2021 NFL free agency: Offseason moves the teams with the least salary cap space can make

The start of the 2021 free agency period is about a week away. The cap has declined from where it was in 2020, which means teams have been making 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’ve spent a few days this week walking through the types of moves each and every team can make. But rather than go by division or conference, we’re went through the list in order of potential spending power. On Wednesday, we dug into the teams we can reasonably expect to be spenders, as they have $30 million or more in cap room. On Thursday, we looked 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.) Below, we’ll finish up with teams that remain in a cap crunch, with less than $10 million to spend. (Plus the Cowboys, who restructured contracts along the offensive line to create additional space.) 

*All salary cap numbers are courtesy of overthecap.com.*

Dallas Cowboys ($20 million)

Key Free Agents: Dak Prescott (franchise tagged, technically), Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Joe Looney, Aldon Smith, Tyrone Crawford, Cedrick Wilson (RFA)Pressing Needs: EDGE, IDL, CB, SMinor Needs: OL, LB

I’m not sure Jerry and Stephen Jones went more than 30 seconds during the press conference announcing Dak Prescott’s new contract without mentioning that they need to find a way to improve the team’s defense. Even before Prescott’s injury, the 2020 Cowboys defense was a disaster. None of the offseason free-agent signings worked out on any level, several veterans regressed, and it took the rookies a while to get up to speed. 

So, the Cowboys enter this offseason with just as many defensive needs as they had last year, if not more, because two of their three starting corners and one of their starting safeties all seem likely to leave. They seem likely to draft a corner pretty early in April, but I wouldn’t rule out an on-the-cheap Richard Sherman signing. He had his best years playing for Dan Quinn, who is now coordinating the Dallas defense. He might have better offers elsewhere, though, in which case someone like Jason Verrett or Ahkello Witherspoon (also each of the 49ers) might make more sense. The Cowboys should also be looking for depth on the interior defensive line, as well as a veteran safety. A flier on Malik Hooker would make a ton of sense, for example. 

Key Free Agents: Anthony Harris, Dakota Dozier, Eric Wilson, Kyle Rudolph, Ifeadi Odenigbo (RFA)Pressing Needs: OL, EDGE, IDLMinor Needs: N/A

The Vikings cut Riley Reiff earlier this week and have Dozier hitting the market, so they need to rebuild the entire left side of their line. They let Everson Griffen walk last offseason in free agency, traded away Yannick Ngakoue in the middle of last season and may cut ties with Danielle Hunter, so edge is going to be a major need. It’s tough to recommend any moves without knowing how this team will create additional room under the cap, but the most likely ways seem like a Hunter trade, and extensions or restructures for Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and/or Harrison Smith. 

Key Free Agents: Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Avery Williamson, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, Tyson Alualu, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, Robert Spillane (RFA)Pressing Needs: RB, OL, CBMinor Needs: QB, IDL, LB, S

Woo boy. The Steelers might be in some trouble here. If you count the retiring Maurkice Pouncey, it’s possible they could lose nine starters in free agency. They already got Ben Roethlisberger to take a pay cut, so it’s not like there are even that many more ways for them to create more room under the cap. Extending T.J. Watt and artificially lowering his cap hit for this year will help, but he’s only set to count for around $10 million at the moment so it’ll only help so much. 

Key Free Agents: Leonard Williams (franchise tagged), Dalvin Tomlinson, Cameron Fleming, Kyler FackrellPressing Needs: WR, OL, EDGE, LB, CBMinor Needs: QB, TE

After franchising Leonard Williams again, it seems likely that the Giants will let Tomlinson leave. Williams and Dexter Lawrence can man the middle well enough, but they’re going to need some help on the edges. The Giants have already cut ties with Golden Tate, and it seems likely they’ll part with Evan Engram as well. That should free up some more room to go after another receiver or an edge guy, but as with other teams in this group, the more important consideration is how they are going to open up space to fill all of their needs. Signing Williams to a long-term deal that lowers his cap hit from the tag number is the easiest route, but they could also extend Jabrill Peppers, restructure Blake Martinez, or get Nate Solder to take a pay cut. 

Key Free Agents: Kenny Golladay, Romeo Okwara, Duron Harmon, Marvin Jones, Oday Aboushi, Reggie RaglandPressing Needs: QB, WR, OL, EDGE, IDL, LB, CB, SMinor Needs: N/A

This is a rebuilding team with needs everywhere that also seems likely to lose its top two wide receivers and possibly its best pass rusher. It’s a mess. Their most likely route to creating additional cap space is releasing or trading Jared Goff, but that would be a bit strange after they acquired him in the Matthew Stafford deal. Other possibilities include a restructure for Trey Flowers, or outright releases for Desmond Trufant and/or Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

