The Biggest Salary-Cap Question for Every NFL Team
The football world is focused on Super Bowl XLIX as the New England Patriots will clash with the Seattle Seahawks in less than two weeks...on a corner in Glendale, Arizona.
Sorry, the Philadelphia Eagles won’t be making an appearance.
But along with 31 other teams in the league, they do have some decisions to make in terms of 2015—be it sooner or later. Just because a team has an abundance of room under the cap—and the rollover from 2014 has not been figured in as of yet—doesn’t mean it won’t be making some roster moves this offseason.
A few weeks after previewing each team’s potential salary-cap number for 2015, we’ll speculate on perhaps the biggest financial decision every club will have to make. From roster cuts to restructuring, we will look at the key salary-cap question facing each franchise and how they may deal with it.
Earlier this month, Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac speculated about key cap casualties around the league. Here, we will make sure we address every team.
It should be noted that the following 32 players listed are not recommended cuts. They are what we feel may be part of the team’s most important financial decision, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a parting of the ways.
So before you think we’re getting rid of the following veterans, take it easy.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Larry Fitzgerald
The Arizona Cardinals reached the playoffs in 2014 despite plenty of adversity. Now they have to make a decision regarding the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald led the Cards in catches this past season but totaled only 63 receptions and two touchdowns in 14 games. It was the first time since 2007 that the veteran performer did not play in all 16 contests.
In 2015, Fitzgerald will cost Arizona $23.6 million in cap space. But last month, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that the veteran wide receiver won’t be released by the club despite carrying that hefty cap hit.
But does that mean this Cardinal won’t be flying elsewhere? Stay tuned.
Atlanta Falcons: LT Sam Baker
It’s basically been a couple of lost seasons for the former USC Trojan Sam Baker. The team’s other first-round draft choice by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 (along with quarterback Matt Ryan) was selected to protect the franchise’s investment behind center.
That was the plan, and it held up for the most part during Baker’s first five seasons in the league. But the veteran left tackle missed 12 games in 2013 and all of this past season with a torn patellar tendon.
He carries a $7.3 million cap hit next season.
Releasing Baker this offseason could create a little more cap space for a team that is already in pretty good shape in this department.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Dennis Pitta
During the team’s Super Bowl season of 2012, Pitta set career highs for catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdown receptions (seven). He followed that up with 14 grabs for 163 yards and three scores in the club’s four-game postseason run.
But staying healthy has been nearly impossible for Pitta over the last two seasons. He’s played a total of seven regular-season games since 2013 and caught just 36 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown over that span.
The Ravens are dangerously close to the cap and Pitta could be a victim of that predicament.
Other veterans such as Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Elvis Dumervil and Marshal Yanda may be asked to restructure their contracts this offseason, but Pitta may indeed be the odd man out.
Buffalo Bills: DE Mario Williams
They are also a team that appears to be in excellent shape when it comes to the salary cap. However, the club certainly has a few key free agents it certainly wouldn’t mind bringing back.
One of those is defensive end Jerry Hughes, who has found a home since being traded by the Indianapolis Colts to the Bills in 2013. In 32 games with Buffalo, he’s totaled 20 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Don’t worry, Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams isn’t going anywhere. But as Mike Rodak of ESPN.com points out, he could restructure his deal and make life easier for the Bills to retain Hughes.
Carolina Panthers: RB DeAngelo Williams
Once upon a time, the Carolina Panthers had a pair of running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who became the first teammates in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards in the same season.
That was in 2009. Injuries have taken their toll on this tandem in recent seasons. However, down the stretch in 2014, Stewart became the main threat out of the backfield and helped the Panthers to the NFC South title.
So does Williams, who played in only six games and ran for only 219 yards in 2014, have a future with the club after nine seasons? David Newton of ESPN.com doesn’t seem to think so.
Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler
There are a bunch of new sheriffs in town when it comes to the Windy City.
The latest head coach of the Chicago Bears is former Denver Broncos head coach John Fox. On Tuesday, Patrick Finley of The Chicago Sun-Times reported that he was joined by heralded defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Now Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune indicates the team has added Adam Gase, who worked with Fox in Denver, to serve as offensive coordinator.
