Having salary-cap space in the NFL does not mean what it used to, or what it continues to mean in other professional sports. The Collective Bargaining Agreement gives teams more ways than ever to keep their homegrown talent.
That being said, free agency is still one of the most thrilling parts of the offseason, and hope springs eternal with the salary cap on the rise. The Jets finally spent their treasure trove of cash last year and came within a game of the playoffs. Who is next?
With less than a week left before the market opens, here are the teams with the most salary cap space available, according to league records and cap tracking service Spotrac.
Outlook: This number can go up with a few simple cuts as well -- and it will. The Jaguars could have close to $90 million available to them this offseason, which seems insane if one does not consider the situation general manager Dave Caldwell walked into a few years ago. Teams with low cap space often have paid to keep their own stars following rookie contracts; Caldwell did not have any. Some of this money down the road might go toward extensions for Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, but for now, it could be used to finally help the Jaguars shape the bedrock of their roster. This is a young team still learning how to win, and there are some good, battle-tested veterans on the market that might make some sense. Jacksonville made an epic run at Browns center Alex Mack not too long ago. Might we see some interest -- and similar gusto -- in March?
Outlook: This is the spring for Oakland to strike ... again. It has an established star in the making at wide receiver, an emerging quarterback and arguably the best defensive player in football not named J.J. Watt. The Raiders inked center Rodney Hudson to a big five-year, $44.5 million deal last offseason alongside deals for Michael Crabtree, Dan Williams, Curtis Lofton, Roy Helu and Malcolm Smith -- SIX of Around The NFL's top 99 free agents.
Outlook:Jason Pierre-Paul is the first person the Giants need to address this offseason. Even after a fireworks accident left him with a partially deformed right hand, the Giants pass rusher was effective in 2015 and will be sought after on the open market. The team must also decide what they want to do with Victor Cruz, who is taking up a good chunk of space but might not be able to compete at the same level he used to following a devastating torn patellar tendon injury in 2014. Solving these problems soon might allow them to jump into the waters at receiver early, assuming they do not re-sign Rueben Randle, a former second-round pick. Their pass rush needs all sorts of help too, but not the kind that can be easily solved with this market for 4-3 ends unless they plan on diving into the water for Mario Williams. General manager Jerry Reese spent lavishly in free agency back in 2014 in a strong effort to return to the playoffs. That class yielded some big hits, like cornerback mainstay Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Robert Ayers, who was one of the best situational pass rushers in football over the last two years.
Outlook: Plenty of cap space for a Chip Kelly rebuild! What can go wrong? Jokes aside, this is good starting over money for the 49ers, who might also get former All-Pro tackle Anthony Davis back. The team had such a foundation of young superstars two years ago and might use this opportunity to rebuild the cupboard. Surprisingly, there are some very talented players in the 24-26-year-old range hitting the market, and Kelly would do well to shepherd a few over to Santa Clara. Last year, their obvious Band-Aid job in free agency which included Reggie Bush and Torrey Smith, was exposed quickly.
Outlook:Doug Martin will be the first domino to fall here. Hopefully, the Bucs do not fall into the trap of overpaying for running backs, no matter how spectacular Martin can be at times. This money is significant and should be devoted to the two things Jameis Winston needs to succeed: A good offensive line and a better defense. General manager Jason Licht has made some shrewd moves so far, and should not have as difficult a time this year convincing established veteran talent to play down in Tampa Bay.