The NFL season is underway, and teams that sign high-profile players to high-profile contracts will soon learn if they got good value for their money. There been a host of high-profile deals in the past several years, and all of these have impacted salary caps on virtually every team.
Despite Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys insisting that they would not set the market when signing running back Ezekiel Elliott to a contract extension, they did just that with his six-year, $90 million deal.
The Dallas Cowboys may also find themselves setting the market considering Dak Prescott’s perfect performance against the New York Giants on Sunday, along with Amari Cooper’s continued dominance as a receiver.
Then again, the Cowboys have $24 million of space this year, and $88.3 million next year.
Salary cap calculations are not always the easiest things to determine, because the rules can be complex, and AI is messing with computations.
The NFL uses a hard cap, meaning that every team must remain under the limit at all times, regardless of the reason.
Most NFL teams will back-load a contract so that the impact on the salary cap is minimized in the near term. That gives teams the ability to be flexible with their deal-making.
This isn’t a terribly attractive feature for most NFL players, so most teams will also offer a signing bonus that is guaranteed regardless of whether the player stays with the team or not. Generally speaking, the guaranteed money is prorated across the term of the contract.
With contract extensions, the signing bonus is prorated across the entire term of the contract, including any remaining time on the current contract.
Which NFL teams have the most and least salary-cap space, and how is that going to impact those teams going forward?
Least Cap Space: New Orleans Saints
For the 2019 season, the Saints have the least amount of space available at $2,073,301. The good news for the Saints is the team is very well-positioned in terms of its current players and their contracts.
Star wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has a legitimate opportunity to break the receiving touchdown record this year, recently signed an extension and still has five years left on his contract. The same goes for left tackle Terron Armstead and kicker Will Lutz.
Running back Latavius Murray has four years left on his contract, as does the multi-talented threat Alvin Kamara.
The only issue facing the team is Drew Brees, who has two years remaining on his contract. The question is whether or not the 40-year-old quarterback will continue playing after that.
Fortunately, the Saints will have a whopping $45.3 million of cap space to play with next year.
2ndLeast Cap Space: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are facing a real conundrum with cap space, both this year and next. They have just over $2 million remaining this year, but are already $4.2 million over the cap for next year.
They will have to restructure some contracts just to get under the limit.
It also means they’ll have to restructure other contracts in order to create room for new players.
The good news is that the Vikings are likely to be a contender this year, but they are going to have to fight off both the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
The team has a solid veteran at quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who still has three years remaining on his very lucrative contract. The other good news is almost the entire current roster has four or five years remaining on their contracts.
A few players still have three years remaining, and a number of lower-tier players are on one-year contracts that are inexpensive. As long as nobody else gets ensnared in a bitcoin scam, they should be fine.
Consequently, the Vikings remain in good position as long as their quarterback remains healthy, and their coaching staff continues to maintain an offensive approach that plays to his strengths.
To that end, it was amusing to see Kirk Cousins remark how unusual it felt only throw the ball 10 times on Sunday.
Most Cap Space: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts face troubling times.
The surprise retirement of Andrew Luck has created disarray for the future.
They no longer have a franchise quarterback. Jacoby Brissett does not seem like the type of quarterback to build a franchise around, although he does appear to have enough talent to keep the Colts a possible contender in future years.
The Colts presently have $43 million in salary cap space for this year, and $107 million of salary cap space available next year.
While that is cause for optimism, in that the Colts have plenty of money to beef up their roster, the real question is whether Brissett will mature into the quarterback for the franchise’s future.
He turned in a perfectly respectable performance on Sunday, completing 21 of 27 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Another strategy the Colts may entertain is to play with a decent-if-unspectacular quarterback who can get the job done, but surround him with playmakers.
In that regard, T. Y. Hilton is safely ensconced with four years remaining on his contract.
Linebacker Darius Leonard has four years remaining on his contract as well, and he is a critical part of the Colts defense. The same goes for Quenton Nelson, a guard who has proven to be a rock for the offensive line, with four years left on his contract.
The Colts have plenty of money to continue grooming talent, selecting solid draft picks, and perhaps surrounding Jacoby Brissett with what he needs for the team to make a go of it.
A quarterback like Joe Flacco did fine work for the Baltimore Ravens, and was occasionally brilliant, but were augmented by a stellar defense. That was enough for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl in 2012.
2ndMost Cap Space: Miami Dolphins
If there’s one team that needs a lot of salary cap space, it’s the Miami Dolphins. Fortunately, they have it.
With $34.9 million left this year and a league-topping $129 million next year, throwing money at the best players may be the team’s only hope in the near future.
The Dolphins were destroyed by the Baltimore Ravens 59-10 on Sunday. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a miserable day on Sunday, completing only 14 of 29 passes for 185 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The team doesn’t really have any playmakers, although there are a few talented individuals to keep an eye on.
The Dolphins have a very long road ahead of them. There doesn’t appear to be any real vision in management, nor does there appear to be any clear approach to building a team.
To be fair, that’s because Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a long-term solution there.
The Dolphins presently look like a team that is going to end up with the worst record in football this year. That may give them a chance to draft a quarterback with their number one position.
It may be a bit premature in assuming that’s how things will work out, but regardless, if the Dolphins are able to draft a high-quality quarterback next year, there’s plenty of money to begin building a team around him both next year and in the future.
Last modified (UTC): September 14, 2019 9:19 PM