So what does this all mean for quarterback Jay Cutler, who certainly had his issues in 2014? The strong-armed signal-caller threw for 28 scores and 18 interceptions. He also signed a lucrative deal last offseason, so new general manager Ryan Pace may have a very big decision to make.
Cincinnati Bengals: CB Leon Hall
Let’s forget for one moment what the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t done and focus on what they have accomplished. The franchise has reached the playoffs in a team-record four consecutive years.
This is a team with a lot of young talent due to the fact that it has drafted extremely well in recent years. It rarely delves heavily into free agency and probably won’t again due to the fact that it is in good shape in terms of the salary cap.
Veteran cornerback Leon Hall was a first-round pick in 2007, but the eight-year veteran has had problems staying healthy in the last four years. While it would probably be a bit surprising for the Bengals to part ways with the talented defender, don’t rule out a restructuring of his contract. His 2015 cap hit is $9.6 million.
Tackle Andre Smith could be in the same boat as well with his $6.8 million cap hit.
Cleveland Browns: DL Phil Taylor
A first-round pick in 2011, Phil Taylor has never quite lived up to that lofty billing in four seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He was limited to five games this past year and totaled only 10 tackles.
Taylor hasn’t played all 16 games since his rookie season, when he totaled four sacks and 59 tackles. He’s played in just 28 games since, totaling three sacks and 50 tackles.
Last May, Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com reported that the Browns picked up the fifth-year option on Taylor. Is it a decision that they might wind up regretting? We will soon find out.
Dallas Cowboys: CB Brandon Carr
It seems like there’s always concern regarding the "D" of the Dallas Cowboys.
This offseason, that "D" relates to both wide receiver Dez Bryant (the league leader in touchdown receptions this past season) and running back DeMarco Murray (the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014), who are both on the verge of becoming unrestricted free agents.
How does do-it-all owner and general manager Jerry Jones handle this knowing his team is cap-strapped...again? Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com wrote about the possibility of the old “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario.
In other words, cornerback Brandon Carr could be in line for a pay cut...or something else.
“Carr played well this year and I’m not as critical of Carr as others,” Jones told reporters. “But that’s a lot of money. One thing that we've just got to do is we’ve got to make sure that every way we can we get the value for the money.”
The seventh-year pro totaled 54 tackles and knocked down eight passes for the Cowboys in 2014. But he also failed to record an interception for the first time in his career.
Carr is entering the fourth year of a five-year deal with Jones and Co. At least that’s the plan for now.
Denver Broncos: QB Peyton Manning
Will he or won’t he?
If he does return, it will be under new head coach Gary Kubiak. General manager John Elway’s former backup on the field is now his main man on the sidelines.
Still, we will all have to play the waiting game regarding Manning, who played late in the season with a torn quad muscle that certainly affected his play.
The second-seeded Broncos were knocked out of the running for Super Bowl XLIX by the Indianapolis Colts, 24-13, in the divisional round. It was the second home playoff loss in three years for the Denver.
Soon, we’ll find out if Manning plans on making the Broncos his home in 2015. Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap shows us the ramifications of any possible decision.
Detroit Lions: RB Reggie Bush
It’s almost hard to believe that running back Reggie Bush has already played nine NFL seasons.
The last two have been with the Detroit Lions. One year after totaling 1,512 yards from scrimmage and scoring 11 touchdowns in 14 games, injuries limited Bush to 11 outings, 550 yards from scrimmage and two scores this past season.
With young runners such as Joique Bell and Theo Reddick in tow, Bush’s days in the Motor City appear to be numbered.
But if the Lions release the veteran performer, does that get them any closer to making a huge offer to Pro Bowl defensive tackle and free agent Ndamukong Suh? Or will the organization put the franchise tag on the disruptive defender?
Green Bay Packers: LB Brad Jones
General manager Ted Thompson has done a terrific job running the Green Bay Packers. But he has some work to do this offseason.
