• Potential Cap Casualties: AFC North

    With the 2012 season and accompanying postseason fully in the history books, NFL teams are now focused on preparing for the upcoming 2013 Draft as well as the impending free agency period. Free agency officially begins on March 12, but there will be plenty of moves and transactions made before then. As always, we'll see teams release established veterans and valuable players in order to save themselves money and gain flexibility under the salary cap. I'll be going division-by-division and analyzing the salary cap situation of each team in the league, highlighting some players for every club that could potentially be axed in order to save some money. We'll start off with the division where the current Super Bowl champions reside, the AFC North.

    Baltimore Ravens:
    Current Projected Cap Space - $14.6M
    Key Free Agents - Joe Flacco (QB), Paul Kruger (LB), Dannell Ellerbe (LB), Ed Reed (S)

    The euphoria of claiming the Lombardi Trophy won't last too long for the Baltimore Ravens, as they are going to faced with an offseason full of tough decisions that need to be made. Joe Flacco just finished off an incredible postseason run by claiming Super Bowl MVP honors, and is set to get quite a hefty contract from the team as a result. This will certainly cut a large chunk of change from what the team has available to spend, and some important players from their Super Bowl run might be on the way out as a result. The most popular name by far being floated around as a possibility right now is wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who carries a $7.5M cap figure with him into 2013. Boldin made seemingly an endless string of spectacular catches during the postseason, and has been one of the most reliable and productive receivers in the NFL for his whole career. Cutting him would be an extremely tough pill to swallow, but in the end I think the two sides will manage to work out a restructured deal.

    The Ravens are not strangers to drastic roster change though. Last year the team let Jarrett Johnson, Corey Redding, Ben Grubbs, and Tom Zbikowski all walk. The year before that, they purged several longtime mainstays of the team in Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Derrick Mason. Another potential cap casualty for the organization could be another of their star performers in the Super Bowl, receiver Jacoby Jones. His $4.9M figure for next season certainly sticks out, if nothing else. An off-the-board candidate to be cut could be OT Michael Oher, who has continually disappointed after having an impressive rookie season in 2009. He's set to make just under $5.0M in 2013, and the team could draft another offensive tackle early to replace him.

    Cincinnati Bengals:
    Current Projected Cap Space - $55.1M
    Key Free Agents - Andre Smith (OT), Michael Johnson (DE), Terence Newman (CB), Adam Jones (CB)

    Unsurprisingly, the Bengals find themselves in a position where they have plenty of cash to spend this offseason. Under Mike Brown, the organization has become very well-known for their frugal spending habits, especially in recent years. You have to assume that they will be willing to write some big checks for some of their important free agents. Andre Smith emerged as one of the better right tackles in the NFL this past season, and fellow 2009 draftee Michael Johnson had quite a strong year in his own right. It's unlikely that the Bengals will need to actually make any cuts to gain cap flexibility, but if they do, then Jason Allen could be the first to go. Cincinnati stockpiled defensive backs prior to 2012, and Allen ended up getting buried on the depth chart as he contributed only three snaps on defense all year. He carries a cap figure of $4.1M for 2013, and though he might be in line for more playing time if Newman and Jones are not brought back, that's still a tough number to swallow.

    Other potential cap casualties for the Bengals include DT Domata Peko, who carries a $5.1M cap hit into next season, but it's believed that Peko is respected too much as a defensive leader in the locker room for him to be cut, despite the drafting last year of both Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. Travelle Wharton suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason after signing on with the Bengals, and then proceeded to watch Clint Boling take his job and run with it. Wharton is quite a solid option as your sixth offensive lineman, but a $3.7M cap figure might be too much to stomach for most teams. Luckily, the Bengals don't seem to have to worry about it considering their cap situation.

    Cleveland Browns:
    Current Projected Cap Space - $47.0M
    Key Free Agents - Sheldon Brown (CB), Phil Dawson (K), Benjamin Watson (TE), Kaluka Maiava (LB)

    The new regime of the Cleveland Browns got to work very early this offseason, already having cut DE Frostee Rucker, who was signed less than a year ago last March to a five-year contract worth about $21M. Rucker didn't fit in with the organization's plans to revert back to a 3-4 defensive scheme, and his salary was deemed too high to keep him around. Rucker will end up being $4M worth of dead money to the Browns this coming year, but the team still has quite a large amount of cap space to work with. There was speculation that LB D'Qwell Jackson might also be on his way out due to concerns over his ability to play in the 3-4, but his contract became fully guaranteed on February 6, and isn't likely to be going anywhere.

    The most likely candidate to be a cap casualty for the Browns is probably linebacker Chris Gocong, who ruptured his Achilles tendon during training camp in 2012 and never saw the field. He's set to earn about $4.9M in 2013, but is yet another member of the defense who might not have a role in the new defense being installed. The Browns will almost certainly ask him to restructure his deal, and if Gocong refuses, it's likely he'll be allowed to pursue a new contract somewhere else. Colt McCoy could also be in danger of being on the chopping block, as he's not considered to be a strong fit for new head coach Rob Chudzinski's vertical offense.

