April is time for spring cleaning -- and the NFL is no exception.
With the draft at the end of the month, a few teams are fairly tight in the salary cap and need to clean up the books to go forward. Three teams have to make some adjustments to stay under the salary cap or at least to have the space required to pick up a few more veterans and/or draft the college talent at the end of the month. Other clubs around the league are keeping a watchful eye on the decisions those clubs make.
Why is this the time of year that certain adjustments have to be made? Right now teams only have to count the top 51 salaries on the books to be in compliance with the cap. But when September rolls around, the cap includes all 53 players who make the roster plus the eight players on the practice squad. Beyond that number, most teams try to head into the season with a small reserve of space to renegotiate contracts and pick up players because of injuries on their roster.
Any team in April with close to $1 million or less in salary cap space needs to find ways to create space now. If a club intends to cut a veteran to open up some space, it really can't afford to have him in the offseason program that just started up for most teams. If the targeted player incurs an injury in the program, the team is on the hook for his salary and he no longer is a viable candidate for cap relief until he is healthy. A team might ask a player to take a pay cut, but since the average team in the NFL has $12.6 million in space, that player might be better off on the street. So the team is at a crossroads about termination with that player.
Teams need to know who is going to be on the roster before the draft arrives, because selection decisions can hinge on who stays and who goes from the roster. Three teams need to get some spring cleaning done right now.
The Detroit Lions ($668,000), Oakland Raiders ($639,000) and Pittsburgh Steelers ($1.4 million) are the teams with some immediate work to do -- especially if they intend to pick up a few veterans in the coming weeks.
The Lions have already dumped the salaries of Shaun Rogers, Damien Woody, Fernando Bryant, and Kalimba Edwards, who were four of the top five cap charges on the roster heading into 2008. Where do they turn now? Trading Roy Williams would actually create more cap stress because he has more uncharged signing bonus to be accounted for than salary in 2008. The team could look to re-work deals with center Dominic Raiola and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, whose combined salaries total $6.9 million. That would convert much of those salaries into bonuses and create close to $5 million of space. Some might suggest releasing a high-salaried player or insisting on a pay cut for a player like Jeff Backus -- but his salary is much less than the bonus left to pay off and he could easily reject the idea. The Lions don't want to release four or five average-salaried players to get the job done. Consequently, this isn't an easy task to get accomplished.