10 NFL Teams Facing Serious Salary Cap Issues in 2017
In the NFL, a team can only do so much when it comes to circumventing the league’s salary cap. Unlike other professional sports leagues where willing teams are allowed to pay a luxury tax for having a total payroll that exceeds their respective salary cap, NFL teams are subject to fines, a loss of draft picks, and voided contracts for violating the league’s strict salary cap rules.
As a result, teams are constantly forced to restructure contracts and make the difficult decision of releasing some of their most popular players to ensure that they remain in good salary cap standing. We have a pretty good idea of which teams will be up tight against the salary cap for the forthcoming season. With that being said, these 10 teams face serious salary cap issues in 2017.
- The 2017 NFL salary cap is set at $167 million.
- 2017 salary cap carryover values are factored in.
- Salary cap figures reflect the NFL’s Top 51 Rule.
- This article is based off salary cap numbers as of 3/6/2017.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $166,978,353
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $21,647
- 2017 Dead Money: $1,882,210
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $7,020,634
Simply put: The Chiefs have a lot of work to do this offseason to improve their current salary cap situation. They recently signed All-Pro safety Eric Berry to a massive contract extension — a wise move in our eyes. However, now they have a mere $21,647 (before draft pick contracts are factored in) in cap space to work with this offseason.
The Chiefs do have a couple simple options that could instantly (and considerably) improve their cap standing. First, they will likely have to decline the 2017 option for backup quarterback Nick Foles. After that, they could restructure the contracts for quarterback Alex Smith (they could also cut Smith if they land Tony Romo), punter Dustin Colquitt, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
It bears pointing out that Kansas City must plan accordingly for contract extensions for outside linebacker Dee Ford and cornerback Marcus Peters. They will have to move quickly on their potential contract restructures if they hope to re-sign defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $161,156,150
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $5,843,850
- 2017 Dead Money: $187,669
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $7,635,278
The Chargers’ rebuilding job won’t be easy given their current salary cap situation. They could help themselves out quite a bit by getting long-term deals done with outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and offensive guard D.J. Fluker, and looking into contract restructures for cornerback Brandon Flowers and offensive guard Orlando Franklin. Because as it stands now, the Chargers are projected to be almost $2 million over the salary cap when we factor in their rookie pool of money.
3. Dallas Cowboys
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $162,578,085
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $4,421,915
- 2017 Dead Money: $3,051,856
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $5,318,786
At some point this offseason the Cowboys will gain $5.1 million in cap space when they trade or release quarterback Tony Romo. Ridding themselves of Romo’s contract will definitely help, but it still won’t be enough for America’s Team to have the cap space to adequately address their team needs this offseason. On top of that, the team will likely lose key 2016 contributors — wide receiver Terrance Williams, offensive guard Ronald Leary, and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr — during free agency.
We fully expect the Cowboys to be aggressive when it comes to contract restructures in the coming days. Candidates for new deals include tight end Jason Witten, linebacker Sean Lee, right tackle Doug Free, and kicker Dan Bailey.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $158,931,524
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $8,068,476
- 2017 Dead Money: $7,305,933
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $6,843,181
The Eagles took a massive step toward fixing their salary cap issues by trading quarterback Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings just before the 2016 season kicked off. That move alone wasn’t enough, though.
As it stands, they are currently in good salary–cap standing, and would continue to be when all of their projected draft pick contracts are factored in. However, if the Eagles are going to spend any money during free agency (we believe they will go after wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor), they still have some work to do on the salary cap front.
To free up additional cap space, the Eagles could restructure the contracts for guys like defensive end Connor Barwin (also a candidate to get cut), quarterback Chase Daniel, offensive tackle Jason Peters, and outside linebacker Brandon Graham. It won’t be easy, but the Eagles’ 2017 salary cap situation is definitely salvageable.
5. Arizona Cardinals
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $147,711,035
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $19,288,965
- 2017 Dead Money: $440,461
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $6,848,817
The Cardinals currently have enough available salary cap space to have a comfortable offseason. That said, they do not have enough cap room to re-sign their top two impending free agents (defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Tony Jefferson), all of their draft picks, and their second-tier impending free agents (tight end Jermaine Gresham, linebacker Kevin Minter, and safety D.J. Swearinger).
At the end of the day, the Cardinals will likely be forced to part ways with both Campbell and Jefferson. They will be very limited when it comes to pursuing free-agent talent this offseason.
