The NFL salary cap is expected to be at $121.1 million for the 2013 season, and at the moment about a quarter of the teams exceed that number, with some well over the limit. In possibly an indictment of front office management, or an example of the parity in the league, the seven potentially highest-spending teams all missed the playoffs in 2013. There are plenty among the league's best franchises who are in good shape heading into the offseason, while the new salary cap floor will force some of the league's stingiest owners to open up their wallets.
The Salary Cutters
The franchise with the most work to do is in the biggest market in the country: The New York Jets. As it stands right now, the Jets have more than $150 million in total commitments for the upcoming year. Much of that is tied up in bonus money, as New York's base salaries total up to just about $97 million. The Jets have $3.4 million in carryover, according to John Clayton of ESPN, but that still leaves them with plenty of work to do. New general manager John Idzik will have to restructure some contracts and release veterans to get New York under the cap.
It does appear that Idzik is already set on a making a few players cap casualties. Linebacker Bart Scott is among three veterans that are on the chopping block.
Dallas, New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh all have double-digit ground to make up in cap space. Seeing the Cowboys in that group doesn't come as much of a surprise, as they are continuously pushing the limits of the salary cap. They are carrying over some money, but they will have to cut salary. It looks like extending or reworking the contracts of quarterback Tony Romo and cornerback Brandon Carr are top priorities, according to Todd Archer at ESPN Dallas.
The Steelers were hit hard by injuries a season ago, so if they can keep their core in place they do have a chance to return to the playoffs. The Saints defense was just plain bad last season, so letting a few veterans go off that unit might not hurt much, and Saints blog Canal Street Chronicles has defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma at the top of the list.
Carolina is a surprising entrant in the overspending teams unit. They are entering a second-straight season where the team finished the year strong, but not much is expected this year after they didn't show any improvement overall in 2012. They'll have to cut space and get younger in some spots, which might not be a bad thing. Panthers blog Cat Scratch reader believes cutting cornerback Chris Gamble would be a smart way to save over $10 million.
The Flexible Contenders
Speaking of Seattle, the Seahawks are among a group of playoff teams who have the cap space to add for 2013. The Seahawks were well under the salary cap this past season, allowing them to carry over $13.2 million. They have plenty of young stars that are likely in line for some re-negotiations soon (Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson come to mind), so it might not be a bad idea for Seattle to hang on to some of that money. There weren't many holes in 2012, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" might be a good motto to live by.
Joining the Seahawks as contenders who have double-digit space are Denver, Baltimore, Minnesota, New England, Houston, Chicago and Indianapolis. The Colts are set to make big additions to their roster, as they are next-to-last in total committed money for 2013. Indianapolis has their franchise quarterback, and now they have the room to build.
Baltimore's space is a bit misleading, as that is likely to be taken up almost entirely by a new contract for quarterback Joe Flacco. Whether or not he has played as well as some of the league's best quarterbacks likely won't be relevant here. He did it for four games and he will get paid. That will leave the Ravens with very little room to maneuver.
The Forced Spenders
Getting under the salary cap isn't the only challenge that NFL teams face. Some franchises, especially small market teams, will have to find a way to add enough salary to reach the league's cap floor. This season will be the first under the latest collective bargaining agreement that will force teams to spend at least 88.8 percent of the salary cap over a four-year period.
As mentioned above, the Colts have plenty of space and they will have to spend it. Their current commitments are around $78 million, almost $30 million short of the cap floor. That's more than a few expensive veterans, or about 60 minimum-salary players. Roster limitations means Indianapolis will be looking at the former.
Joining the Colts in the "must spend a lot of money" club are Cleveland, Cincinnati and Miami. The Bengals look to benefit the most from being forced to add salary, as they have made the playoffs two-straight years but are still short of contending with the best teams in the AFC. The Browns and Dolphins both have young offensive leaders that would likely welcome some added talent in their supporting cast.
The floor certainly adds a new dimension to the salary cap balancing-act around the league. It appears that veterans cut by the Jets, Saints, and Cowboys may find new work easier with the Colts, Browns, and Dolphins. This will add even more parity to a league that already enjoys plenty.
Check out this table for a complete breakdown of where NFL clubs are spending their money, numbers via Spotrac.