The team’s potential unrestricted free-agent list could include tackle Bryan Bulaga, electrifying wideout Randall Cobb and Pro Bowl fullback John Kuhn. The team may also want to bring back veteran cornerback Tramon Williams as well as defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who missed all of 2014.
Green Bay is roughly $16 million under the salary cap. Could linebacker Brad Jones’ roster spot be in danger if the Pack would like a little more financial flexibility? His 2015 cap hit is $4.75 million.
Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson
The future could be bright for the Houston Texans, although the team came up short of a playoff berth in 2014.
But will that future include veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson? At this moment, the franchise is roughly less than $9 million under the salary cap and may have a few potential free agents it may want to bring back.
Head coach Bill O’Brien led the team to a 9-7 season in his NFL head-coaching debut and helped erased the memory of a 2-14 finish in 2013. The team’s quarterback situation remains in question, as does the future of Johnson. In 12 seasons, he ranks ninth in NFL history with 1,012 receptions.
Indianapolis Colts: OLB Robert Mathis
One of the league’s best sack artists did not play football in 2014.
Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis missed all of this past season due to injury. Even if he was healthy, he was going to miss the first four games due to a league suspension for violation of the substance-abuse policy.
Letting Mathis go this offseason would save Indianapolis $4 million dollars on the salary cap. But do the Colts feel as if he still has plenty left in the tank? The team has plenty of cap room to play with.
Why mention Mathis here with disappointing Trent Richardson on the roster? Remember, this is about the biggest salary-cap question for each team. In the case of Richardson, there seems to be no debate regarding his future.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Roy Miller
The Jacksonville Jaguars dipped into free agency in 2013 with the signing of defensive tackle Roy Miller.
Gus Bradley’ defense ranked 29th versus the run in Miller’s first season with the team. This past season, the Jaguars’ once-inept pass rush finally came to life after a couple of mediocre years. But Jacksonville still ranked 27th in rushing defense.
Miller’s two-year stint in Jacksonville, after four seasons with Tampa Bay, may be coming to an end. Could the Miami Dolphins be looking for some defensive line help this offseason?
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Dwayne Bowe
What can you say about a team that goes through an entire season without a touchdown reception by a wide receiver?
In 2014, the former Pro Bowler finished second on the team with 70 receptions and the aforementioned zero scores. The previous season, Bowe caught 57 passes for five touchdowns, but running back Jamaal Charles led the team with seven scoring receptions. The Chiefs could save $5 million dollars in salary-cap room by releasing the one-time first-round pick.
But is that actually the smart move?
Miami Dolphins: WR Mike Wallace
It wasn’t long ago that the Miami Dolphins were making one of the bigger splashes around the league during free agency, signing former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract.
But the splash has been more like belly-flop, with the emphasis on flop. In two seasons in South Florida, one of the league’s most feared deep threats has caught 140 passes, 15 for touchdowns. But Wallace has also averaged only 12.8 yards per reception, certainly not what was expected from the former Pro Bowler.
Per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, general manager Dennis Hickey was recently very noncommittal about Wallace’s future with the club. Whether or not releasing Wallace helps the Dolphins is another story, but it’s certainly an issue that will be addressed this offseason.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson
Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune takes a look at the team’s future at running back and whether the Vikings can afford to have Peterson on the roster. And we mean that in a financial sense.
Of course, there’s also a matter of reinstatement from his league-induced suspension. That’s something we won’t know about until April. It makes for a very tenuous situation.
New England Patriots: CB Darrelle Revis
First things first. Per Jeff Howe of BostonHerald.com, here's a look back at how quarterback Tom Brady freed up a little cash for his team.
A few years ago, the last thing some could imagine was then-New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis in a New England Patriots uniform.
Now off one of his best seasons, it’s hard to imagine Revis not being with the Patriots down the road. But can the reigning AFC champions afford the superior cornerback down the road?
The Patriots have much bigger concerns these days, and we’re not even talking about the team’s Super Bowl XLIX meeting with the Seattle Seahawks.
And can you imagine if Revis comes up big on Super Sunday and adds a Super Bowl MVP to his already-impressive resume?
