Under the Cap: Cap Casualties
by Brian McIntyre
Now that the NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed on a collective bargaining agreement, we know that all 32 NFL teams will have to be under the $120.375 million salary cap by the start of the league year, which is scheduled to begin no later than Thursday, August 4, 2011.
Teams have the option of creating an additional $3 million in cap room by taking $1 million off the cap charge of up to three players with five or more accrued seasons in 2011. That is borrowed from future seasons, which means not all teams will exercise that option.
Below is a team-by-team look at possible cap casualties and contract restructure candidates:
Arizona Cardinals -- The Cardinals are expected to trade for Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, who they would then want to sign to a long-term deal. If they do trade for Kolb, releasing Derek Anderson becomes a no-brainer transaction that would free up $4.1375 million of cash and cap space. After reportedly releasing Gerald Hayes, the Cardinals also have a pair of 34-year-old outside linebackers, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, whose release would free up $13 million in cash and $11.8 million in cap space.
Atlanta Falcons -- After posting 13 of the team's 31 quarterback sacks in 2010, few would recommend removing defensive end John Abraham from the Falcons' roster. But with an $8 million base salary and cap number, restructuring the final year of Abraham's contract could allow General Manager Thomas Dimitroff to address his top priority: keeping the offensive line together. Pro Bowl right tackle Tyson Clabo and starting guards Justin Blalock, and Harvey Dahl are unrestricted free agents.
Baltimore Ravens -- The quickest way for the Ravens to gain some cap room is to sign franchised defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to a long-term contract. Ngata's franchise tag is worth $12.476 million, comprising around 10 percent of the team's total cap space. The Ravens have reportedly informed running back Willis McGahee, wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, and nose tackle Kelly Gregg that they will be waived on Thursday. One or two of those veterans could be back at a reduced salary, but the Ravens have cleared space to retain offensive lineman Marshal Yanda.
Buffalo Bills -- Whatever the cap number is, Buffalo has plenty of cap space to retain inside linebacker Paul Posluszny and be active in free agency. The Bills may also look at extending the contracts of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Steve Johnson, who are entering the final years of their deals. Lee Evans has the team's highest cap number ($6.758 million), and releasing him would free nearly $2 million in cap room.
Carolina Panthers -- The Panthers have the cap room to keep their own key free agents and be aggressive in free agency. Franchised Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Charles Johnson figure to the be first items on general manager Marty Hurney's to-do list. Linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis, as well as cornerback Richard Marshall, will also be on Hurney's radar. If veteran wide receiver Steve Smith wants out, it would clear $4 million in cap space and $7 million in cash in 2011.
Chicago Bears -- Releasing defensive tackle Tommie Harris before the lockout already saved the Bears over $8 million in cap space, and defensive end Julius Peppers restructuring his mega contract before the lockout cleared another $8 million under the cap. As in 2010, when they signed Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuna on the first day of free agency, the Bears have the cap space to be aggressive when this year's frenzy begins.
Cincinnati Bengals -- Even with Carson Palmer ($11.5 million) and Chad Ochocinco ($6.35 million) on the roster, the Bengals are in good shape cap-wise. Should the Bengals trade or release Palmer, Ochocinco, and oft-injured defensive end Antwan Odom, they could clear more than $20 million in cap space. That could be enough for them to keep Johnathan Joseph in tiger stripes.
Cleveland Browns -- Like the Bears, the Browns cleared cap space before the lockout by releasing Eric Barton, David Bowens, Kenyon Coleman, Shaun Rogers, Robert Royal, and John St. Clair. With Colt McCoy starting at quarterback and Seneca Wallace signing a three-year extension to be the top backup, veteran Jake Delhomme will likely need to restructure his $5.4 million base salary to remain on the roster.
Dallas Cowboys -- Running back Marion Barber is a reported cap casualty, but while his release saves $4.75 million in salary, it only opens $750,000 in cap space. The Cowboys plan to re-sign offensive tackle Doug Free and could pursue this offseason's premier agent, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. If Jerry Jones wants to do that and address the rest of their secondary, they'll need help from Tony Romo, Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware, and Terence Newman, who could be asked to restructure their contracts. Newman turns 33 a week before the regular season opener and is due $8 million in base salary with a salary cap number of $10 million. Releasing Newman would clear $4 million in cap space. The Cowboys have already informed guard Leonard Davis that he won't be back, clearing $1.8 million in cap space and saving $6 million in cash.
