many players the Jets should be scrambling to re-sign—though McCown would be a top option if New York misses out on Cousins.
Current Cap Space: $19.13 million
The Oakland Raiders took a big step back in 2017, and there were a few reasons for this. Quarterback Derek Carr wasn't the same player coming back from a severe leg injury, the offensive line wasn't as dominant as it was the year before, and receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were inconsistent.
It's difficult to tell what Oakland will do with Jon Gruden now at the helm as head coach—Gruden has spent a decade away from coaching. We can probably expect Gruden to make some notable changes, though, and we can expect him to have a definitive plan.
"It's not like I've been in the dark," Gruden recently joked, per Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Based on what we saw last year, Gruden will probably look for an upgrade at the cornerback position—Oakland ranked 26th in pass defense, allowing 241.1 yards per game. He may also want upgrades along the offensive line and at running back. Tackle Donald Penn will soon turn 35, and Marshawn Lynch isn't the same runner he once was.
Releasing Lynch would save nearly $6 million in cap space.
Oakland doesn't have a ton of pending free agents it needs to prioritize, though it would make a lot of sense to bring back linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
The Raiders should be able to afford a couple of significant additions before the draft, especially if Lynch is shown the door.
Current Cap Space: -$9.13 million
The Philadelphia Eagles are defending Super Bowl champions, which should make the fact they're unlikely to be free-agency winners a lot easier to swallow. As of now, the Eagles are over the salary cap.
This should be changing soon. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Philadelphia is expected to release defensive end Vinny Curry. Parting ways with him would clear roughly $5 million in cap space for this season.
The Eagles could save another $7.6 million by trading backup quarterback Nick Foles, though it would take a high-end offer to acquire the Super Bowl MVP. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, it would take at least a first- and a fourth-round pick to get him.
Geoff Mosher of 97.5 The Fanatic reported that at least one unnamed team has offered up a second-round pick for Foles. This appears to be the current starting point for negotiations, though it isn't close to what the Eagles are asking.
Philadelphia will probably find more creative ways to clear cap space than getting rid of its safety net under center. According to executive vice president Howie Roseman, parting with key players isn't the ideal plan.
"We're not on short sale right now," Roseman said, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com. "We're very comfortable with our roster and our flexibility to make moves that we have to make."
The Eagles aren't likely to be in buyer's mode during free agency, but that's OK. Maintaining a championship roster is a lot easier than building one from scratch.
Current Cap Space: $-8.67 million
The biggest question the Pittsburgh Steelers have going into the offseason is whether Le'Veon Bell will sign his franchise tender. Pittsburgh was up against the cap but didn't hesitate to use the franchise tag on Bell for a second consecutive year.
Bell, however, has stated before that he'd rather retire than play under the tag again, and it seems he isn't backing off that stance.
"I just have to decide if I'm going to play when the time comes," Bell said, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com.
The Steelers could, of course, still get a long-term deal done with their star running back, but it doesn't appear the two sides are even remotely close on a contract.
"They are too low, or I guess they feel I'm too high," Bell said. "I'm playing for strictly my value to the team. That's what I'm asking. I don't think I should settle for anything less than what I'm valued at."
The Steelers don't have any other pending free agents close to Bell's talent level, so we can expect the running back to be Pittsburgh's primary priority. The Steelers also don't need many additional pieces to remain one of the top teams in the AFC. Therefore, we're likely to see them rely on the draft, not free agency, to add fresh talent.
San Francisco 49ers
Current Cap Space: $67.03 million
The San Francisco 49ers cut into their cap space significantly by handing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a new five-year, $137.5 million deal. That's fine because it means the 49ers have their franchise quarterback locked up for the long term and still have plenty of cap room to play with.
While locking up Garoppolo takes care of the game's most important position, San Francisco still has a number of needs to address through free agency and the draft. Upgrading the 24th-ranked defense (351.6 yards per game allowed) should be a major priority, and it would make sense to go after a top-tier cornerback and a quality edge-rusher early—San Francisco logged just 30 sacks in 2017.
The 49ers already appear to be a finalist for Trumaine Johnson, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.
On the other side of the ball, San Francisco should look to upgrade the line in front of San Francisco's biggest investment. Solder or Norwell are ideal targets. The 49ers also need to put better weapons around Garoppolo to maximize Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Fortunately, there are some quality offensive skill players headed toward the open market, and we may see a few of them make their way to San Francisco. Gabriel would be a natural fit for Shanahan's offense, having already experienced it in Atlanta. Landry is another potential fit, should the 49ers be willing to make a trade.
Expect the 49ers to be relevant during free agency—and quite possibly in the regular season too.
