by Rivers McCown
Cap Space as of February 17th: Over the cap by roughly $25 million. (All monetary figures courtesy of Over The Cap.)
Unrestricted Free Agents (10, UFAs and RFAs culled via NFL.com): Jon Kitna (he's got to be re-retiring, right?), George Winn, Brian Waters, Ryan Cook, Anthony Spencer, Jarius Wynn, Jason Hatcher, Edgar Jones, Ernie Sims, Danny McCray
Restricted Free Agents (1): Phillip Tanner
Tanner seems like a good combination for the Cowboys: effective depth, yet not flashy enough that anyone would try to steal him here. Expect a pretty small deal given the Cowboys' financials.
Franchise Tag Candidates: For any other team, it'd make all sorts of sense to franchise tag Jason Hatcher. The $9.1 million projected tag for defensive tackles isn't too rough, and Hatcher had a breakout year under the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, notching 11 sacks. His pressure numbers in our game charting project only confirm the leap he has taken.
But, already working from behind, it may be very difficult for the Cowboys to free up that $9.1 million and satisfy their rookie pool.
Age and injuries finally caught up to Ware in 2013, and it's left the Cowboys with quite the dilemma. Releasing him is practically the only way the Cowboys are guaranteed to generate a large chunk of salary cap space without a June 1st designation. (Austin will generate about $5.5 million in cap space with the designation.) We've seen in recent seasons that just because your pass rusher is old doesn't necessarily mean he can't do the job anymore -- just look at Robert Mathis and Shaun Phillips this year -- so the Cowboys are going to have to weigh carefully just how much they think injuries contributed to Ware's downfall.
The rest of these guys wouldn't normally be on the chopping block. Cap savings under $2 million aren't normally a big deal for backup linemen. But this is an extreme cap situation, and sacrifices may need to be made.
Flexibility: Some, and they'll need to use it all. Tony Romo ($13.5 million), Brandon Carr ($7.5 million), and Jason Witten ($5 million) will almost assuredly be converting base salaries to signing bonuses to create some cap room. It's possible that Sean Lee ($5.5 million) could, as well. DeMarcus Ware ($12.25 million) would also be a candidate for this if the Cowboys decide to keep him around.
The Cowboys could also generate some cap space with extensions for Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant. The two combine for just under $8 million in cap figures, and finagling those into tiny amounts on a large extension could be a big boon for Dallas this offseason.
Look, you don't need an analyst to tell you this thing is a mess. This is what the Cowboys are all about right now. This organization is in a vicious cycle of abundance mentality gone amok: they need three coaches who can call offensive plays, and two coaches who can call defensive plays, and they can't let anyone walk out the door if there's a slight chance they'll succeed elsewhere.
Is it getting fixed any time soon? Probably not. Can we at least admit, if we aren't fans of the Cowboys, that it's entertaining? I hope so.
New York Giants
Cap Space as of February 17th: A little under $13 million.
Unrestricted Free Agents (23): Curtis Painter, Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis, Louis Murphy, Hakeem Nicks, Julian Talley, Brandon Myers, Bear Pascoe, David Diehl (retired), Kevin Boothe, Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Mike Patterson, Shaun Rogers, Keith Rivers, Jon Beason, Trumaine McBride, Aaron Ross, Terrell Thomas, Corey Webster, Stevie Brown, Ryan Mundy, Josh Brown
Cordle and Paysinger fall into the broad category of "inoffensive young players that got plenty of playing time at a position of weakness for their team." Scott couldn't even make that leap despite the fact that New York did things like "give Peyton Hillis a chance." Herzlich was a core special teamer, and the Hynoceros was grounded by injury. The most anyone on this list could hope for is an original round tender.
Franchise Tag Candidates: Linval Joseph is most commonly regarded as the "big offseason priority" for the G-Men, but there hasn't been much talk about him being tagged at all. He's a solid young player, but it's hard to imagine anyone with nine sacks in three years getting the franchise tag. Still, if the Giants value Joseph and see teams ready to pounce, they could use it as a prelude to a long-term contract.
Rolle is a solid player that offers some added versatility in his ability to cover like a slot cornerback, but if the Giants look at this offseason as the start of a rebuilding process, they could use his cap savings to jump-start the scenario.
Snee and Baas played a combined 328 snaps for the Giants this year, and their inability to stay healthy and play up to their contracts is a big reason New York's offensive line fell apart last year, finishing third-to-last in Adjusted Line Yards and 19th in Adjusted Sack Rate despite Eli Manning's keen pocket presence. Pocketing savings on those two could help the Giants begin the unenviable task of bringing that line back up to code.
Flexibility: We've touched on three of the biggest four cap numbers for the Giants already, so let's move back to Eli Manning. The Giants have plenty of cap room already, but in the event that they decide to really make wholesale changes, they could re-negotiate Manning's $15.15 million base salary into a signing bonus. The fact that Manning has only two years left on his deal could also facilitate a new deal for the quarterback, which would also likely lower his cap number.
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Overview: The Giants are one of the few teams that doesn't have a wrong direction this offseason. If they want to continue to build their team around the idea that narrowly squeezing out an NFC East title is desirable, they have the cap space to pursue the upgrades they need. If they want to take a step back, rebuild for the long-term, and clear the deck of cap flotsam, they could do that pretty easily as well.