    Pittsburgh Steelers:
    Current Projected Cap Space - $12.5M OVER
    Key Free Agents - Keenan Lewis (CB), Mike Wallace (WR), Ramon Foster (G), Rashard Mendenhall (RB)

    The Steelers are currently projected to be over the 2013 cap by a fair bit, and will have no choice but to make some cuts in order to get under the ceiling. It seems like a foregone conclusion to most people that the team will part ways with former Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, considering that he'll be 35 years old and set to make just over $10.0M in 2013. His play has not been at the same level as it was just a few short seasons ago when he was terrorizing opposing offensive tackles on a weekly basis, and the organization appears to be comfortable enough with 2010 second-round Draft pick, Jason Worilds, to give him the starting job opposite Lamarr Woodley.

    Another veteran defensive player on the Steelers roster who could potentially be axed in order to cut costs is defensive end Brett Keisel. His $4.5M cap figure for 2013 might be too much for the team to swallow, especially considering that 2011 first-round draftee Cameron Heyward looks more than ready to take over for Keisel as a starter. Also it would appear that Willie Colon is another name being floated around as a potential cap casualty for Pittsburgh. Colon has always been a solid and dependable offensive lineman for the team when he's been able to stay on the field, but he hasn't played a full season since 2009 and he may be deemed too injury-prone for the team to invest over $7.6M to him next season.

    Comments 14 Comments
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      Nice wrk here.

      The Bengals coming off of two playoff appearances and with that kind of cash could be scary good. And while it's way too early to read the tea leaves, smells like there could be trouble in Pittsburgh.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Well done, Kaba.
    1. tubbs1518's Avatar
      I could very easily see Allen getting cut. IMO Newman and Jones will be back as neither will be very expensive.

      I would like to see Peko cut. He didn't play any snaps in Nickle last year and the Bengals were in that 52% of the time. I'd rather see Sims, Still and Thompson get the snaps plus save 5 mil.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      speaking for the Bengals, no way Peko gets cut. They won't swallow Wharton's cap hit, especially when they need his guard depth anyway.

      I actually do think Allen get cut. The money saved cutting him will pay for both Newman and Jones' new contracts.
    1. tubbs1518's Avatar
      I know Peko won't get cut, but he honestly should get cut. He isn't worth 5 mil. Not close.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      I am going to bring up an issue that is being discussed and researched elsewherethread, but I think needs to be reiterated. If I am being a butt-head, please excuse me, but tell me so and I will drop it here.

      "Cap Space" is a term that needs a definition. The media uses it wildly and there is some ambiguity to the term.

      The 2013 NFL cap is just a hair under $122M, IIUC.

      Spotrac has the team numbers here:


      Let's take Cleveland.

      Cleveland has current 2013 obligations of $74M. That means they can add $48M in obligations (cap wise) in 2013 without going over the League Cap. That raises 3 points.

      1) The $74M number is less a lot of players that were signed into 2012, but whose contracts ended at the end of 2012 season. If they signed everyone back that is going away, for last years cap hit, what would that number be? A related number is what was 2012's cap hit? This would tell us how much of cap space is likely to be routinely replaced and how much $$$ Cleveland can use to UPGRADE.

      2) Cleveland is rolling over $14M for 2012. These funds make the total funds in 2013 "cap space" to MORE than the $47M listed in the article.

      3) Cleveland rolled over $9M into 2012. Does that ADD with the $14M, or is it included in the $14M or did it get thrown away?

      Sorry to disturb the thread. The single most important additional number would be what did Browns spend in 2012 (capwise).
    1. darvon's Avatar
      Another number would be WHO was IN 2012 and is OUT in 2013 and their 2012 cap hit.

      Those people need to be replaced. With those numbers and other info we can see if we are likely to UPGRADE, Stay Same, or DOWNGRADE for a team.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      I think Bengals pointed this out to me last week.

      As I well know, when you try to get in shape you just don't try to lose weight. You try to jettison pounds of fat AND gain pounds of muscle.

      So if my club, Team X has $40M of contracts expire in 2012, it doesn't mean "Hooray, we have tons of Cap Space" and therefore should expect to improve if we spend the money correctly.

      That $40M might represent "fatty" players that have outlived their contracts, or were a cap hit in 2012 only when we cut them.

      Or they can represent "Bone" players that are being paid appropriate with performance, like 2nd stringers or role players, that make up the backbone of a good team.

      Or they can represent "Meaty" players that are outperforming their contracts, because they are young and we got them cheap, or whatever reason.

      So when looking at how much Cap Space we have, we need to see how much came from expiring fatty, bone, or meaty contracts.

      A team with $40M of meaty contracts expiring is in MUCH worse shape than a team with on $15M of contracts expiring if those are all Fatty.

      The composition of the expiring contracts, AND their magnitude tell us what shape we are in for the start of FA.

