NFL Salary Cap Scorecard

Disparity in spending from team to team is still alive and well in the NFL.  As we approach the start of the NFL League year, all NFL clubs must be within the Salary Cap by 4:01pm on August 4 (assuming the new collective bargaining agreement is approved by then).  There are seven teams still over the Cap right now, who are going to be busy restructuring contracts to get under in time, and 11 teams with more than $20 million in spending room under the Cap.

According to a report by Pro Football Talk, the seven team that are over, and the amount they exceed the Cap by, are: Oakland Raiders ($17.3 million); Pittsburgh Steelers ($11.5 million); Houston Texans ($8.5 million); Minnesota Vikings ($5.6 million); Detroit Lions ($5 million); Dallas Cowboys ($3.7 million); and Carolina Panthers ($939,000).

These numbers include the extra $3 million exemption available to the teams, which pushed the total cap to $123.4 million.  The Raiders and Steelers in particular have a lot of work to do.

While the Panthers are now only slightly over the Cap, they have gotten there with some big contract signings this week.  According to, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson poked at reporters this week who had criticized his spending last year while the team went 2-14, saying, “Does anybody feel just a little bad about calling me cheap last year?  Just a smidgen?”

At the other end of the spectrum, the leaders in most Cap room are the Cincinnati Bengals, who are more than $41 million under the Cap.  With a Cap of $120.4 million, that’s pretty impressive and may help to explain Carson Palmer’s desire to play elsewhere or retire.

After the Bengals, the rest of the top penny pinching teams are the Jacksonville Jaguars (more than $34 million under the cap); the Cleveland Browns (more than 30.4 million); the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (more than $30.2 million); the San Francisco 49ers (more than $30.0 million); the Kansas City Chiefs (more than $28.7 million); the Denver Broncos (more than $26.7 million); the Buffalo Bills (more than $26.5 million); the Chicago Bears (more than $24 million); the Arizona Cardinals (more than $23.6 million); and the Seattle Seahawks (more than $21.2 million).

For those who have heard about the spending minimum and wonder what these teams will be required to spend this year to comply, the per-team answer is zero.  The per-team minimum of 89 percent of the Cap doesn’t kick in until 2013.  What is in place beginning this year is a 99 percent league-wide cash spend requirement, which applies to the league as a whole but not to individual teams.

The cash spend is different than the Salary Cap in that signing bonuses are fully counted against cash spend, while for the Cap, the signing bonus is divided over the total years of the contract.  In an odd result of this difference, teams that are over the Cap that restructure contracts will likely both reduce their Cap number and increase their cash spend at the same time.

The typical method used to restructure a contract is to provide a significant signing bonus, which is spread over the length of the contract. So a $10 million signing bonus on a five year contract counts $10 million towards cash spend but only $2 million per year towards the Salary Cap.

So we’ll have to wait until the smoke clears and the accountants are done totaling up figures at league headquarters to see how the compliance affected everyone, but this far into the process, the teams that want to spend money on free agents have found ways to continue to do so.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.