Colleague Mike Ridley argued that pass-catching weapons were priority No. 1 for the Giants, but given the fact that they could turn over their entire projected 2013 offensive line outside of William Beatty this offseason, I think that's a more logical need. Hakeem Nicks hasn't been a force to be reckoned with in a few years anyway, and if there's ever a time for Adrien Robinson to live up to the "JPP of tight ends" talk, it's now. Julius Thomas wasn't an overnight sensation, either.
And, frankly, given their possible departures in the secondary (six of their top eight defensive backs by snap count are free agents) and defensive line (Joseph, Tuck, 624 snaps between Patterson and Rogers), they might not have the cap to spend on a brand-name receiver anyway. There's a lot of re-tooling to be done here, one way or another.
Cap Space as of February 17th: A little over $20 million.
Restricted Free Agents (1): Phillip Hunt
Hunt tore his ACL in training camp and passed through waivers, so he made it to injured reserve. The Eagles love to stockpile pass rushers, but I wonder what they'd do if someone made an actual run at Hunt as a solution. Hunt has three sacks in 22 relief appearances, and the Coog bias within makes me think he'd be an interesting low-dollar fit as a rotation pass-rusher. It probably won't happen because ACL injuries send interested NFL parties scurrying, but he'd be an interesting pick up.
Franchise Tag Candidates: None, really. The Eagles could tag Maclin off a torn ACL, or they could tag Cooper off his best season. However, the projected $11.5 million wideout tag is a steep cost for a team that's already invested so much in DeSean Jackson, and the Eagles are pretty reserved about spending their cap so impulsively.
Ryans just hasn't been the same player he was since his Torn Achilles in Houston -- a great leader, and a solid tackler, but that's probably not worth the money owed to him at this point.
Chung managed to play nearly 60 percent of the snaps for the Eagles, and that says a lot more about the Eagles then it does about Chung.
Avant finished 84th among 90 qualifying wide receivers in DVOA, mostly because his normally reliable catch rate (64 percent or higher in every season from 2009-2012) dropped to just 50 percent. Combine that with his cap figure and a deep draft for receivers and the Eagles could move on.
Casey never found a role in Philadelphia -- he played just 154 snaps and was looking up at Zach Ertz for most of the season.
Flexibility: The Eagles could pull a base salary-to-bonus conversion on the contracts of DeSean Jackson ($10.5 million base salary) and LeSean McCoy ($7.65 million), though it's not likely that they'll need to do that. Philadelphia can also generate extra cap space by signing Jason Peters (cap figure: $10.2 million) to an extension in the last year of his deal.
Overview: Philadelphia's top priority in the eyes of our Four Downs was wide receiver, and while I think re-signing Jeremy Maclin on the cheap would be a solid move, his market could prevent that from happening. I think Cooper could make it back more cheaply than expected, because I expect some "Chip Kelly offense" questions to linger with a few teams.
The other big attack area for Philadelphia is safety. None of their in-house guys have been much over the years, though Nate Allen was better than we remember Nate Allen being in 2011 or 2012 last season. It's probably unlikely that Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward gets through the franchise tag stage, but if they do, they'd both be good fits for the Eagles. I'd also be surprised if Philadelphia made it through the offseason without at least making an attempt to extend Jason Kelce, who is on the last year of his contract.
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Cap Space as of February 17th: A little under $25 million (pending the DeAngelo Hall contract terms)
Unrestricted Free Agents (18): Rex Grossman, Dezmon Briscoe, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Fred Davis, J.D. Walton, Rob Jackson, Brian Orakpo, Darryl Tapp, Nick Barnett, London Fletcher (retired), Brian Kehl, Perry Riley, E.J. Biggers, Josh Wilson, Reed Doughty, Jose Gumbs, Brandon Meriweather
Restricted Free Agents (0):
Franchise Tag Candidates: Orakpo. Orakpo. Orakpo.
ESPN Redskins blogger John Keim reports that there's a strong possibility that Washington will drop the tag on the Pro Bowl linebacker, though both sides are still in dialogue for a new deal without it. The linebacker has missed time due to a torn pectoral muscle, but it's hard to believe that there are any non-Robert Griffin players as important to Washington's success as Orakpo. The projected tag cost would be about $10.8 million. Given Washington's cap space, this should be a no-brainer.
Carriker's release is regarded as something of a done deal, given as how he hasn't played since 2012 -- and only in two games that year -- due to a severe quad injury. Bowen is coming off microfracture surgery and there are questions about how ready he'll be for the start of the season.
Flexibility: Not much. The Redskins only have two contracts with a base salary over $5 million: Trent Williams ($7.25 million) and Pierre Garcon ($7.1 million). While an extension for Williams isn't completely out of the question, he does have another season left on his deal after 2014. Garcon has three years left on his deal. Washington doesn't really need the cap space anyway, but this could limit them a bit given how Dan Snyder offseason plans tend to go.
Overview: Thanks to the NFL's imposed cap penalties for violating (wink wink, nudge nudge) "rules" and Griffin's tiny rookie contract, the Redskins actually enter an offseason with a fair amount of spending cash. And they didn't even have to cut anybody to get it!
As mentioned in Four Downs, linebacker will be a priority. Heck, every defensive position outside of outside linebacker could be a priority after the Redskins take care of Orakpo. Wide receiver could also be an area for reinforcement with Santana Moss and Josh Morgan giving way to Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson next to Garcon -- is that enough weapons to feel like Griffin is assured of a good chance to rebound?