Chargers, Dolphins, Saints need to cut cap costs, quickly

Once upon a time, it seemed like most of the NFL scrambled every year to comply with the salary cap. In the aftermath of the 2011 CBA, fewer teams found themselves in what was once commonly known as "cap purgatory."

This year, even with the cap surging to a record high of $255.4 million per year, a handful of franchises have had some work to do in order to get themselves in line. The Bills engaged in a massive cap maneuvering on Wednesday, slashing millions to get within striking distance of compliance. (They're still more than $7.5 million over, via

A few other teams need to slash and burn before next Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, when the top 51 contracts must land at or below the cap limit.

The Chargers are $18.6 million over. The Dolphins are $16.6 million over. And the Saints, who seem to always be in a jam and who seem to always slip their way out of it, are nearly $15.5 million over.

One way to create cap space is to cut players with non-guaranteed salaries. The post-June 1 designation potentially spreads the ensuing dead-money charge over two years. Contracts also can be restructured; most deals now include a term that gives the team the automatic right to reduce the player's salary to the league minimum, with the balance becoming a guaranteed payment that is spread over multiple years.

Still, every dollar paid to a player eventually hits the cap. Teams often kick the can, pushing cap dollars into future years. Last year, for example, the Buccaneers took a $35 million cap charge for Tom Brady, even though he wasn't on the team. If Kirk Cousins signs with the Falcons, the Vikings will carry $28.5 million in his name for 2024. And the Broncos will take $85 million over the next two years for Russell Wilson.

For the Chargers, Dolphins, and Saints, there are easy ways to create cap space. Still, the can can only be kicked. It can't be ignored. The dollars paid to players eventually will hit the cap. That's why, at this time of year, so many teams will politely tell established players to hit the road.