Key Free Agents: Sammy Watkins, Daniel Sorensen, Bashaud Breeland, Demarcus Robinson, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Mike Remmers, Andrew Wylie, Damien Wilson, Alex Okafor, Austin Reiter, Charvarius Ward (RFA)Pressing Needs: OLMinor Needs: WR, EDGE, CB

The Chiefs have already parted with both of their longtime starting tackles (Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz) and seem prepared to let center Austin Reiter leave as well. Considering how badly their offensive line issues undermined their offense in the Super Bowl, that is somewhat concerning. They have the ability to convert large roster bonuses for Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones, and Tyreek Hill into signing bonuses to spread out the cap hits, and they might need to do it with two or more of those players in order to free enough space to fix the line and re-sign at least some of the players they have hitting the market. Sneakily, they have a need at wide receiver, where they can’t really afford to let both Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson leave. Concerningly, they also need some help on the edge despite trading for and then paying big money to Frank Clark. That’s not great. 

Key Free Agents: Chris Godwin (franchise tagged), Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Steve McClendonPressing Needs: N/AMinor Needs: RB, EDGE, IDL

Tampa has a whole mess of clean paths to creating additional cap room, because the Bucs as a general rule don’t really sign contracts that include much in the way of dead money. They have a roster bonus for Tom Brady that can be converted to a signing bonus, and they can also extend Brady to lower his cap hit. They can sign Godwin to a long-term deal and spread his cap hit over additional years. They can extend or restructure Donovan Smith, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan Jensen, and/or Mike Evans. They can cut or agree to reduced salaries with Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and/or William Gholston. Really, the Bucs can have as much cap room as they want. It’s just a matter of what their plans are. 

Key Free Agents: Corey Linsley, Christian Kirksey, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Will Redmond, Kevin King, Robert Tonyan (RFA), Tyler Lancaster (RFA), Allen Lazard (ERFA)Pressing Needs: WR, OL, CBMinor Needs: RB

Extensions for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams seem like the most likely path to cap room for the Packers. They should be able to bring back each of Tonyan, Lancaster, and Lazard with their restricted and exclusive rights, but they seem pretty likely to lose Linsley, plus at least one of Jones and Williams. Creating enough room to get Rodgers a proper No. 2 wideout seems unlikely, so that’ll likely have to happen in the draft, if it’s to happen at all. 

Key Free Agents: Alex Mack, Keanu Neal, James Carpenter, Ricardo Allen, Todd Gurley, Brian HillPressing Needs: RB, EDGE, LB, CB, SMinor Needs: QB

The Falcons have several ways to clear cap space, but some are significantly more attractive than others. They can easily cut ties with Dante Fowler Jr., who didn’t live up to expectations this season. They have base salaries for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, and Grady Jarrett that are easily convertible to signing bonuses, but Ryan and Jones are each entering their mid-30s and it might not be wise to do that in the position the Falcons are currently in. 

Key Free Agents: Jalen Mills, Jason Peters, Nate Gerry, Duke Riley, Vinny Curry, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Richard RodgersPressing Needs: WR, LB, CB, SMinor Needs: QB

Taking on nearly $34 million in dead money to trade a quarterback creates a lot of problems. Likely routes to creating room include parting with Zach Ertz and Marquise Goodwin, extending Derek Barnett, and restructuring Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and/or Brandon Graham. Even then, they’re not likely to have much in the way of spending power. 

Key Free Agents: Allen Robinson (franchise tagged), Mitchell Trubisky, Roy Robertson-Harris, Barkevious Mingo, Germain Ifedi, Cordarrelle PattersonPressing Needs: QB, WR, OLMinor Needs: IDL, S

Robinson seems like a candidate for a tag-and-trade, though that would leave the Bears without any reliable passing-game weapons. If they can get him signed to a long-term deal, that’d lower his cap hit and create some more breathing room. Really, though, the only thing the Bears need to do is have Ryan Pace resist the urge to double down on Mitchell Trubisky so they have some more options in the future. 

Key Free Agents: Seriously like half the teamPressing Needs: QB, CBMinor Needs: N/A

Somehow, some way, the Saints will create double-digit millions in cap room and sign the biggest free agent on the market. 

Key Free Agents: John Johnson III, Austin Blythe, Leonard Floyd, Samson Ebukam, Morgan Fox, Troy Hill, Gerald Everett, Malcolm Brown, Josh Reynolds, Darious Williams (RFA)Pressing Needs: EDGE, LB Minor Needs: OL, CB, S

The Rams are going to lose a lot of talent this offseason. But they have rather intentionally built a stars-and-scrubs style roster where they are counting on guys like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and now Matthew Stafford to help make up for those losses. There is work to be done to get cap-compliant by next week, but the Rams seem more likely to fill holes in the draft than with notable signings. 

Published: 2021-03-13 01:53:54

Tags: #NFL #free #agency #Offseason #moves #teams #salary #cap #space

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