New Orleans Saints: ILB Curtis Lofton
The New Orleans Saints were easily one of the league’s most disappointing teams in 2014, and much of that stemmed from the play of a defense that had supposedly turned the corner.
Now with some major salary-cap issues to deal with, could the house-leaning in the Big Easy be ready to commence?
Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton easily led the team with 145 tackles this past season. He’s played just seven years with the Saints and Atlanta Falcons, but could he be one of many Saints that will either be playing elsewhere or have their contracts re-done this offseason?
New York Giants: DE Mathias Kiwanuka
Back when the New York Giants were winning their last two Super Bowls, the team’s potent pass rush pounded New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into submission, so to speak.
But that ability to get to the quarterback has basically eluded Big Blue in recent seasons, and former first-round draft choice Mathias Kiwanuka comes off a shaky year. In 11 games he produced only 2.5 sacks, giving him just 38.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons with the Giants.
This past season, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul responded with 12.5 sacks, and with the possibility of becoming a free agent, he could receive the franchise tag from the club. So where does that leave Kiwanuka and his future with the Giants? There may not be one.
New York Jets: WR Percy Harvin
Now new general manager Mike Maccagnan and new head coach Todd Bowles will decide whether Harvin is worth his lofty price tag for 2015. It’s among several questions Seth Walder of the New York Daily News said Maccagan would have to answer.
-- What is the plan for Percy Harvin?
This will be one of the earliest dilemmas for the new general manager. Maccagnan has to decide if Percy Harvin is worth having at $10.5 million next season, worth having at a lower price if one can be negotiated or not worth having at all.
The second answer seems the most likely, but it will be interesting to see how open Maccagnan will be about his plans for the controversial wide receiver. In all likelihood, he’ll filibuster and say Harvin still has to be evaluated.
Oakland Raiders: QB Matt Schaub
Unfortunately for the veteran signal-caller, this may be considered a no-brainer.
It was another rough season for the Oakland Raiders, who still haven’t enjoyed a winning campaign since going to Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.
The Silver and Black obtained quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans for a sixth-round draft choice last spring. He continued to look like a player that had lost his confidence and would lose the starting job to rookie Derek Carr.
Now it wouldn't be a major surprise if he lost his roster spot in Oakland as new head coach Jack Del Rio looks to get this franchise back on track.
Philadelphia Eagles: ILB DeMeco Ryans
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
So what does game film tell you? The Philadelphia Eagles finished 10-6 for the second straight season, but this time around, there was no NFC East title or playoff appearance.
Chip Kelly’s defense certainly had its ups and down this season, especially when it came to the secondary. While actor and Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper could be found with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in the owner’s suite, cornerback Bradley Fletcher was getting torched like scrapple on the field.
But the Eagles defense, much improved when it came to rushing the passer, had its problems elsewhere. Only four teams in the NFL allowed more total yards than Philadelphia.
It didn’t help that inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans missed the second half of the season with what proved to be an Achilles injury. But with nine NFL seasons under his belt, will he be back for another with these Birds?
The odds say yes. But as Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com speculates, not without a little restructuring of his contract.
Pittsburgh Steelers: SS Troy Polamalu
Say the name Troy Polamalu and then the word "cut" and admit it, we are all thinking hair.
But the reality is that the 12-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of the franchise’s most celebrated defensive players may not be back for a team that has had to deal with cap issues in recent seasons.
Scott Brown of ESPN.com weighs in on Polamalu’s future with the club, as well as some other notable veterans who have been a part of the Steelers family for many years.
Rooney has said he wants Polamalu to retire as a Steeler, but the safety is coming off a season in which he did not record a sack or intercept a pass for the first time since 2007.
Polamalu, who will turn 34 in April, has two years left on his contract. He said after Pittsburgh's AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this month that it is fair to question whether he has played his last game for the Steelers.
St. Louis Rams: QB Sam Bradford
It’s not often you can say that a team has a pair of first overall picks on their roster and winds up with another losing season.
