In the coming weeks and months, there is going to be considerable talk about the NFL salary cap. With the current collective bargaining agreement still in flux, the potential of the cap going away in 2007 is a very real possibility. As a result, the 2006 free agent signing period has taken on even greater significance.
Perhaps no division has more of a potential to change between March 3 and May 1 than the NFC North. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, the NFC North has the most available money to spend. The Vikings currently sit at approximately $24 million under the salary cap -- third most in the NFL. Not far behind are the Packers, who, even if Brett Favre opts to return, have about $22 million in cap room to provide him with an improved supporting cast.
Perhaps the most troubling to Vikings fans is that the Bears, who have almost every key player on their roster locked up, sit in the ninth position -- almost $17 million under the salary cap. The Bears have made a point of free spending on impact free agents the last couple of years -- making a strong push for RB Thomas Jones in 2004 just minutes after free agency officially began and backing up the Brinks truck for Muhsin Muhammad a year ago.
Even the Lions find themselves in the middle of the pack -- at No. 16 with about $9 million under the cap. But the numbers don't tell the entire story.
The Vikings have several free agents of their own that they will likely try to lock up before free agency begins, while the Packers have to make up their minds not only at the quarterback position but at running back as well -- where Samkon Gado is the only RB currently under contract. The Lions will likely have to spend most if not all of their available money to either re-sign their own numerous free agents or use it to fill the void created by losing several key starters.
While a lot can and likely will change between now and when free agency officially opens in a little more than three weeks, the one certainty that can we already know is that the NFC North is going to be a division to watch. With a combined $70 million of salary cap space between the four teams, a lot of personnel may be both coming and going as the annual NFL shopfest begins.
Free Agents to Change NFC North
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