Current Cap Space: $11.71 million
The Seattle Seahawks have some work to do this offseason if they're going to get back to being a Super Bowl contender in 2018. The first phase of their plan has to involve upgrading the offensive line. This is an area of the team that has been neglected for far too long.
While the line did show some signs of improvement last season, Russell Wilson was still sacked 43 times—which is entirely too often. New pieces Luke Joeckel and Duane Brown helped, but not enough. Plus, Joeckel is a pending free agent.
Perhaps it's finally time for Seattle to invest heavily in protecting Wilson. Adding a guy like Norwell or Solder would help to that end. However, the Seahawks would almost certainly have to move some of their own pieces to afford such an upgrade.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday the Seahawks hope to trade defensive end Michael Bennett, who will count more than $8 million against the cap. Safety Earl Thomas, however, appears to be safe from a potential trade.
Rapoport noted that Thomas is "firmly in their plans for the 2018 season."
The futures of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril are more uncertain. All three suffered season-ending injuries in 2017. Chancellor and Avril suffered neck injuries that may be career-threatening. All three are set to be under contract in 2018.
This season, we may see a transition from a defense-oriented Seahawks team to one that is built more around Wilson (adding a running back would help). Seattle has a lot of decisions to make this offseason, not all of them related to free agency and the draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Current Cap Space: $73.10 million
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won just five games in 2017 and were the only team in the NFC South to miss out on the postseason. It's safe to say they could use a leg up in the talent department, and they are armed with lots of cap space to make improvements.
Overhauling the defense has to be priority No. 1. The Buccaneers allowed a league-high 378.1 yards per game. Defensive backs have to be high on the defensive wish list—Tampa allowed 260.6 yards passing per game, most in the league—but a pass-rusher has to be the top target.
No team had fewer than the 22 sacks the Buccaneers posted in 2017.
Free agency isn't expected to feature many pass-rushers this year—it rarely does. Therefore, it makes sense to go after a cornerback like Butler or Johnson while addressing edge-rusher in the draft.
Revamping the defensive front is also on the agenda—tackles Clinton McDonald and Sealver Siliga are pending free agents, as is end Will Clarke. Defensive tackle Chris Baker has already been released, and defensive end Robert Ayers is expected to be released, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Tampa is also in need of a new starting running back, as Doug Martin is another veteran who has already been released.
The good news is that the Buccaneers have enough cap space to fill several of their needs through free agency this season. Expect them to be players early on.
Current Cap Space: $49.16 million
The Tennessee Titans are in position to take a big step forward in 2018. They were a playoff team last season—they even managed to advance to the divisional round—and they have more than the average amount of money to play with in the offseason.
Field-stretching targets for quarterback Marcus Mariota to utilize have to be at the top of their needs list. Tight end Delanie Walker led the team with 807 yards receiving. Wideouts Decker and Harry Douglas are pending free agents.
New head coach Mike Vrabel has made it clear that he wants to build around Mariota on offense.
"The vision is that we're going to do things that are going to help him," Vrabel said, via the team's official website. "We're going to get guys around him that are going to help him."
If Vrabel's plan for Mariota really is a priority, then it wouldn't be surprising to see Tennessee go after some of the big fish at wide receiver in free agency. It also wouldn't be a shock to see the Titans working hard to retain guard Josh Kline, one of the more underrated players hitting the market.
Surrounding Mariota with better talent should improve the passing game, help stretch the field and, in turn, help improve Tennessee's powerful running game.
On defense, it would make sense to add a premier free agent to the secondary, which surrendered an average of 239.2 yards per game through the air. Only seven teams allowed more.
Current Cap Space: $31.63 million
Things are a tad complicated when it comes to Washington's current cap number. It'll have over $34 million in cap space after completing the trade for Smith. However, that figure includes Smith's current contract. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Washington and Smith have already agreed to a four-year extension.
Depending on how bonus money is spread on this extension, the cap number could change again.
Regardless, the Redskins are in the top half of the league in terms of cap space, which puts them in a good position heading into free agency. While Washington isn't in need of a complete roster overhaul, there are some positions that need upgraded.
Washington needs talent and depth along the offensive line and could use some help in the secondary. Adding some pieces to shore up the 32nd-ranked run defense (134.1 yards per game allowed) should be a major priority. The Redskins will also need a replacement for wideout Pryor, who is expected to leave in free agency.
Running is also an area the Redskins want to upgrade.
"We need to upgrade running back. Ain't no doubt about it," team executive Doug Williams said, per Matthew Paras of the Washington Times.
The Redskins have the cap space to make some significant moves in free agency, though running back may be a position they address in the draft. If they can snag a top-end corner and a couple of quality run defenders on the open market, they'll be well-positioned to do exactly that.
*All contract and cap information via Spotrac.com