DEEP UNDER THE CAP
The following is a list of the maximum amount of money each of the NFL teams has remaining to spend under the salary cap. Figures are as of last Thursday.
1. Tampa Bay $42.8 million
2. New Orleans $31.1 million
3. Kansas City $30.0 million
4. Tennessee $27.2 million
5. Buffalo $26.6 million
6. Jacksonville $26.2 million
7. Green Bay $24.4 million
8. Chicago $22.5 million
9. Miami $21.0 million
10. San Diego $18.7 million
11. Minnesota $18.6 million
12. Houston $15.6 million
13. Denver $15.2 million
14. San Francisco $15.0 million
15. St. Louis $14.6 million
16. Philadelphia $13.9 million
17. Cincinnati $13.3 million
18. Atlanta $12.5 million
19. Cleveland $12.0 million
20. New York Giants $11.1 million
21. New England $10.8 million
22. Seattle $9.1 million
23. Carolina $8.3 million
24. Washington $7.7 million
25. Indianapolis $7.6 million
26. Oakland $6.4 million
27. Baltimore $4.7 million
28. New York Jets $4.5 million
29. Detroit $4.4 million
30. Dallas $3.9 million
31. Pittsburgh $1.3 million
32. Arizona $310,078
Even with teams spending nearly half a billion dollars on player contracts since the free agency period started Feb. 29, here is a staggering statistic to consider: There's still approximately $480 million in unused salary cap money.
According to figures kept by the NFL Players Association and updated through last Thursday, each of the league's 32 teams had an average of $15 million in unused salary cap space.
Though a quarter or more of that collective money will be used to sign rookies after the draft in April, teams still figure to have around $360 million in remaining salary cap space going into the 2008 season. Barring unilateral raises for all players, much of that money will go unspent.
"There's nothing left to buy in free agency," one agent said. "The market is just about dead now. Yeah, you have the rookies, but that's not the big deal that everybody makes it out to be. A couple of guys get huge deals, but everything else is slotted.
"Really, the way the cap is now, teams don't have to sweat the cap. There's a ton of money out there to spend, but they're not spending. It's not like five or six years ago."
While several teams figure to start the '08 season well under the $116.2 million cap, the available room will decrease significantly. From year to year, teams are required to spend a designated percentage amount of the cap. Last year, the salary floor was $81.75 million with the cap being $109 million. This year, the floor percentage has increased to 86.4, forcing teams to spend at least $100 million.
Since teams have so much money, some agents believe that more veteran players will seek to renegotiate their contracts. New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, for example, is making $3 million a year for the next three seasons, but is hoping to get a raise after his impressive 2007 season. Likewise, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora has been hinting at a raise, although he has five years left on his contract.
The massive amount of money remaining around the league comes despite a flurry of rich contracts, including some unexpected ones. For instance, Oakland gave wide receiver Javon Walker a reported six-year, $50 million contract which included an $11 million signing bonus despite the fact that Walker was hurt last season and has missed 23 of 48 games over the past three seasons.
Likewise, the New York Jets gave inconsistent linebacker Calvin Pace a reported six-year, $42 million contract. Last season, Pace had a career-high 6 ½ sacks. In his first four seasons, he had 7 ½ sacks total.
Still, those and many other contracts have barely scratched the surface of the extended cap. Fact is: Player salaries are not keeping pace with the expansion of the salary cap. The unspent capital figures will only get worse next year as teams find ways to carryover unused cap money from year to year.
A prime example of that is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who sit atop the list of unused cap money with more than $42 million to spend. The Buccaneers have added a number of veterans – cornerback Sammy Davis, linebacker Teddy Lehman, and defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson among others – but have yet to make any big-splash signings. And at this point, there's no way to spend anything close to that in real dollars.
A big chunk of that money comes from the fact the Bucs carried over $13.3 million in cap space from last season. The Bucs were able to do that because they gave out what were defined as "likely to be earned incentives" in certain contracts, but those incentives were never earned by the players. For instance, players such as quarterbacks can be given incentives for special teams performance that are defined as likely to be earned. Because quarterbacks, even backups, rarely play on special teams, those incentives go unused, allowing the team to carryover a credit.
By contrast, when teams go over the cap teams as a result of paying off "unlikely to be earned incentives", they get that amount deducted. For example, the Giants paid a large number of bonuses last season after winning the Super Bowl and were a little more than $3 million above the '07 cap. That amount was then deducted from the Giants cap for this year. However, the Giants and other teams that go over the cap are now the exception to the rule.
Led by the Bucs, Philadelphia ($14 million) and Minnesota ($18.4 million), NFL teams collectively carried over $154 million from the 2007 season. Based on current rate, teams could carryover another $300 million in cap space.