Before long, all 32 NFL teams will have a chance to replenish their rosters in free agency. But almost literally half the league has some work to do before then. Even with the salary cap jumping more than $16 million this year, to a $224.8M total, 14 different clubs are currently over the cap thanks to projected 2023 investments. Another six have less than $10M in projected cap space, meaning they'll need to do their own trimming if they want to be active in pursuing new talent -- or re-signing their own.
It's not overly difficult to shed salary, in some cases. The Titans, for example, were one of 10 teams with the least amount of cap space approaching free agency, but they're back in the green after a swift release of three players this week: wide receiver Robert Woods, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and kicker Randy Bullock. They will, of course, have to fill those positions now. But you can find ways around salary-cap trouble if you just look hard enough.
With that in mind, here are some potential cap-saving moves that each of the 10 most financially strapped teams may consider:
Note: Cap space and financial implications of proposed scenarios are courtesy of Over the Cap. Cap figures are rounded to the nearest hundred-thousandth. Also, asterisks (*) denote post-June 1 moves.
Projected over the cap: $9.7M
- Cut candidates: OT David Bakhtiari ($5.7M), LB De'Vondre Campbell ($5.2M)*
- Trade candidates: QB Aaron Rodgers ($15.8M)*, DT Kenny Clark ($3M)
This all comes down to Rodgers. If he's back for a 19th season, the Packers will have to get creative to restock his supporting cast. But even if he returns with an intent to play elsewhere, a trade will require some hurdle-jumping. A pre-June 1 trade would actually result in an immediate loss of $8.7M, whereas a post-June 1 move would clear almost $16M. But waiting until the summer isn't ideal for maximizing his trade value. The QB may have to renegotiate his deal to facilitate a feasible move. Green Bay can also restructure CB Rasul Douglas' deal to free up $2.2M.
Projected over the cap: $13.4M
- Cut candidates: WR Jakeem Grant ($2.2M), OT Joe Haeg ($2M), DT Jordan Elliott ($2.7M)
- Extension candidates: WR Amari Cooper ($15.1M), WR Donovan Peoples-Jones ($1.4M), S Grant Delpit ($490K)
Trading Deshaun Watson back out of town would take care of their entire cap hole, but seeing as that's not going to happen, they've still got a fairly straightforward path to freeing up space. Cooper was a solid value as the top WR in 2022, and at 28, he's seemingly still got plenty in the tank. Peoples-Jones, meanwhile, broke out with 61 catches for 839 yards as the No. 2.
Projected over the cap: $14.1M
- Cut candidates: OT Joseph Noteboom ($8.5M)*, C Brian Allen ($2M), TE Tyler Higbee ($3.9M)
- Trade candidates: CB Jalen Ramsey ($5.6M)
- Extension candidates: OLB Leonard Floyd ($11.5M)
How badly does general manager Les Snead, notoriously attracted to win-now moves, want to rebuild a suddenly aging, injured, expensive lineup? Ramsey won't be cut, but he'd surely fetch a premium return via trade. Assuming he sticks, however, the Rams' best play is probably rebuilding the trenches, which lost both Allen and Noteboom to injury in 2022. Floyd, meanwhile, is 30 but coming off his third straight nine-sack season. L.A. can also restructure big deals for Ramsey ($10.6M), Allen Robinson ($10.6M) and Aaron Donald ($20.5M) to save a ton, but that would simply delay their commitments to those players.
Projected over the cap: $16.4M
- Cut candidates: TE Durham Smythe ($3.5M), CB Byron Jones ($3.5M)
- Extension candidates: DT Christian Wilkins ($7.7M), LB Jerome Baker ($6M)
Designating the injury-riddled Jones a post-June 1 release would boost savings up to $13.6M, but of course it'd also require Miami to fill one of two starting cornerback spots. Extending two defensive centerpieces in Wilkins and Baker feels like the wisest route, though the latter could also be a cut or restructure candidate at a lesser-valued position. Miami could also restructure wideout Cedrick Wilson Jr. for about $3M in savings.
Projected over the cap: $16.6M
- Cut candidates: RB Nyheim Hines ($4.8M), C Mitch Morse ($5.4M), DT Tim Settle ($2.2M)
- Extension candidates: DT Ed Oliver ($7.7M), DT DaQuan Jones ($4.5M)
Buffalo just acquired Hines via trade, but with James Cook in tow at running back, cutting him to save almost $5M feels like a virtual lock. Morse's exit would raise bigger questions up front, but he's now 30 with a growing injury history. Oliver and Jones, who pair well on Sean McDermott's front, profile as logical long-term building blocks. The team can also restructure the massive deals of two big-name defensive starters in Von Miller ($10.9M) and Tre'Davious White ($5.9M), although you wonder how eager they are to do that after both veterans battled serious injuries in 2022.
