The start of the 2021 free agency period is less than a week away. The $182.5 million cap -- down nearly $16 million from 2020 -- is forcing teams to make major cap-clearing moves and there are still more to come. A whole bunch of teams have used the franchise tag, but others have surprisingly not elected to use it on players who should be sought after on the open market.
With all that in mind, we're going to spend the next few days walking through the types of moves each team can make. But rather than go by division or conference, we're going through the list in order of potential spending power. On Wednesday, we dug into the teams we can reasonably expect to be big spenders, as they have $30 million or more in cap room. Below, we'll look at teams with a moderate amount of room -- somewhere between $10 million and $30 million. (And the Dolphins, who were in that range but created more room on Tuesday by releasing Kyle Van Noy).
Miami Dolphins ($33 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, OL, EDGE, IDL
Minor Needs: S
The Dolphins were last offseason's big spenders, splurging on Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, and Emmanuel Ogbah on defense. Of those signings, Jones and Ogbah look like hits, Lawson is iffy, and Van Noy has already been released. But Miami still has needs on defense, particularly up front. The fact that the front is weaker than the back end is not surprising given head coach Brian Flores' philosophy, but the Dolphins should still be in the market for midrange veterans on the edge.
More importantly, they need to continue upgrading the infrastructure around Tua Tagovailoa or whichever quarterback they decide to take at No. 3 overall, if that's the route they elect to go. Trading for former Titans first-round pick Isaiah Wilson is a good start, and they've now got two first-round tackles from last year's draft to bookend their line. But they need help up the middle. They've already signed one offensive lineman away from the Patriots with center Ted Karras. Perhaps they go for another with Joe Thuney.
Los Angeles Chargers ($27 million)
Pressing Needs: OL
Minor Needs: WR, LB, EDGE
Justin Herbert looks like he has a chance to be a special player. It's incumbent on the Chargers, then, to protect their investment. It doesn't help that three of their five starters from last year's offensive line are hitting free agency, and another lineman (Mike Pouncey) is retiring. They graded out as one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL last season and desperately need to refortify the left side of the line with whatever money they have available.
It'd also be good to get some wide receiver depth behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and get younger on the edge, whether Melvin Ingram re-signs or not. New head coach Brandon Staley prioritizes stopping the opposing passing game, so it wouldn't be surprising if they added to the secondary -- especially with Jenkins potentially leaving. Given that Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr. are getting up there in age, cornerback seems the likely priority.
Cleveland Browns ($25 million)
Pressing Needs: LB, S
Minor Needs: WR, IDL, EDGE, CB
The Browns have a really solid roster, and did a lot of the work of remaking it last offseason, when they brought in Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper in free agency. They also drafted Jedrick Wills to finish off one of the league's better offensive lines, turning a weakness into a strength.
Now, their major needs are up the middle on defense. The analytical leanings of the front office means the Browns don't prioritize linebacker or safety as highly as some other teams, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. Last year's second-round pick, Grant Delpit, should hopefully help at one safety spot, but with Joseph and Andrew Sendejo both hitting free agency, they could use another body there alongside Sheldrick Redwine and Ronnie Harrison.
Of the in-house free agents, Higgins and Ogunjobi seem likely to be their biggest re-sign priorities. Baker Mayfield has a good rapport with Higgins, and the Browns do not have much in the way of depth behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Ogunjobi is a quality player up the middle, and a good fit alongside Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson.
San Francisco 49ers ($25 million)
Pressing Needs: IDL, CB
Minor Needs: QB, RB, FB, WR, OL, S
Sneakily, there's a whole lot of work to do here. Williams cannot be franchise tagged thanks to the terms of his last contract, and the Niners will surely want to get him signed to a long-term deal. Kyle Shanahan absolutely loves Juszczyk and Bourne, so you'd think San Francisco would want to bring them back as well.
But Sherman, Verrett, and Tartt all seem likely to move on, which means in addition to replacing departed defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (now the coach of the Jets), the 49ers are going to have to rebuild the secondary he turned into one of the league's better units during his time there. Veterans like Jason McCourty or Terrance Mitchell seem like pretty good fits, though the Niners might be best off waiting until the second wave of free agency and plucking guys at below-market deals. Despite the team's protestations, there also seems like a chance they could move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, whether via trade or in the draft. Just keep an eye on it, is all.