6. Baltimore Ravens
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $152,745,675
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $14,254,345
- 2017 Dead Money: $5,399,264
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $6,128,388
The Ravens have been up tight against the salary cap ever since re-signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a massive contract extension following their Super Bowl victory in 2013. This trend will continue into the 2017 season after Flacco signed another huge contract extension this March.
To be fair, the Ravens’ cap issues aren’t entirely due to them overpaying for an average quarterback, and they also aren’t beyond repair. They can easily create some cap space by restructuring the contracts for outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, cornerback Ladarius Webb, and tight end Dennis Pitta.
They do also have to make a decision on the future of veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace. The 30-year-old speedster is a great fit in their offense, but would carry a cap hit of $8 million if the Ravens exercised his 2017 team option. In our eyes, the best move here would be to extend Wallace’s contract and lower his cap numbers.
While we don’t see them being able to create enough cap space to make necessary moves to reclaim a place as one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the AFC, we are confident that with Ozzie Newsome at the helm, the Ravens will be in solid cap shape by the end of the 2017 offseason.
7. Houston Texans
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $143,355,802
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $23,644,198
- 2017 Dead Money: $59,710
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $5,462,811
After years of building their team through the NFL Draft, the Houston Texans went on a free agent spending spree last offseason. As a direct result, they have their work cut out for them from a salary cap perspective in 2017. Their highest profile signing from last year, quarterback Brock Osweiler, has been a complete bust. With the structure of his contract, the Texans are stuck with Osweiler and his $19 million cap hit for at least one more season — even if he never sees the field in 2017.
They currently have enough cap space to make a legitimate offer to their top impending free agent, cornerback A.J. Bouye. But if the Texans overpay for Bouye, they will run the risk of putting themselves in a position where they will be unable to re-sign guys like wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who will both command massive second contracts.
There are only a handful of viable options for contract restructures (linebacker Brian Cushing, offensive tackle Duane Brown, and cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson) for the Texans, which means Houston will likely have to part ways with one or more notable veterans if they want to make a splash during free agency this offseason.
8. Atlanta Falcons
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $143,120,700
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $23,879,300
- 2017 Dead Money: $2,977,670
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $4,645,585
The Falcons are currently in decent salary cap shape. Unfortunately, this will change as they start to sign their young talent to hefty contract extensions. They are currently working on a deal for cornerback Desmond Trufant. Based on the going market rate for young, elite cornerbacks, the reigning NFC Champions will likely end up giving Trufant a five-year contract that pays him $12–$15 million per year with $30 million in guaranteed money.
After Trufant, the Falcons eventually must think about locking up running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, left tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, and outside linebacker Vic Beasley. Beyond that, Atlanta also must work on what will likely be a record-breaking contract extension for 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan. Needless to say, General Manager Thomas Dmitroff will have to find creative ways to keep the Falcons’ salary cap in good standing.
9. New York Giants
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $152,385,961
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $14,614,039
- 2017 Dead Money: $2,899,441
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $5,507,011
The New York Giants have a lot of salary cap work to do if they plan on being active during free agency this offseason. Fortunately for the G-Men, though, they are only a couple of key players away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
They can free up quite a bit of cap space by working out a long-term deal with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. He is scheduled to play the 2017 season on the team’s franchise tag (carrying a cap hit of $16.934 million). Then, the Giants could restructure the contracts for offensive guard Justin Pugh (worthy of a long-term extension) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
More importantly, the Giants also have massive contract extensions looming for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and safety Landon Collins. Both are proven All-Pro-caliber players, and they need to plan accordingly.
10. Buffalo Bills
- 2017 Salary Cap Total: $146,872,830
- 2017 Salary Cap Space: $20,127,170
- 2017 Dead Money: $1,457,611
- Projected Rookie Salary Cap Hit: $6,315,953
If the Bills move on from quarterback Tyrod Taylor (a foolish move in our opinion), they will have a better salary cap situation; declining Taylor’s team option would free up just over $13 million in cap space. At the same time, without Taylor (or another proven veteran with a similar price tag), the Bills will instantly be destined for a top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
If the Bills want to re-sign cornerback Stephon Gilmore, they must hand over a five-year deal paying nearly $15 million per season. If that proves to be the case, Gilmore’s next contract will eat up a significant chunk of their available cap space. All said, Buffalo’s salary cap situation will keep them from making the necessary moves they need to make to contend for a playoff spot in 2017.