With the start of free agency on Friday, available salary cap room is a huge factor in how quickly a team actively pursues free agents and whether or not they have any ability at all to pursue the top players at any position.
During the offseason, the 51 players on each team who hit the cap the hardest – based on their salaries and a wide assortment of bonuses for this contract year – are the only ones who count against a team's salary cap.
While this year's cap has been set at $116.7 million, most teams qualified for a credit for money they had been charged for in 2007, but didn't pay out. As long as this money was charged through performance or achievement categories that qualify as "likely to be earned" bonuses, the team took the cap hit for them last year. If the player didn't hit those specific incentives, the team got a credit for them in 2008, increasing their cap allocation. As a result, the average salary-cap figure for NFL teams this year will actually be $121.6 million.
Shrewd cap managers who realized they would be under-spending in 2007 made sure that a few players had "likely to be earned" incentives added to their contracts in 2007 even though they weren't truly likely to earn them. Since likely-to-be-earned incentives are based on the type or category of the incentive, not necessarily the player's true likelihood of achieving it, those cap managers kept their teams from losing the money they didn't use in 2007, squirreling it away in contracts through those bonuses to give the team more cap room in 2008.
After adjustments were applied as the league year opened on Friday, the team that benefited the most was the Minnesota Vikings, who received more than $18 million in credits that boosted their cap number for this year to $135 million. Others that received at least $10 million in extra cap space for 2008 included the Eagles, Buccaneers, Bills, Browns, Jaguars, and Chiefs.
Cincinnati and Arizona didn't have any 2007 adjustments, so they'll operate with the standard $116.7 cap. But five teams had their 2008 salary caps lowered with adjustments. Usually this is due to "not likely to be earned" incentives that their players actually achieved in 2007. Those types of incentives aren't charged against the cap in the current contract year since they fall under categories that make it a long shot that the players would actually see the money.
As a result of those adjustments, Detroit will operate at the biggest cap disadvantage of any team after taking a $5.3 million hit, reducing their cap to $111.3 million in 2008 – $10 million lower than the average NFL team will have to work with this year. The Giants will operate $3.3 million short in 2008, the Texans by $2.2 million, the Steelers by $1.9 million, while the Chargers and the Falcons will have to operate a bit at $600,00 and $350,000 under the standard cap, respectively.
However, if teams have been frugal in regards to their salaries and bonuses that will be charged to their cap for this year, operating under a lower cap this year may not be a huge issue. And some teams who got big adjustments needed them just to barely get under the cap due to the large contracts they are already carrying among their top 51 players.
Listed below is the resulting available cap room for all 32 teams when free agency opened on Friday, based on figures provided to Scout.com. Any pending contract tenders to restricted free agents or franchise/transition tagged players, as well as cap adjustments, are included so that you get a clear picture of where the teams stood prior to signing any free agents on Friday. Figures shown below are in millions and are rounded to the nearest $100,000.
|Available Cap Space: Top 16||Available Cap Space: Bottom 16|
|1. Tampa Bay||$43.8||17. Green Bay||$19.5|
|2. Buffalo||$41.7||18. New England||$17.9|
|3. Miami||$40.3||19. Denver||$17.1|
|4. Jacksonville||$37.4||20. NY Giants||$16.0|
|5. Minnesota||$36.9||21. Detroit||$15.3|
|6. New Orleans||$34.8||22. St. Louis||$12.2|
|7. Tennessee||$31.7||23. Oakland||$11.9|
|8. San Francisco||$31.0||24. Atlanta||$10.9|
|9. Philadelphia||$30.5||25. Arizona||$10.5|
|10. Houston||$25.9||26. Carolina||$7.0|
|11. NY Jets||$25.8||27. Seattle||$6.8|
|12. Kansas City||$25.5||28. Washington||$4.9|
|13. Cleveland||$23.8||29. Dallas||$4.7|
|14. Chicago||$23.0||30. Baltimore||$3.9|
|15. Cincinnati||$22.6||31. Indianapolis||$3.3|
|16. San Diego||$20.2||32. Pittsburgh||$2.5|