Every year the NFL sets its annual salary cap, the amount of money teams have available for contracts the following season. Typically, the official numbers are released in early March. The 2016 cap estimate is in the neighborhood of $154 million – an increase of $11 million from the 2015 cap number.
Teams are free to structure contracts to fit under the cap and often they can be convoluted from one year to the next – pushed higher or lower by bonuses and the verbiage set forth in contracts.
The cap for each team is always in flux. For example, when the Los Angeles Rams released veterans Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Jared Cook, they freed up almost $20 million in cap space for 2016.
Now is an ideal time to take a look at the current cap space because the majority of the people who make salary cap decisions for the NFL’s 32 teams are headed to Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine. As such, there will be very little in the way of veteran player movement while general managers and coaches are at the Underwear Olympics, so the current numbers are likely to remain.
Here are the current salary-cap figures based on the top 51 salaries of players who are currently under contract. As you will see, the difference between the top and the bottom of the list is significant, with the Minnesota Vikings sliding in right about the middle of the curve at No. 18 before releasing any veterans.
- Jacksonville – $73.31 million
- Oakland – $72.85 million
- Chicago – $59.20 million
- Los Angeles – $58.32 million
- New York Giants – $56.47 million
- San Francisco – $53.75 million
- Tampa Bay – $48.57 million
- Tennessee – $48.05 million
- Cleveland – $38.79 million
- Cincinnati – $37.60 million
- Detroit – $32.73 million
- Kansas City – $31.43 million
- San Diego – $30.78 million
- Houston – $29.57 million
- Atlanta – $29.35 million
- Philadelphia – $26.46 million
- Indianapolis – $23.95 million
- Minnesota – $23.24 million
- Seattle – $22.02 million
- New York Jets – $20.66 million
- Green Bay – $20.27 million
- Carolina – $20.23 million
- Arizona – $18.41 million
- Washington – $11.99 million
- Denver – $11.05 million
- New England – $10.37 million
- Pittsburgh – $10.27 million
- Dallas – $9.36 million
- Miami – $7.40 million
- New Orleans – $6.55 million
- Baltimore – $5.21 million
- Buffalo – -$90,786
For teams at the bottom of the list, there are going to have to be some creative things done to free up cap space before the annual cattle call of free agency. The Vikings, for example, could almost double their available cap space by voiding the contracts of Mike Wallace and Phil Loadholt or clear up a lot more room by bringing both of them back at reduced contracts.
Once the Combine is over, the price of playing poker will be in constant flux, as teams continue to cut high-priced veterans and start signing players. But for the next few days, these numbers should remain pretty static and give those interested in free agency – like the Jaguars, Raiders, Bears and Rams, a lot to think about and plans to make to try to lure free agents to come play for them for a hefty payday.