Denver Broncos -- The Broncos released a few veterans (Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams, and Daniel Graham) before the lockout. They could clear additional space by trading likely back-up quarterback Kyle Orton, who has an $8.879 million salary cap number in 2011, including a $1.5 million roster bonus and $7.379 million base salary. Tim Tebow's base salary is just $405,000, but the 2010 first-round pick will receive $7.155 million in total compensation in the 2011 league year, which may hasten Orton's exit from Dove Valley.
Detroit Lions -- During his Pro Bowl and All-Pro rookie season, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh earned $3.1 million of his five-year, $59.595 million contract. This year, Suh will receive more than $25 million in base salary and signing/roster bonuses, which may explain the reports that the Lions will not set the market on free agent cornerbacks or linebackers. A potential cap casualty is wide receiver Bryant Johnson, who caught 18 passes for 210 yards last season and is slated to earn $3.2 million in base salary in 2011.
Green Bay Packers -- Inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk signed multi-year extensions late in the 2010 league year, and the Packers have used back-to-back first-round picks on offensive tackles. That puts veteran linebacker Nick Barnett (who has already been told he will be cut if the Packers can't trade him) and right tackle Mark Tauscher on the cap casualty list; combined, they would save the Packers $9.78 million in cap space.
Houston Texans -- At 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, Mario Williams is a king-sized outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. With a $13.8 million base salary and a cap number north of $18 million, he'll also be a very expensive outside linebacker. Williams is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and an extension would help free space so the Texans can address their secondary.
Indianapolis Colts -- With Peyton Manning's franchise tag worth $23.12 million in guaranteed base salary, the Colts will look to work out an extension. Newly-hired Director of Football Administration Dennis Polian will eventually have to appease veteran Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, who are entering the final years of their contracts. Right tackle Ryan Diem, 32, is due $5.4 million in base salary in the final year of his deal and is a restructure candidate.
Jacksonville Jaguars -- General Manager Gene Smith listed re-signing franchised tight end Marcedes Lewis as the team's top priority once the lockout ends. (The tight end tag is projected to be worth $7.285 million.) If 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert had a full offseason to learn the offense and work with the coaching staff, he could have been in line to start in September, which would have put David Garrard and his $7.975 million base salary on the chopping block. From a competitive standpoint, the Jaguars likely can't afford to release Garrard now; they have plenty of space to keep him and address deficiencies at wide receiver and on the defensive side of the ball.
Kansas City Chiefs -- The Chiefs have ample space under the cap to sign key players to long-term extensions. Franchised outside linebacker Tamba Hali is the most obvious candidate, as are wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr (a restricted free agent) who are not signed beyond 2011. Veteran wide receiver Chris Chambers caught just 22 balls last season and would clear $3.45 million in cash and cap space.
Miami Dolphins -- A long-term extension for franchised nose tackle Paul Soliai would lower his $12.476 million cap figure. Restructuring right tackle Vernon Carey and his $7 million cap number would also free room for the Dolphins to trade for a quarterback (Orton) and add a running back (Ahmad Bradshaw, Reggie Bush) to pair with second-round pick Daniel Thomas.
Minnesota Vikings -- Long-term extensions for franchised linebacker Chad Greenway and four-time Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who has a team-high $12.775 million cap number, would create space under the cap for the Vikings to re-sign wide receiver Sidney Rice, add a safety, and sign a veteran quarterback to mentor Christian Ponder. Wide receiver Bernard Berrian caught 28 passes last season and is due $3.9 million in base salary in 2011. Releasing Berrian would save $3.75 million in cap space.
New England Patriots -- Signing franchised guard Logan Mankins to an extension would lower his $10+ million cap number for 2011. Defensive end Ty Warren missed all of last season following hip surgery and has the third-highest cap number of the team ($5.9 million), which puts him on the list of potential cap casualties. However, when healthy, Warren has proven to be a valuable starter and releasing him would only clear around $600,000 in cap space.
New Orleans Saints -- As a result of having more than a dozen restricted free agents in 2010, the Saints have a lot of unrestricted free agents in 2011, including starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, safeties Roman Harper and Usama Young, and tight end David Thomas. This is also the final year of Drew Brees', Carl Nicks', Marques Colston's, and Robert Meachem's contracts. To clear up space to sign and re-sign free agents, the smart money is on running back Reggie Bush getting released. Due $11.8 million in base salary, highest among NFL running backs, Bush has a $16 million cap number that does not mesh with his production or role on the team.
