NFL league officials want all 32 teams to be in situations where they can compete each season. That is one reason why the salary cap exists as it does. Franchises located in major markets cannot “buy championships” any more than clubs that call cities such as Green Bay, Cleveland and Indianapolis home.
The best general managers and front offices in the NFL do well to spend wisely during free agency periods while also keeping enough cap space open to pay talented young players coming off their rookie contracts. It’s a financial dance of sorts, and those who can’t catch the beat in the spring and summer months are doomed to experience failure during the fall season.
Here are the 10 teams with the most salary cap space in the NFL for August 2014.
Cap figures from Spotrac
10. Miami Dolphins — Cap Space: $14,002,097
The Dolphins seemingly cannot escape NFL purgatory. Miami last had a winning season in 2008. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots continues to be an all-time great that defies odds and leads his team to conference championship games. Rex Ryan has the New York Jets believing they can again contend this fall.
Miami, meanwhile, is one of several teams on this list hoping to have a to-be franchise quarterback on the roster.
Ryan Tannehill has been a good but not great QB in his two seasons in the league. He has thrown 36 touchdowns and 30 picks in 32 regular season games. Miami will be expecting better production from the starting QB over the next two seasons before his rookie contract expires.
9. Cincinnati Bengals — Cap Space: $16,060,294
Cincinnati, unlike Miami, has gone all-in on its young and unproven quarterback.
Andy Dalton has been an above-average regular season QB over the past three years. He was third in the NFL in TD passes in 2013 (33). That he gets to play alongside an elite wide receiver such as A.J. Green certainly hasn’t hurt his cause, but somebody still has to be there to get Green the football.
Dalton’s struggles have come during the playoffs. He has a 0-3 postseason record, and has yet to show that he is capable of handling the pressure and atmosphere that comes with January football.
The Bengals awarded Dalton with a new contract on August 4. While only $17 million of that deal is guaranteed, the Cincy front office could be facing a difficult situation a few years down the line if Dalton fails to develop into a top-ten QB.
8. Indianapolis Colts — Cap Space: $16,782,140
It’s good to be the Colts these days. They are comfortable as it pertains to cap space. Neither the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars or Houston Texans should – should – overtake Indy before January 2015. The Colts have who is expected to be the next great NFL quarterback in Andrew Luck.
Barring an injury or other unforeseen events, Luck will get the massive deal that he deserves next offseason. Indianapolis has the available cash and then some to keep the 24-year-old happy with the Colts for several seasons to come. They have little to complain about when compared with the other teams on this list.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Cap Space: $16,810,061
The Bucs took a safe gamble this past offseason when the club awarded veteran free agent quarterback Josh McCown a reasonable contract. That deal promises little outside of $4.75 million to the 35-year-old. Tampa Bay also has Mike Glennon and his rookie deal on the books if the McCown experiment goes wrong.
Life could again be unkind to the Buccaneers and its fan base in 2014. The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints should once again contend for playoff spots. It’s also unlikely that the Atlanta Falcons will lose three-fourths of their games for the second straight season.
Maybe Tampa Bay’s QB of the future will join the club during the 2015 NFL Draft.
6. Tennessee Titans — Cap Space: $17,441,077
There is no nice way to say it: 2014 will be a make-or-break year for quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker has not looked like a franchise QB in any of his three seasons in the NFL. He has appeared in only 23 games since 2011 and sports a career completion percentage of 57.2. Locker’s 81.1 career rating is equally unspectacular.
His replacement may already be on the roster.
Tennessee acquired Zach Mettenberger out of LSU in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. His pro career hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts, but Mettenberger is presumably going to have time to sit and learn the NFL game from the sidelines. He may even be called into action if Locker once again cannot stay on the field.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers — Cap Space: $17,996,952
Pittsburgh is a team that could soon be facing a rebuilding year or two. The likes of Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger are not getting any younger. While Roethlisberger should still theoretically have several good seasons ahead of him, he is not your standard 32-year-old QB.
He has taken beatings over the past decade.
There were reports last September that the Steelers saw the writing on the wall when the club began their campaign with four straight defeats, and that the team was shopping Big Ben to any bidders. Roethlisberger remained in Pittsburgh, but the situation could repeat itself this coming fall if the Steelers again stumble out of the gate.
4. Philadelphia Eagles — Cap Space: $19,050,082
Everything had seemingly lined up for the Eagles to run away with the NFC East title in 2014. Philly was responsible for an electric offense, and Nick Foles showed himself to be a quarterback capable of throwing 27 touchdowns with only two interceptions in a 13-game stretch.
Then came March 28, 2014, when the Eagles announced out of nowhere that they were parting ways with wide receiver and play-maker DeSean Jackson. Jackson subsequently teamed up with quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
It will now be on Foles to sink or swim as a true starting QB in the NFL for the first time.
3. New York Jets — Cap Space: $23,942,894
One thing you can say about the Jets: They aren’t boring to follow.
Perhaps head coach Rex Ryan and company really do know what they are doing. Maybe Vick is the perfect mentor for Smith, and maybe the second-year quarterback will shine when facing the pressure of being replaced by the former Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles QB.
Regardless of the opinions fans have of the talents and skill sets of quarterback Mark Sanchez, there is an overwhelming opinion among those who cover the NFL that the Jets did the former “Sanchise” few favors during his final couple of years with the club. Failing to develop another young QB, were that to occur, could be what ends Ryan’s run with Gang Green.
2. Cleveland Browns — Cap Space: $26,427,535
While Cleveland football fans have gotten used to watching quarterback competitions during the summer months, things are a little different this time around.
Veteran Brian Hoyer is an unproven commodity who played well for the Browns in two games before he tore his ACL on October 3, 2013. He is out of contract following the 2014 season, and Hoyer is hoping to win the starting job and then earn himself what would be the biggest deal of his pro career; either from the Browns or from a different team.
Rookie Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman at Texas A&M, and the phenom known as Johnny Football has become a celebrity superstar even before taking his first Sunday snap. Manziel also put pen to paper on his first ever NFL deal earlier this year, meaning that he won’t cost the Browns all that much against the cap for several seasons to come.
Financially speaking, the Browns should hope that Manziel wins the job and mirrors the achievements of the Seattle Seahawks’ young quarterback Russell Wilson. That would allow the Browns to bolster other positions on the roster without having to dump money into a QB contract until at least 2016.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Cap Space: $31,684,649
Jacksonville is, to put it bluntly, planning for beyond 2014.
Rookie Blake Bortles has the size (6’5” and 232 pounds) that makes him, on paper, a prototypical NFL quarterback. Bortles is a project, however, and the current plan of the Jags is for the first-year pro to sit and learn behind veteran Chad Henne.
Jacksonville drafted additional offensive firepower in wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson this past May. Robinson’s pro career has been stalled by a hamstring injury that could sideline him for all of the preseason.
Surprises happen every NFL season. No reasonable or respected analyst predicted last summer that the Houston Texans would be the worst team in the league in 2013. There is hope in sight for Jacksonville fans, but that group could be in for at least one more long and grueling season.