Projected over the cap: $20.5M
- Cut candidates: OG Matt Feiler ($6.5M), WR Keenan Allen ($14.8M), TE Gerald Everett ($4.3M), DT Austin Johnson ($3.4M), OLB Khalil Mack ($18.4M)
- Extension candidates: QB Justin Herbert ($2.6M), RB Austin Ekeler ($4.1M), CB Michael Davis ($4.7M)
Allen has been so reliable for so long that it feels almost disrespectful to suggest him as a cap casualty, but few others would grant L.A. so much cap relief with a release. We're also not sure other teams will be racing to take on his remaining $20M+ annual cap hits after an injury-shortened 2022, so he's not necessarily a viable trade candidate. Mack is another wild card, having just arrived via trade prior to last season, but his production didn't match such a lofty deal. The Chargers can also restructure Joey Bosa's mega-extension to clear more than $15M.
Projected over the cap: $22.8M
- Cut candidates: CB Shaquill Griffin ($13.1M), S Rayshawn Jenkins ($6.5M)
- Trade candidates: DL Roy Robertson-Harris ($7.8M)
Most agreed that Jacksonville overpaid when it rebuilt its secondary around Griffin and Jenkins a few years ago, and now it's time for the Jaguars to pay for it. Robertson-Harris was actually solid in the trenches, especially down the stretch, but he's expensive enough to be expendable; ideally, they're moving him to a contender and restocking the front in the draft. The team can also restructure inflated deals for Zay Jones ($3.6M), Foyesade Oluokun ($6.7M) and Darious Williams ($5.2M) to clear money, which they'll need if they plan to re-sign breakout TE Evan Engram, a pending free agent.
Projected over the cap: $23.5M
- Cut candidates: WR Adam Thielen ($6.4M), OLB Za'Darius Smith ($12.2M), LB Eric Kendricks ($9.5M), LB Jordan Hicks ($5M), S Harrison Smith ($7.4M)
- Trade candidates: QB Kirk Cousins ($17.5M), RB Dalvin Cook ($7.9M)
- Extension candidates: Cousins ($23M), WR Justin Jefferson ($1.1M), TE T.J. Hockenson ($6.6M), OT Brian O'Neill ($10.7M)
GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has one of the NFL's most intriguing cap situations on his hands. Fresh off a 13-4 debut alongside Kevin O'Connell, he's got to weigh the team's surprising 2022 resilience against the reality that most of the club's longtime staples are due for departure. Just like last year, Cousins is truly the X factor: the team could double down on his solid, if unspectacular, presence to save money yet again; or it could auction him on the trade market to kick off a new long-term vision. Regardless, Jefferson is primed for a record deal that'd clear at least $1M in 2023, whereas franchise favorites like Thielen and Smith are safe bets to hit the open market and/or return with significantly reduced pay.
Projected over the cap: $36M
- Cut candidates: QB Jameis Winston ($4.4M), WR Michael Thomas ($1.4M)*, OT James Hurst ($4.7M)
- Trade candidates: RB Alvin Kamara ($1.7M), DE Cameron Jordan ($2.2M)
- Extension candidates: DE Carl Granderson ($2.4M)
Perpetually fighting to stay in the green, the Saints are bound to cut Winston after refusing to put him back under center following an injury-riddled start to 2022, and Thomas' own medical history suggests a post-June 1 release is inevitable. Dealing Kamara and Jordan would represent an uncharacteristic shift to a full-on rebuild, but it's arguable they'll never be able to get more for the Pro Bowl playmakers, even with Kamara facing a suspension to open 2023. The team can also restructure Jordan's deal ($10M), or that of Marshon Lattimore ($10M). They got started on that front with Ryan Ramczyk, freeing up $10.336M in cap space by reworking the offensive tackle's contract and also freed up $1.5M restructuring kicker Will Lutz's deal.
Projected over the cap: $55M
- Cut candidates: RB Leonard Fournette ($3.5M), OT Donovan Smith ($10M), OG Shaq Mason ($5.3M), OLB Shaquill Barrett ($14.6M)*, K Ryan Succop ($3.3M)
- Trade candidates: WR Mike Evans ($2.3M), WR Chris Godwin ($8.8M), WR Russell Gage ($7.8M), LB Devin White ($11.7M)
The years of going all in around Tom Brady have officially taken their toll. Barrett may have had a trade market a year ago, but not going on 31 and coming off injury; he'd clear almost $15M on his own, via a post-June 1 release. Fournette is also expendable with Rachaad White emerging at RB. And if GM Jason Licht goes all in the reverse direction, he could certainly attempt to land a premium pick or two by selling the wideouts, though it feels more likely he'll aim for a quick fix at QB to keep the offensive corps intact. The Bucs can also restructure deals for Ryan Jensen ($8.5M), Vita Vea ($8.6M) and Carlton Davis ($6.7M) to save tens of millions, albeit by pushing that money down the road.