by Brian McIntyre
Football Outsiders is taking a division-by-division look at the salary cap situations of all 32 NFL teams. We're reviewing estimated cap spaces -– since cap situations are fluid and actual adjusted cap figures for 2012 remain unknown –- restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents, which players are candidates for the franchise tag and which players are headed towards the chopping block. Last week, we hit on the teams in the AFC.
We conclude our trip around the NFL with the NFC North.
Estimated Cap Space: $25-$28 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (13): Zack Bowman, Kellen Davis, Matt Forte, Corey Graham, Caleb Hanie, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings, Chris Massey, Josh McCown, Brandon Meriweather, Amobi Okoye, Craig Steltz, Roy Williams
Restricted Free Agents (1): Kahlil Bell
Bell had a career-high 337 rushing yards with 19 receptions, 133 yards and his first NFL touchdown out of the backfield. Most of his work came as an injury replacement for Matt Forte. An original round tender ($1.26 million in non-guaranteed base salary) to be the No. 2 back behind Forte again in 2012 is expected.
Franchise Tag Candidate: Forte has not ranked higher than 20th in either DYAR or DVOA during his four-year career -– and ranked 36th and 40th in those categories in 2011 -– but his overall production and importance to the Bears' offense makes him a no-brainer candidate for the franchise tag if a long-term contract cannot be reached by March 5. The franchise tender for running backs is projected to be worth around $7.7 million.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: The Bears are in good shape cap-wise, but could clear more space by extending Brian Urlacher's contract. The 33-year-old linebacker is scheduled to earn $8 million in total compensation ($7.5 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus) and has a $9.7 million cap number in the final year of his current contract. Defensive end Julius Peppers has already restructured his mega-contract and could do so again after his $8.9 million base salary became fully guaranteed on the second day of the 2012 waiver period. Nearly $6 million of 2012 cap space could be created by lowering Peppers' base salary to the league minimum ($925,000) and converting the remaining $7.975 million into a signing bonus.
Estimated Cap Space: Less than $2 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (20): Cliff Avril, Jeff Backus, Bobby Carpenter, Erik Coleman, Leonard Davis, Rashied Davis, Isaiah Ekejiuba, Andre Fluellen, Ben Graham, Chris Harris, Jerome Harrison, Shaun Hill, Brandon McDonald, Maurice Morris, Don Muhlbach, Kevin Smith, Drew Stanton, Maurice Stovall, Stephen Tulloch, Eric Wright
Of the four restricted free agents, DeAndre Levy is the only one who is a regular in the starting lineup, but the other three have been key contributors who will likely receive qualifying offers, provided the team has the cap space.
Franchise Tag Candidate: If a long-term contract extension cannot be reached before March 5, the Lions fully intend to use the franchise tender on Avril, who has 19.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles over the last two seasons. The franchise tag for a defensive end will be around $10.6 million, which is more than twice the $4.245 million Avril made over his first four seasons in the league, but less than a third of the guaranteed money that Charles Johnson received from the Carolina Panthers last offseason.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: To tender qualifying offers to their restricted free agents and use the franchise tag on Avril, the Lions will need to clear considerable cap space. The first order of business figures to be a long-term extension for Calvin Johnson, who ranked first in receiving DYAR in 2011 and has a cap number of $21.081 million in 2012, the final year of his rookie contract. The Lions may also seek to restructure the contracts of quarterback Matthew Stafford ($11.5 million base salary, $17.098 million cap number) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($9.25 million base salary, $12.72 million cap number). Fellow defensive tackle Corey Williams turns 32 in August and has a $5 million cap number ($4.9 million base salary and $50,000 workout bonus) that could be restructured or wiped off the books if he were to be released.
Green Bay Packers
Estimated Cap Space: $10-$12 million
Restricted Free Agents (0): None
Franchise Tag Candidate: As much as the Packers would like to retain the rights to Matt Flynn, and trade him for a few draft picks, the Packers lack the cap space to use the franchise tag on Flynn, particularly after signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a reported two-year, $15 million contract extension. To franchise Flynn would require a cap commitment of around $14.4 million, which means the Packers would have to do some serious trimming to protect his rights. The highly-respected Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suspects that center Scott Wells and the Packers will part ways this off-season, though that could change with Finley's extension. Franchising Wells would cost the Packers nearly $9.5 million in cap space while the two sides work towards a long-term extension to reduce that number.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Cornerback Charles Woodson is due $11.5 million in total compensation, comprised largely of a $6.5 million base salary and a $4 million roster bonus in April. The 35-year-old could considerably reduce his $11.5 million cap number by agreeing to a contract restructure. 37-year-old wide receiver Donald Driver ranked 17th in receiving DVOA in 2011, which was fourth among the immensely talented Packers receiving corps. Though a restructure is possible, the Packers could clear $5 million off the cap with his release, money that could go towards a long-term extension for Greg Jennings, who is scheduled to earn $4.61 million in overall compensation and has a $7.423 million cap number in the final year of his contract. Left tackle Chad Clifton played six games in 2011, turns 36 before training camp and is scheduled to earn nearly $5.75 million in compensation in 2012, all of which would be cleared off the books with his release.
Estimated Cap Space: $8-$10 million
Unrestricted Free Agents (16): Husain Abdullah, Xavier Adibi, Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson, Tyrell Johnson, Matt Katula, Jim Kleinsasser, Scott Kooistra, Jarrad Page, Sage Rosenfels, Benny Sapp, Visanthe Shiancoe
Kenny Onatolu has 40 special teams tackles in 48 games over the last three seasons and will likely be back on a right of first refusal tender worth $1.26 million in non-guaranteed base salary. Booker was the Vikings' No. 3 running back and primary kick returner over the first half of the 2011 season before losing those duties with a costly fumble in a Week 11 27-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders. With younger options Caleb King and Jordan Todman behind Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings may opt to not devote $1.26 million of their off-season cap space on Booker.
Franchise Tag Candidate: Without much cap space, the Vikings are unlikely to use the franchise tag in 2012. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe would possibly be an option, but his production has dropped in recent seasons. Shiancoe ranked second in DYAR and third in DVOA in both 2008 and 2009, but ranked 33rd in those categories in 2010 and was 35th in DYAR and DVOA in 2011. With the Vikings using a 2011 second round pick on Kyle Rudolph, $5.5 million in guaranteed base salary for a 31-year-old Shiancoe would not be a good value. A possible short-term free agent option for the Vikings is John Carlson, a 2008 second round pick by the Seattle Seahawks and Litchfield, Minnesota native who missed 2011 with a torn labrum and will be an unrestricted free agent in March.
Potential Cap Casualties/Restructures: Defensive end Jared Allen ($11.619 million base salary, $14.203 million cap number) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams ($7 million base salary, $8.417 million cap number) could be asked to restructure their contracts to free up additional cap space. Running back Adrian Peterson's $8 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed on March 13 and could be reduced with the remainder converted to a signing bonus and prorated over five years to reduce his $12.705 million cap number. Left guard Steve Hutchinson is due $7 million in total compensation in the final year of his seven-year, $49 million contract from 2006. Hutchinson hasn't been the Pro Bowl since 2009 and has missed seven games over the last seasons with various injuries, including a concussion at the end of last season. Right guard Anthony Herrera turns 32 in June and releasing both guards would clear $9.75 million in cap space. Blowing up the cornerback position by releasing Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield would free up $6.65 million in cap space and save over $7 million in cash.