Of course, when one is out for the season and the other is limited to seven games, that’s a problem. The latter is in regards to left tackle Jake Long, who was injured late in 2013 and rebounded to make only a few appearances this past season.
The big question is quarterback Sam Bradford, who the St. Louis Rams made the first selection in the 2010 draft but have not seen nearly as much of as they needed to. Two of Bradford’s first four seasons were cut short by injury, and he never saw the field in 2014.
Will he be in a Rams uniform this fall? That’s the millions-of-dollars question.
San Diego Chargers: OLB Jarret Johnson
One year after going out with a bang and grabbing a playoff berth, the San Diego Chargers went out with a whimper in 2014. Despite finishing with a 9-7 record for the second consecutive season, the Bolts were on the outside looking in come the postseason.
San Diego’s defense finished ninth in the NFL in total yards allowed, but that’s deceptive considering the team ranked 26th in the league against the run.
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson’s three-year stint in San Diego may be coming to an end. The team has numerous free agents to re-sign and his release would open up some cap space. The 12-year pro has totaled 25.5 career sacks, 5.5 sacks in 41 games with the Chargers.
San Francisco 49ers: TE Vernon Davis
After three consecutive appearances in the NFC title game, there was no postseason appearance at all for the 8-8 San Francisco 49ers in 2014.
Now we’ll be finding out just how many 49ers won’t be Niners with the start of 2015. The team is currently over the salary cap, hence both general manager Trent Baalke and new head coach Jim Tomsula have some work to do.
Could veteran tight end Vernon Davis be a salary-cap casualty? The once-productive offensive weapon scored a pair of touchdowns in a Week 1 win over the Dallas Cowboys this past season and never reached the end zone again. The nine-year veteran had problems staying healthy this past season, and his release could give the Niners some needed salary-cap relief.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch
Fortunately for head coach Pete Carroll, the team’s season continues to extend itself. The Seahawks are in preparation for the second consecutive Super Bowl, this time against the New England Patriots.
It’s all speculation at the moment, but Lynch’s offseason release could not only save the Seahawks roughly $7 million in cap space, but pave the way for talented runners Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.
Still, these beastly defending Super Bowl champions would certainly be less threatening minus the most punishing running back in the league. And despite months of speculation, it would still be surprising to see the Seahawks cash in their Skittles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Vincent Jackson
To say that 2014 was a disappointing season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be a gross understatement.
"Gross" would certainly describe the team’s performance at times. "Under" would be the way to describe the team’s salary-cap situation, which is not a bad thing.
Despite leading the team with 70 receptions this past season, wide receiver Vincent Jackson scored only two touchdowns. Rookie wideout Mike Evans enjoyed a banner year, but it’s Jackson that signed that five-year, $55.5 million dollar contract in 2012.
Although general manager Jason Licht has room to play with, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bucs restructured Jackson’s contract, as was the case in 2013.
Tennessee Titans: RB Shonn Greene
You could make a case that the Tennessee Titans were the worst team in the league this past season. Of course, 10 consecutive losses to end the 2014 would make for a strong case.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt will be back for a second go-around, but will running back Shonn Greene? The franchise added the former New York Jets workhorse in 2013 but also made Bishop Sankey the first running back taken in last spring’s draft.
In his final season with the Jets, Greene played in 16 games, ran for 1,063 yards and eight scores. In 24 games with the Titans, he’s totaled 687 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.
It’s not hard to figure where this situation is going.
Washington Redskins: DE Stephen Bowen
Mediocre would be a kind way to describe the Washington Redskins defense in recent seasons, hence the decision this offseason to part ways with coordinator Jim Haslett.
But with new defensive coordinator Joe Barry in town (as Andrew Walker of Redskins.com tells us), changes are probably coming.
Defensive end Stephen Bowen is entering the final year of a five-year contract that he signed with the team in 2011. For numerous reasons, he’s been limited to just 18 games the past two seasons combined and has zero sacks over that span. Washington could save over $5 million in cap space with the release of the nine-year veteran.
All salary-cap and contract information comes courtesy of Spotrac.