Saints, Packers and 5 Other NFL Teams Facing Difficult 2022 Offseasons
For some, the 2022 NFL offseason is a great source of hope. For others, like the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, it's simply about navigating rough waters.
Teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers can be excited about the massive amounts of money they have to spend. All three clubs experienced some level of success this year with quarterbacks on rookie contracts, and all three have at least $58 million to spend, per Spotrac.
Then there are teams flush with draft capital. The Eagles, Giants, Lions and Jets all have multiple first-round picks. They can get excited about the prospect of bringing in two blue-chip players.
Then there are the Saints, Packers and other have-nots of the world when it comes to resources. Whether it's a messy cap situation, a lack of draft capital, a potential exodus of talent or a combination of the three, these teams are in for a tough offseason.
New Orleans Saints
Cap Space: -$65.7 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 18, 49, 99, 116, 134, 159, 215, 234
The Drew Brees-Sean Payton era is officially over in New Orleans.
This season was a small glimpse into the team's future without them. With Brees retiring last offseason and Payton stepping down as head coach earlier this week, the franchise is in for a hard reset.
It isn't in a great position to do it either.
The Saints spent heavily on building a championship team around their aging quarterback, and the rent has come due. They are projected to be $65.7 million over the salary cap, have no clear-cut option at quarterback and are middle-of-the-road when it comes to draft assets.
In order to just get under the cap, they are going to have to do some payroll slashing. That could include Michael Thomas, Bradley Roby and Malcolm Jenkins.
This isn't a new situation for the Saints; they had to find a way to cut $111 million from the books last season. However, $52 million of that came from contract restructures, which meant they kicked the can down the road.
That can continues to roll into the next season, but there isn't a clear path toward them being a contender within the confines of their cap situation.
Green Bay Packers
Cap Space: -$46.3 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 28, 59, 92, 128, 137, 169, 225, 246, 256
As if the Green Bay Packers' flop in the playoffs wasn't bad enough, it could be the last time we see that iteration of the Packers core on the field together.
Green Bay's offseason could go one of two ways, and neither is ideal. The first would see Aaron Rodgers remain with the team and play at least one more season. That would see the Packers continue to be a contender, but his $46.1 million cap hit would be difficult to navigate.
The dissension between the quarterback and the organization is well-documented at this point. Both might need a reset, but that doesn't come without plenty of unknowns.
If Rodgers decides to retire or the Packers outright trade him, then the cap situation becomes a little more tenable.
However, they still have to find a way to put the best team around Jordan Love in that scenario. That includes either bringing back Davante Adams, who did not want to negotiate with the Packers during the season, or replacing him.
With only three picks in the top 100, the Packers are going to have to draft well and make smart decisions to get under the cap and remain a viable contender.
Cap Space: -$12.2 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 12, 46, 77, 154, 183, 191, 210, 229
The Vikings' greatest chance at improving on their 8-9 campaign is going to have to come from the change in coaching. New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is going to have some big decisions to make and few resources to make the roster appreciably better in 2022.
The Vikings are one of eight NFL teams that are projected to start the offseason in the red when it comes to the cap, and there are two contracts that are going to have to be addressed in some capacity.
The easier of the two is Danielle Hunter. The edge-rusher is set to cost the team a whopping $25.9 million against the cap this season. That one can be dealt with, though. He only carries a $7.5 million dead-cap charge if released, and he's only played seven games over the last two seasons after undergoing season-ending neck surgery in September 2020 and suffering a torn pectoral that ended his season in November 2021.
The Vikings' real problem is Kirk Cousins. The quarterback is scheduled to cost them $45 million against the cap. It's a price that would be hard to swallow for a quarterback who didn't even get them to the postseason.
The Vikings are faced with the prospect of extending his contract to reduce his cap hit, trading him away (and still having to eat some of the salary) or biting the bullet, paying him for the final year of his deal and revisiting the quarterback position in 2023.
None of those are particularly ideal.