Carolina Panthers ($24 million)
Pressing Needs: OL, CB, S
Minor Needs: QB, IDL, LB
The Panthers might be a better fit with the first group of teams we looked at on Wednesday, because they need to make a decision on what they're doing at quarterback before anything else can fall into place. They made a bunch of cap-clearing moves earlier this offseason, and it wasn't hard to connect the dots that they might be quarterback-related in some way.
Cutting ties with Teddy Bridgewater could save the Panthers anywhere from $3 million (as a pre-June 1 release) to $18 million (as a post-June 1 trade) on the books, freeing more than enough space to make a big move. Signing Moton to a long-term deal and artificially lowering his cap hit could create even more room. They'll have to solidify the offensive line (three starters, including their left tackle, are hitting the market, in addition to Moton) and perhaps find a replacement for Samuel (doing so in the draft seems the most likely route), while also continuing the defensive makeover that began last offseason.
Houston Texans ($24 million)
Pressing Needs: Competent management
Minor Needs: Everything else
This team is a mess. The less said about them, the better.
Arizona Cardinals ($21 million)
Pressing Needs: TE, OL, CB
Minor Needs: WR, S
The Cardinals might have even more to do than the 49ers. Their slot receiver, starting running back, right tackle, No. 1 corner, and top two edge rushers from last season are all free agents. They've got only $21 million in room at the moment, so there's going to have to be some releasing and restructuring going on over these next few days. Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and D.J. Humphries are all restructure candidates.
Figuring out a way to add more options offensively, via personnel or scheme, should be a priority, but cornerback seems like the most obvious glaring need. Peterson seems likely to move on. Kirkpatrick struggled for much of last season. The Cards don't have much in the way of depth behind them, but also don't have much room to go get somebody.
Buffalo Bills ($20 million)
Pressing Needs: N/A
Minor Needs: RB, OL, EDGE, CB
The Bills are in a good spot. Williams, Feliciano, and Milano are the guys they seem likely to prioritize bringing back, but they could always decide to go in another direction at any or all of those spots. Milano would hurt the most to lose because of his value to the defense, though Williams might actually be more important as one of the bookends protecting Josh Allen. The Bills have spent big each of the past two offseasons and seem more likely to go bargain shopping this year.
Seattle Seahawks ($18 million)
Pressing Needs: OL, EDGE, CB, Making Russell Wilson happy
Minor Needs: RB, TE, S
The Seahawks really only have one job: Make Russell Wilson happy. He's made it pretty clear he wants more investment in the offensive line and better weapons, so that's what the Seahawks should prioritize. They'll also have to figure out a way to replace Carlos Dunlap on the edge and potentially Wright, Griffin, and Dunbar on the back end of the defense. Good luck, I suppose.
Las Vegas Raiders ($18 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, OL, IDL, LB, CB
Minor Needs: EDGE, S
Remember when the Raiders went on a spending spree after trading Khalil Mack and Jon Gruden justified the trade by mentioning all the players they wouldn't have had they not made the deal? Well, those guys are all gone now. And the Raiders have needs almost everywhere. It's not a good situation to be in.
They've already traded Trent Brown and released Richie Incognito and Gabe Jackson, so they need to completely remake the offensive line that has made Derek Carr one of the league's most well-protected QBs and insulated him from his biggest weakness (throwing under pressure). With the line likely to take a step backward, they badly need weapons who can get open more quickly. And with Hankins and Collins hitting the market, they are very thin up the middle on defense. Oh, and cornerback is still a pretty major need. Other than all that, they're in good shape.
Baltimore Ravens ($17 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, IOL, EDGE
Minor Needs: N/A
The Ravens will probably let all of these guys walk, sign veterans who don't factor into the compensatory-pick formula at less than half the price, get similar production, pick up some comp picks in next year's draft, and keep it moving. That's what they pretty much always do.
Tennessee Titans ($17 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, TE, EDGE, CB
Minor Needs: IDL, LB, S
The strength of the team is the offensive line clearing lanes for Derrick Henry and protecting Ryan Tannehill, and that's not going to change. But with the exception of A.J. Brown, all of the team's other top passing game weapons are headed into free agency. That's untenable. Figuring out a way to bring back one of Davis or Smith should be a priority, but the Titans have so many glaring needs on defense that it might not be possible. They have almost no pass rush, and really only one cornerback who is a starter-quality player. This is a good team, but there are some pretty obvious holes.