Coming off a shocking 13-win season, expectations are incredibly high for the young Dallas Cowboys. They now feature one of the best young skill-position tandems in the NFL in the form of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
The team also possesses the best offensive line in the NFL and a still elite Dez Bryant at wide receiver. This enabled Dallas to finish the 2016 campaign with the division tittle and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Though, Dallas now joins a handful of teams in less-than-stellar salary cap situations heading into free agency. This promises to limit what the team can do in order to improve off last year’s stunning performance.
The backdrop here is also rather interesting. Former Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo lost his starting job to Prescott after injuring his back in the preseason. He’s likely played his last game with the Cowboys. Whether Romo is traded or released will play a large role in what Dallas is able to do during the offseason.
In looking at the teams with the worst cap situations in the NFL right now, we start with the aforementioned Cowboys and move on to both the New York Jets as well as the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jerry Jones and the Boys are coming off a tremendously surprising 13-win season that saw them earn the NFC East title and the No. 1 seed in the conference.
Youngsters Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott absolutely dominated as rookies. In fact, Prescott earned the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award after compiling 29 total touchdowns and just four interceptions. Meanwhile, Elliott gained nearly 2,000 total yards en route to finishing in the top three in the NFL MVP voting.
Despite all this, the Cowboys are not necessarily in a great position from a cap standpoint. They currently sit $10.7 million over the cap. That’s definitely not a good sign for the team heading into free agency.
It’s also obviously led to suggestions that the Cowboys will avoid being overly active in the open market. Still, the team needs to cut the fat somewhere in order to add depth to an otherwise young roster.
All the talk here has surrounded Tony Romo recently. The former Pro Bowler has played his final game in Dallas after being benched in favor of the aforementioned Prescott. He’s also set to count $24.7 million against the cap, $19.6 million of which would impact the Cowboys’ 2017 cap if he were released.
Obviously, the hope here is that Dallas can find a trade partner for Romo. But his price tag might make that a tad difficult.
Outside of that, look for the Cowboys to move on from starting right tackle Doug Free while restructuring the contracts of multiple veterans in the process.
All said, the biggest impact Dallas makes this offseason will be through the draft. It worked out extremely well last year, and the team has the pieces in place when it comes to the front office for this to continue in 2017.
New York Jets
Coming off a disastrous five-win season after earning 10 wins the previous year, New York is a bit of a mess from top to bottom. It’s trio of quarterbacks that actually suited up last season recorded 16 touchdowns compared to 25 interceptions. Ouch.
Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are not expected back with the former recently becoming a free agent. This leaves the Jets with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg under center. Again, ouch.
Unfortunately for the Jets, they currently sit $6.7 million over the cap. And unlike Dallas, there’s a lot that needs to be done here for the team to become competitive once again.
The good news is that New York has the capability to shed a ton of cash between now and the start of free agency. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis is set to count $15.3 million against the cap next season. New York can save $9-plus million be releasing him. It can also ask the veteran to take a pay cut while moving him to safety. This has been bandied about as a possibility.
We can also expect New York to put defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson on the trade block. It’s something that has been around the rumor mill for some time now.
With Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams acting as the anchors along New York’s defensive line, there’s really no reason for the team to keep Richardson around any more. He has an $8.1 million cap hit in 2017 and would likely bring back a first or second-round pick in a trade.
Coming off a down season, veteran receiver Brandon Marshall could also be a cap casualty. He’s set to count $7.5 million against the cap in 2017 and can be let go with the Jets having to pay a grand total of zero dollars there.
These are the moves New York will have to make in order to become viable in the free-agent market. It is also surely going to have to look for a veteran quarterback. The team hired Jeremy Bates as its quarterbacks coach earlier this month. Bates worked with Jay Cutler in both Denver and Chicago, so there’s definitely a connection there.
Either way we spin it, the Jets are going to have to get creative in order to improve off last season’s horrible showing. And in reality, it starts at the quarterback position.
Kansas City Chiefs
Coming off yet another stellar season that saw the team win 12 games, Kansas City is somewhat at a crossroads here. It needs to cut some fat off the cap in order to upgrade a roster that was put to the test by the up-and-coming Oakland Raiders last season.
As of right now, the Chiefs find themselves just $2.1 million under the cap. They also have defensive stars Dontari Poe and Eric Berry slated to become free agents. Each of these two Pro Bowlers should earn well over $10 million on an annual basis.
The issue here is that Kansas City can only place the franchise tag on one of these players. Short of a long-term deal between now and March, the other will hit free agency.
For his part, Berry has indicated that he will not play under the franchise tag. This means if the Chiefs were to place the tag on the All Pro safety, he would likely hold out.
Outside of that, look for the Chiefs to move on from injury-plagued 30-year-old running back Jamaal Charles. While he has been among the most-dominating running backs in NFL, Charles has played in a grand total of eight games over the past two seasons. With Spencer Ware having put up over 1,400 total yards last year, Charles isn’t necessarily needed in Kansas City.
Even then, that would save just $6.2 million against the cap. Needless to say, the Chiefs have to figure out something else in order to retain either Poe and/or Berry.
That could potentially include moving on from wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, which would surely hurt Alex Smith and the passing game.
Kansas City is one of the best-run organizations in football. It also has $10 million hanging over backup Nick Foles, a sum of cash the Chiefs will get out from under when they don’t pick up his 2017 option.
This seems to suggest that everything will be okay in Kansas City. It’s now all about figuring out what to do with their two star defenders set to hit free agency.