Cap Space: $20.4 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 6, 104, 142, 147, 199, 244
The Panthers don't necessarily have a dire cap situation. They will at least start the offseason in the black, and they are right at the league average for cap space by Spotrac's projections.
The problem is that's just enough money to be able to retain some of the key players who are set to hit free agency, and Carolina doesn't exactly have a war chest of draft picks.
Stephon Gilmore, Haason Reddick, Donte Jackson and Jermaine Carter all played important roles on defense, and all have expiring contracts.
The Sam Darnold trade continues to haunt the franchise. The Panthers are on the hook for his $18.9 million cap hit, aren't any closer to finding a franchise quarterback and have just one pick in the top 100 because they shipped off their second- and fourth-round picks to the Jets for him.
Throw in the trade to get C.J. Henderson, and the Panthers don't have a pick in the third round either.
After three consecutive five-win seasons, it isn't a great sign that they don't have enough money to retain all their key players from last year and have just one prime draft pick to get excited about.
Cap Space: $5.3 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 23, 55, 87, 175, 178, 201, 241, 257
When you experience the kind of second-half collapse the Cardinals did, there's going to be a desire to find answers. The Cards have made all-in moves to build this roster, including adding J.J. Watt, A.J. Green, Zach Ertz and James Conner in 2021.
In the end, it made them one of the league's hottest teams over the first half of the season only to suffer a second-half swoon that resulted in an early exit from the playoffs.
Now they are just above the salary cap and have a free-agent class that includes Ertz, Green, Conner, Chandler Jones, Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk.
In Week 17, Pro Football Focus ran the numbers on how many wins above replacement each team has the potential to lose through pending free agents. The Cardinals ranked sixth-highest on offense and 14th on defense.
Given the amount of money they threw at veterans who were supposed to put them over the top, this season can't be considered a success. Now they are stuck trying to get better without the resources to even bring back several key contributors.
It's a tough place to be in one of the most competitive divisions in the league.
Los Angeles Rams
Cap Space: $190,313
Draft Picks (Projected): 101, 139, 172, 211, 212, 214, 235, 249
The Rams' approach to building their roster has been unconventional. They have essentially eschewed the standard valuation of draft picks in favor of trading them for proven commodities.
Five of their eight projected picks are expected to be compensatory picks from previous free agents lost and the hiring of former Rams exec Brad Holmes as the Detroit Lions general manager last season, per Over the Cap.
It's hard to argue with the results to this point. They are playing in the NFC Championship Game after all. But it's certainly going to require some salary-cap gymnastics to continue to field a contender. The Rams have less than $1 million of cap space to utilize with some pretty important players set to hit the open market.
Von Miller is third on the team in sacks this season and has added one in each playoff game so far. Sony Michel led the team in rushing in 2021. Brian Allen and Austin Corbett were both starters on the offensive line, and Odell Beckham Jr. has six touchdowns since joining the team in Week 10.
All of them are set to be free agents, and the team has little money to re-sign them. With no draft picks in the top 100, the margin for error is thin for the Rams to build another Super Bowl contender.
Cap Space: -$21.3 million
Draft Picks (Projected): 24, 56, 88, 125, 165, 174, 202
The Cowboys are going to feel the trade-off that comes with paying a franchise quarterback. They will enjoy the security of having a signal-caller who can do what Dak Prescott does, but it comes with a much smaller budget to take care of everyone else.
Prescott's $34.5 million cap hit accounts for 15 percent of the team's cap. Throw in DeMarcus Lawrence's $27 million hit, and you have the top-paid offensive, and defensive players accounting for nearly 30 percent of the team's cap space.
That's going to hurt with several key free agents hitting the open market. One of the Cowboys' strengths has been the weapons they've been able to surround Prescott with.
Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz and Cedrick Wilson are all set to hit free agency. The team is already in the red financially, which makes it a stark reality that all three could be gone by next season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Randy Gregory could be difficult to hold on to. He was second on the team in sacks with six this season, but his projected market value is $13.2 million per year.
These are important roles the Cowboys are going to have to fill without much money to spend and a modest supply of draft picks.