NFL salary cap space: Haves vs. have-nots

Most of the top 10 teams in salary-cap space were non-playoff teams, but even those in the bottom have some flexibility to keep their best players.

The Denver Broncos are in a stalemate with star pass rusher Von Miller over a new contract.

Miller said on a Netflix show that he wouldn’t miss the 2016 season, then changed his tune on social media when he there was “no chance” he would play under the franchise tag that the Broncos placed on him prior to the start of free agency.

While the Broncos have made contract offers to others, Miller is the most important player to the success of the Broncos’ vaunted defense that flummoxed Cam Newton in Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win.

Meanwhile, other top players around the league continue to get rich deals as the salary cap continues to rise – to $155 million this year with no end to the escalation in sight. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox recently signed a six-year extension worth $103 million with $63 million guaranteed.

That eclipsed last year’s previous record for guaranteed money to a non-quarterback when Ndamukong Suh got $60 million guaranteed on a free-agent deal with the Miami Dolphins. While Suh’s production dropped in his first season with the Dolphins, NFL teams know if they want to keep their best players a heavy price tag will be attached – and often “heavy” means record-breaking. Until the next one. And so on and so on.

Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith was among the high-end players to receive a record-breaking deal at his position in the last month. Smith was set to play under the fifth-year option in his rookie deal that the Vikings exercised last spring, but they wanted to ensure he remained part of their defense for years beyond that. They accomplished that mission with a contract that pays him an average of $10.25 million through 2021, the highest annual salary among safeties under a multi-year deal. Until the next one.

So how much can teams pay their best players, even if they aren’t quarterbacks?

In the Broncos’ case, they have less than $5.4 million remaining on their 2016 salary cap, 26th in the NFL, but signing Miller to a long-term deal is still a possibility. Miller already turned down a six-year offer worth $114.5 million with $58 million guaranteed and $39.8 million fully guaranteed over the next two years because he apparently wanted more guaranteed money over more years. Despite the low amount of cap space remaining with the Broncos, the two side could still work out a deal by having his 2016 salary accounted for by his current franchise-tag number of $14.1 million and building it up over the years.

The Kansas City Chiefs gave OLB Justin Houston $52.5 million in guarantees, but they are left with less than $300,000 in salary-cap space – dead last in the league. Fourteen teams have less than $10 million left to spend this year on free-agent signings or extensions.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “haves,” led by the San Francisco 49ers with $49.5 million and the Cleveland Browns with $42.8 million. Yet those two teams could be considered the “have-nots” when it comes to odds to win the Super Bowl this year.

NFL teams have to pay up to get and retain talent and the television deals with the NFL should continue to see the salary rise at a healthy rate.

As of Friday morning, here is where each NFL team stands with its salary cap, according to the NFL Players Association:


Team Previous Year Carryover Team Cap Cap Room
TOTAL $203,963,112 $4,733,282,799 $447,514,386
AVERAGE/TEAM $6,373,847 $147,915,087 $13,984,825
San Francisco 49ers $12,206,686 $127,087,788 $49,504,146
Cleveland Browns $20,734,144 $134,559,754 $42,811,540
Jacksonville Jaguars $32,774,928 $149,323,167 $40,978,543
Carolina Panthers $3,731,200 $130,226,869 $27,766,272
Tennessee Titans $20,783,801 $151,212,631 $25,145,195
Chicago Bears $867,589 $134,457,929 $22,130,950
New York Giants $11,193,231 $149,014,372 $18,305,787
Miami Dolphins $9,137,544 $149,690,867 $17,076,452
Indianapolis Colts $4,950,629 $144,516,251 $16,092,778
Detroit Lions $862,191 $143,705,266 $14,885,950
Baltimore Ravens $1,633,944 $142,281,841 $12,896,914
Tampa Bay Buccaneers $7,987,748 $148,958,754 $12,179,612
Buffalo Bills $4,467,331 $145,348,472 $12,146,959
Washington Redskins $5,837,734 $150,035,779 $11,928,245
Houston Texans $1,637,055 $145,668,549 $11,517,531
Oakland Raiders $13,373,617 $157,628,130 $10,704,623
Green Bay Packers $6,953,847 $153,263,042 $10,176,247
Seattle Seahawks $11,587 $144,352,258 $10,170,669
Cincinnati Bengals $7,587,902 $152,985,091 $9,692,461
New England Patriots $1,347,882 $150,008,202 $9,634,249
Atlanta Falcons $3,905,771 $149,283,272 $9,518,399
San Diego Chargers $2,287,176 $148,661,543 $8,113,224
Dallas Cowboys $3,571,239 $152,366,813 $6,894,370
Los Angeles Rams $933,521 $148,836,703 $6,828,486
Philadelphia Eagles $7,255,362 $154,876,018 $6,694,344
Denver Broncos $3,300,000 $148,724,729 $5,370,312
Minnesota Vikings $2,090,409 $151,576,413 $5,338,304
Arizona Cardinals $3,031,663 $154,204,505 $4,763,911
New York Jets $2,484,216 $154,103,375 $3,425,359
New Orleans Saints $1,400,000 $152,906,807 $2,655,255
Pittsburgh Steelers $3,000,327 $155,688,497 $1,940,481
Kansas City Chiefs $2,622,838 $157,729,112 $226,818

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