The last of my offseason primers will cover the teams that are in the tightest cap situations. Most of these teams are ones that shouldn’t be active in free agency, unless they don’t mind punting more cap hits down the road, as some have done.
I’ve focused on the five teams who are projected to have the tightest cap situations. For each team, I’ll talk about the roster moves they will likely have to make to get themselves under the cap. My talks focus on what I would do, not necessarily what these teams will do. You will note there are at least a couple of teams who have not been smart with how they handle the cap or with recent roster moves, so chances are good they won’t do what I would do and simply make thing worse for themselves.
Dolphins: Projected at $5.6M above the cap.
The most speculation will surround Ndamukong Suh’s contract and that the Dolphins should restructure his deal to get a lot of cap space and play around in the free agent market. But the Dolphins really need to be smarter than that. They can free up cap space by cutting Cameron Wake ($8.4M savings), Jordan Cameron ($7.5M), Brent Grimes ($6.5M), Quinton Coples ($7.7M) and Greg Jennings ($4M). Doing that gives the Dolphins $26.6M in cap space, which could be more if the NFL increases the cap limit for all teams.
Doing that allows the Dolphins to place the franchise tag on Olivier Vernon, although that reduces Miami’s cap space to $11.8M. Extending him for a deal similar to what Derek Wolfe got would give the Dolphins more space to work with and allow them to explore free agency, but they would need to look for value. Restructuring Suh’s deal would be foolish, as all they do is punt too much down the road all for the sake of signing another big-ticket name.
Bills: Projected at $3.5M above the cap.
One move that is certain to happen is the Bills cutting Mario Williams to save $12.9M in cap space. They can also save $3.9M by cutting Leodis McKelvin, whose cap number is too high for somebody who fell down the CB depth chart. They will likely have to convert the $10M roster bonus Charles Clay will get into a signing bonus, although that will commit the Bills to Clay through the next two seasons.
Those moves give the Bills $20.2M in cap space. Add whatever space is gained through the NFL cap number and the Bills have the room to extend Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito. Putting the franchise tag on Glenn is possible but that would take up a lot of cap space and would make it difficult for the Bills to extend Incognito without additional roster moves. If the Bills get those things done, they can look for value in free agency.
Saints: Projected at $2.05M above the cap.
The Saints have already released several players but they need to make more moves. At this point, they really need to get an extension put together for Drew Brees to spread some of his $10.8M in guaranteed salary spread out over a couple of seasons. An extension through 2018 would make sense, as it would allow him to retire with the Saints. They will still need to make additional moves to get cap space cleared, though.
They can cut Marques Colston to save $3.2M in space, but other cuts would have to be designated as post-June 1 cuts in order to gain the most possible space. Those post-June 1 cuts would be Brandon Browner ($2.25M, with $2.75M in fully guaranteed money considered sunk costs). CJ Spiller ($3.25M) and Zach Strief ($3.4M). They will also likely restructure the $6M roster bonus for Cameron Jordan, reducing his cap charge to $8M. Those moves leave New Orleans with $13.9M in space without extending Brees. If they extend him, they can be a little more active in free agency than they would otherwise. However, they need to be smart about it and not follow their practices from past seasons.
Patriots: Projected at $827,156 under the cap
When the NFL announces the cap for 2016, the Patriots will get some additional wiggle room, but they can get more on top of that. An obvious move to make is to decline the option on Jerod Mayo’s contract, freeing $7M in cap space. The Patriots will also likely release Brandon LaFell to save an additional $2.675M in space.
The rest of New England’s moves will likely come through extending a couple of players. They can reduce Donta Hightower’s $7.75M cap hit from his fifth-year rookie deal option by putting some of that money into a signing bonus in an extension. They have the same option with Chandler Jones, whose cap hit is $7.79M. And Jabaal Sheard was a good acquisition last year, so it would make sense to extend him for another year to reduce his $6.8M cap charge. The Patriots should only be concerned about cap space for draft picks (and they don’t have a first-round pick) and value signings in free agency, as has often been their practice.
Ravens: Projected at $1.3M under the cap.
Even after gaining additional space when the NFL rolls out the 2016 cap number, the Ravens have some work to do. They are entering a difficult situation, in that Joe Flacco will command a $28.5M cap hit and they will have to hope for the best with Terrell Suggs because trading or releasing him would cost them $1.4M in cap space. The Ravens did gain some cap relief with an extension for Marshal Yanda but other moves must happen.
An obvious move is to cut Lardarius Webb, who has declined and is not worth a $10M cap hit. Cutting him saves $4M, or they gain $6M by making him a post June 1 cut. They can save $2.1M by cutting Chris Canty and $2.3M by cutting Justin Forsett. And they will have a tough decision ahead with Daryl Smith, who they might have to designate a post June 1 cut to save $3.5M. That leaves them with $13.9M in cap space, enough to put the franchise tag on Justin Tucker, but means they won’t be able to do much in free agency and will have to focus on the draft to fill most roster holes. Restructuring Flacco’s contract could be on the table, but that’s not an ideal option given that Flacco’s cap numbers are already high for the coming years.