New York Giants -- With the Giants using their 2011 first-round pick on Prince Amukamara, veteran cornerback Corey Webster may be on the hot seat. Due $8 million in base salary, releasing Webster would save more than $5 million in cap space in 2011. In a league where having three good corners is beneficial, a restructure may be more likely. Veteran offensive linemen Shaun O'Hara ($3.45 million salary and cap number) and Kareem McKenzie ($5.3 million salary and cap number) are entering the final years of their contracts. Releasing fellow offensive lineman Shawn Andrews would save nearly $7 million in cap space.
(Note: O'Hara has apparently been told he will be cut, along with left guard Rich Seubert.)
New York Jets -- Signing franchised inside linebacker David Harris will free cap space for the Jets to re-sign wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, general manager Mike Tannenbaum's top two priorities. Jason Taylor, Vernon Gholston and Kris Jenkins were released in February.
Oakland Raiders -- The Raiders had their free-agent frenzy before the lockout, signing Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, Michael Bennett, Kyle Boller, Daniel Loper, Rock Cartwright, John Henderson, and using the “exclusive” franchise tag on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Extensions for Wimbley ($11.312 million cap number) and Darren McFadden ($14.217 million cap number) would provide cap relief for the Raiders.
Philadelphia Eagles -- Even in the unlikely scenario that quarterback Michael Vick plays the full season under the $16 million franchise tag, and backup quarterback Kolb ($5.35 million cap number) isn't traded, the Eagles have plenty of cap space to be aggressive in free agency. For Eagles fans that are wondering, Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is signed through 2012 with base salaries of $950,000 in 2011 and $1,128,750 in 2012, though the 2012 figure could increase by up to $2.85 million through playing-time and performance-related incentives.
Pittsburgh Steelers -- Signed to a two-year, $7.25 million contract last July, Flozell Adams gave the Steelers 19 regular- and post-season starts for $2.5 million in base salary. Adams' salary and cap number double to $5 million in 2011, which may be too rich after the Steelers added offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 draft. Re-signing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley to an extension would also clear space under the cap.
San Diego Chargers -- The wide receiver franchise tag will be close to $12 million, which figures to spur movement towards a long-term contract with Vincent Jackson. The Chargers have plenty of cap space, but wide receiver Patrick Crayton and his $2.35 million base salary in 2011 may be a target.
San Francisco 49ers -- Thanks to a "likely to be earned" $7.95 million incentive, veteran cornerback Nate Clements has a cap number of $17.366 million for 2011. During the offseason, Clements reported that the 49ers hadn't approached him about restructuring before the lockout, but once it's lifted, Todd France (Clements' agent) can expect a phone call.
Seattle Seahawks -- Already well under the cap, the Seahawks will clear more room with the expected release of offensive lineman Stacy Andrews. Acquired from the Eagles last September, Andrews earned $1.15 million base salary ($900,000 guaranteed) while starting 12 games at right guard, but did not dress for the final five regular and postseason games. The Seahawks first two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft are scheduled to start at right tackle (James Carpenter) and right guard (John Moffitt), which leaves Andrews without a starting job. Andrews is due $5.25 million in non-guaranteed base salary, and his release would clear $5.75 million in cap space.
St. Louis Rams -- Former first-round pick Chris Long triggered escalators in his rookie contract that have added $19 million in base salary to the final two years of his rookie contract. Long is coming off a breakout season, posting 8.5 quarterback sacks and, according to our game charters, leading the league with 42.5 quarterback hurries. With the creative COO Kevin Demoff negotiating the team's contracts now, an extension for Long could significantly lower his $13.5 million cap number.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- No team has more salary cap space or cash to spend just to reach the expected salary floor than the Buccaneers. Neither will be an issue when it comes to re-signing guard Davin Joseph, linebacker Quincy Black, and running back Cadillac Williams) are the top in-house priorities. The Buccaneers do not have to make additional moves to accomplish those goals and still be active in free agency. In any other year, 30-year-old center Jeff Faine, who is coming off a triceps injury and carrying a $4.575 million cap number, would be a likely cap casualty. This year, the Buccaneers have no incentive to release him because keeping him helps them reach the salary floor. Plus, it's not like the Buccaneers have a better option at this point.
Tennessee Titans -- When the Titans finally release quarterback Vince Young, they'll clear $12.75 million off their 2011 salary cap. Veteran strong safety Chris Hope is due to earn $7 million in total compensation with an $8 million cap number in the final year of his contract, and he could be targeted to restructure his deal or be released.
Washington Redskins -- Trading or releasing quarterback Donovan McNabb would save $4.75 million in cap space, while the expected release of Albert Haynesworth will save $3.4 million on the cap and dramatically reduce the team's aspirin and antacid budget.