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The NFL first established a salary cap for the 1994 season. The cap was set at $34.6 million.
On March 15 the new league year will begin and teams will be managing a record $224.8 million salary cap. So, yes, the price of punters has apparently gone up.
But the shocking thing about this massive rise in salaries and the cap limit is that despite that bloated numbers, 15 teams currently find themselves over the cap, according to independent websites overthecap.com and spotrac.com.
That means all those teams, nearly half the league, must find a way to shed salaries, or players, or both in the next two weeks or so.
Clubs must do this to be cap compliant and avoid sanctions. But more importantly, clubs must do this to draft, to sign free agents, and to compete.
Titans Have Decision To Make On Tannehill
The Tennessee Titans got a jump on this process Tuesday, shedding some $38 million in cap costs by cutting four players, including former Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan.
They may not be finished.
The Titans have a decision looming on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. And while that sounds ridiculous because he is their starter and Malik Willis has shown little sign he’s ready to ascend to the starting job, Tannehill’s cap number begs attention.
Simply, the Titans can save $17.8 million against the cap if they cut or trade Tannehill. And while that would leave them without a starter, it would put them in position to sign a or trade for a new starter if they can find an upgrade.
No, that doesn’t mean that’s the direction the Titans are likely to go. But the salary cap made them do the exercise, consider the option, per a source.
Those are the kind of exercises teams around the league have been doing of late.
Here are the 15 teams over the cap and the approximate amount of money they must cut to fit their top 51 players (which will be the ones counting on the cap until the regular season) as of Wednesday morning:
Half The NFL Over The Cap
The Steelers are approximately $140,000 over the cap.
The Jets are approximately $2.4 million over.
The Eagles are approximately $2.75 million over.
The Cowboys are approximately $7.2 million over.
The Packers are approximately $8.8 million over.
The Panthers are between $7.5-$8.1 million over.
The Packers are approximately $9 million over.
The Dolphins are approximately $13-$14 million over.
The Browns are approximately $13.8 million over.
The Rams are approximately $15.2 million over.
The Bills are approximately $17.4 million over.
The Chargers are approximately $19.6 million over.
The Vikings are approximately $22.7 million over.
The Jaguars are approximately $23 million over.
The Saints are approximately $35 million over.
The Buccaneers are between $55-$55.6 million over.
Buccaneers In NFL Salary Cap Hell
The Steelers have no real problem. They have a starting quarterback on a rookie deal, a talented salary cap department, and a philosophy for improving mostly through the draft.
But can you imagine being the Buccaneers and needing to replace Tom Brady in the same year the team is $55 million over the cap? It makes Kyle Trask, young and costing only $1.5 million against he cap, suddenly a more attractive option at quarterback.
Can you imagine being Jerry Jones and needing to trim $7 million off his salary cap, knowing that he’s got 19 pending free agents? That list of free agents includes running back Tony Pollard, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, safety Donovan Wilson and tight end Dalton Shultz.
It wouldn’t surprise if running back Ezekiel Elliott is asked to take a pay cut.
Can you imagine being the Saints and being so deeply in the red on the cap and needing a starting quarterback? The Saints are in a tough situation because not many (any?) of their big-ticket players have contracts and 2022 performances that scream for them to be money saving cap casualties.
For the Bills, their cap issues might prevent them from re-signing safety Jordan Poyer, who has been an anchor in the secondary but is a free agent. And it could lead them to cut players such as Isaiah McKenzie, Nyheim Hines, and, yes Damar Hamlin.
Vikings Might Need Kirk Cousins To Help
The Vikings, like all teams over the cap, have tough decisions to make. They might be looking at outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith as a cap casualty.
Smith finished the season with 10 sacks, which is good. But he had only 1/2 sack in his final seven regular-season games. And he didn’t do much in the playoff loss to the New York Giants.
And the Vikings can save $12.1 million against the cap by cutting Smith.
The Vikings can also approach it a different way, extending quarterback Kirk Cousins to significantly lower his $36.25 million cap charge. But that also comes with risk because Cousins is already 35 years old.
Ultimately, all these teams will get under the salary cap because everyone always figures out a way to do that. But they probably all wish they were the Chicago Bears this offseason.
The Bears have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And they lead the NFL with $99 million in salary cap space.