      Let's go back and take a look for 1 team.


      Expiring Contracts

      Ray Lewis - Somewhat fatty.
      Ed Reed - Bones with a little fat.
      Flacco -Meaty
      Kruger - Meaty
      Ellerbe - Meaty.

      So the Ravens have a a harder road to hoe.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      The Ravens were $5 million over the league's $121 million salary cap at the close of business Friday, and that figure doesn't include a dime for Flacco.
      Peter King, MMQB, SI.com
      We seem to have a variance of $20M. Any idea why?
    1. Evan Vracar's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by darvon View Post
      Peter King, MMQB, SI.com
      We seem to have a variance of $20M. Any idea why?
      I'm not sure where Peter King is getting that figure from. Spotrac is generally considered the Holy Bible for following contracts and salaries, and that's where I'm getting all of my information from. I checked around and everybody else has the same number Spotrac does. I'd love to know how King got to the result of Baltimore being $5M over the cap.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Both are right. I read the reasoning the other day but don't remember exactly what it was. I believe it has to do with bonuses and contact incentives that kick in at the start of the new year.
    1. edave's Avatar
      Lewis' $5.4M base salary has just gone away and he doesn't have any lingering signing bonus. Flacco's $8M 2012 salary has just gone away. For them to have jumped $5M over for the top 51 after just being under the cap for the entire roster and then cutting $13.4M in costs would be staggering.
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      Nice write up kaba. You captured the huge red flag issues with Pittsburghs cap problem. I'll expound on it {a bit}.

      Not to take any air out of your write up (the end moves you discuss are correct, but for the wrong reasons), but 4 contract re-dos get us under the cap. All 4 will be redone to get there. Almost all of the 2013 salary portions of Ben, Woodley, Timmons, and Antonio brown will be converted to salary bonuses. Were already hitched to these guys long term salary wise anyway. That gets us cap compliant, it however doesn't improve our roster. I'm finally at the point I believe were too old on defense, to the detriment of the team.

      To speak in specifics, Harrison is gone unless he renegotiates his salary to under $2 mil. He hits the cap for almost $5 mil whether we keep or cut him. Keisel only saves like $2 mil to cut him. On the surface, if both restructure and play for $1 mil, its worth it. Even at their advanced age, they're better players than $1 mil, even $2 mil buys you (remember we can't talk cap hit, just salary because their unamortized bonus acceleration hits us either way, cut or keep).

      This is where the true dilemma kicks in. Both have young guys behind them, high draft picks, who have shown flashes. No different than when we cut porter (who had a couple good years after we cut him) in favor of Harrison. In hindsight, completely right decision, but had we not made it Harrison may never have realized his full potential. At that point Harrison hadn't nearly played as well as Worilds has in his first 3 years. That's fact.

      That said, do I think Worilds has the ceiling Harrison reached? God no, but I think he deserves the chance to show us for himself. Harrison was still a decent player, but he wasn't a game changer. That's what our defense is missing, a game changer, like James was 2 years ago. Let's see if the kid's got it. We gambled on Harrison, time to compete the cycle.

      Same with keisel. Had a great year, and he can still play. However, Heyward is a 1st round pick with 2 years left on contract. Time to see what the kid can do.

      Just my gut, but were cutting both Harrison and keisel. Were definitely cutting colon. He can't stay healthy, and he so completely doesn't fit with what our new o line coach, jack bicknell Jr, is going to do. Given our roster, were going zbs, 10000%. We have nothing but young athletic guys who excel in space. Colon is neither of those. What sucks is cutting him doesn't save us 7.6 mil. IIRC its only like $2 mil.

      Collectively the Steelers have kept stern to keeping their core intact, and continuing to push the hit forward. That methodology netted 3 sb runs after our blood letting off season of cuts in 2005. They purged and trusted the young guys. I think we see the same mass exodus this year.

      Long time greats Hampton, keisel, and Harrison are surely done. I don't think it stops there though. The only free agent I care about is Lewis. If Ike goes to keep the youngster, I'm ok with it. Ike has 2 seasons left max. After what we saw from Cortez Allen last year, I'm fine with he and lewis at corner, with brown in the nickel.

      Make no mistakes, lots of big names will be let go in steel town this off season. It's time for s youth movement. These vets gave us 3 sb's. We've kept them together 2 seasons longer than we should have in hindsight, trying for a 4th. Their time has come...

      Just a guess, but the only guys over 28 who see the field as starting 22 are Ben, polamalu, and Clark (and miller when he comes back).. I'm good with that. Let the young guys play...
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      Here's why I KNOW Harrison is a goner (added to his agents insistence he wouldn't take a pay cut)..


      35 is an age where where a front 7 player is done. Only one on that list got more than 7 sacks. Farrior arguably had the best season of the old guys on that list, not named trace Armstrong (what an anomaly of a season he had).

      Ftr, Worilds, who played in spot duty and all the while battling an injury of his own amassed 5 sacks. Based on history and past, I'm willing to bet on the young guy here...