Fixing the 5 NFL teams with the least salary cap space: Cuts, extensions, restructures and more

Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) is congratulated by wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

• Another year, another New Orleans Saints cap struggle: The Saints would save around $20 million by adding a void year and restructuring the contracts of cornerback Marshon Lattimore and tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

• Los Angeles Chargers can save with restructures: The Chargers could recoup nearly $25 million in cap space by restructuring the contracts of edge defenders Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.

• Shaquill Griffin a potential cap casualty for the Jaguars: The Jaguars are currently projected to have -$22,753,686 in cap space, and releasing cornerback Shaquill Griffin already takes more than $13 million off the books.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins

Every offseason, a handful of NFL teams begin February projected to be well over the following year’s salary cap before they start to release players and restructure contracts. All 32 NFL teams must be compliant with the 2023 cap — recently set at $224.8 million — by Wednesday, March 15.

A few clubs have already started their cap purge — an annual tradition for the New Orleans Saints, who kicked things off with restructures for safety Marcus Maye and center Erik McCoy. We wanted to provide one potential path to get above water for the five teams currently projected to be most over the 2023 salary cap. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Current projected 2023 cap space: (-$56,531,921)

End result 2023 cap space: $5,943,937

There are more levers to pull here for the Buccaneers, and they may ultimately need to do so to give themselves some breathing room with quarterback Tom Brady’s full $35,104,000 dead cap currently hitting the books in 2023. Typically, teams look to carry around $5 million to $10 million in cap space into the season to account for injured reserve replacements and other upward adjustments over the course of the year.

A restructure for center Ryan Jensen and a decision on edge defender Shaquil Barrett could be under consideration. However, avoiding pushing cap hits into the future on two players over 30 years old coming off significant injuries would be prudent. Lastly, moving on from wide receiver Russell Gage before $5 million more of his 2023 salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2023 league year in mid-March is a possibility. 

New Orleans Saints

Current projected 2023 cap space: (-$47,402,318)

End result 2023 cap space: $2,983,682

A potentially looming suspension for running back Alvin Kamara would also provide the Saints with some salary cap relief, though we won’t know the extent of that for a while. Additionally, the Saints could come to terms on an extension with either edge defender Marcus Davenport or interior defender David Onyemata and avoid dead cap hits accelerating onto their 2023 books. They pushed back the void date on both of these players to March 15, buying both sides time to potentially work something out.

Each team in a given offseason can designate only two players as post-June 1 releases, and we chose Andrus Peat over Jameis Winston for the second slot along with Michael Thomas, who needs that spot unless he and the team agree to a new contract. In Thomas’ recently reworked contract, he has a $31.775 million roster bonus for 2024 that will become fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2023 league year. As a result, March 17 is a pseudo-deadline for a new deal to be reached or for Thomas to be designated a post-June 1 release. 

There are still a few smaller moves available, but we again wanted to avoid pushing cap down the road on edge defender Cameron Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis, if possible. However, despite their age, the two have been remarkably durable and productive in recent years. 

Minnesota Vikings

Current projected 2023 cap space: (-$24,424,174)

End result 2023 cap space: $19,740,826

When you start to break down what the Vikings need to do this offseason, you realize just how old and bloated this roster currently is, and how much work new defensive coordinator Brian Flores has ahead of him. It’s very presumptuous to assume any player will willingly take a pay cut. It’s borderline delusional to assume all three of the above players will agree, but the trio of Thielen, Kendricks and Smith are lifers with the club and perhaps could be persuaded to run it back one more time at a reduced rate. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is a cut candidate, as well, and maybe that is how Minnesota chooses to save some money at off-ball linebacker.

Running back Dalvin Cook should probably be approached for a pay cut, too, much like Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, who agreed to reduce his 2023 compensation by $5 million, but there are no assurances he’ll agree.

Coming off a highly productive and healthy 2022 campaign with 76 quarterback pressures and 10.5 sacks, edge defender Danielle Hunter almost certainly will not play in 2023 for $5.5 million in cash after looking for an extension the past few years. Extensions for Hunter, perhaps edge defender Za’Darius Smith after he proved he can still be a high-level edge rusher on a pseudo-prove-it deal and potentially superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson could all be in play, further eating into the cash budget available to improve this roster elsewhere.

Long story short, there is a path forward for this Minnesota team, but this roster could look dramatically different by 2024 if it doesn’t already in 2023. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Current projected 2023 cap space: (-$22,753,686)

  • Release CB Shaquill Griffin (+$13,147,059)
  • Extend EDGE Josh Allen (+$3,492,000)
    • Approximation without getting into the weeds of what an extension could look like
  • Extend DI Roy Robertson-Harris (+$3,300,000)
    • Approximation without getting into the weeds of what an extension could look like
  • Restructure WR Christian Kirk (+$10,946,667)
  • Restructure OT Cam Robinson (+$7,710,000)

End result 2023 cap space: $16,318,020

The Jaguars set records for offseason spending over the 2022 offseason but don’t have many regrets coming off an AFC South division title followed by a 27-point playoff comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers — the third-largest playoff comeback in NFL history. They don’t have to get too crazy here and could also look to restructure linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and/or guard Brandon Scherff.

Re-signing tight end Evan Engram and edge defender Arden Key appears to be their in-house priority, but neither should break the bank necessarily. After years of Jacksonville sitting atop the NFL in cap space, they’re near the bottom for a very good reason. Odds are they’ll be aggressive again this offseason entering the third year of quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s rookie contract. Once that bill comes due, they’ll have to reevaluate their roster construction and resource allocation. 

Los Angeles Chargers

Current projected 2023 cap space: (-$20,511,524)

End result 2023 cap space: $17,959,310

The Chargers may have to make several more moves beyond these, with a major decision looming on wide receiver Keenan Allen, who is owed $19 million in 2023. Allen missed roughly half the season, breaking a streak of five straight years with at least 100 receptions (including playoffs), but he earned an 84.4 receiving grade and averaged nearly 10 targets, 7.5 receptions and 87 receiving yards from Week 11 through the end of the regular season once healthy.

While cornerback J.C. Jackson’s five-year contract provides a lot of flexibility, the Chargers may not want to push too much cap into the future given his injuries in 2022, with no guarantees beyond 2023. A massive extension for quarterback Justin Herbert should come this offseason and will require more room, and that's in addition to the draft class and any internal or external free agents the team wishes to bring aboard. 


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