The official start of NFL free agency is still a day away, but teams are allowed to “legally” tamper with players as Monday at noon ET. That means we’re going to get a whole lot of news about free agent signings in short order. With that in mind, we’re continuing our look at what to expect around the league.
To do this, we’re going to break the whole league down by spending power, rather than by division or by conference. This will give us a better idea of who the big movers and shakers in the market are likely to be, and who will have to get better by making adjustments on the margins.
We began with a few of the presumed big spenders with more than $65 million in cap space or more, then continued with teams that have the ability to spend if they want, but should not necessarily be expected to break the bank, and also covered teams that have moderate cap space and potentially big ambitions, but could be less active than commonly assumed. On Monday, we went through the group of teams that have but still need to add talent and have moderate ability to do so.
To close this series, let’s take a look at the most cap-strapped teams in the NFL. Note: All cap figures via Spotrac.com.
Cap Space: $14,108,944
After handing out a massive, fully-guaranteed contract to Kirk Cousins last offseason and extending several of their core players, the Vikings are likely to be bit players in this year’s free agency period. They seem content with letting Anthony Barr walk for a larger deal elsewhere, and it’s likely that Sheldon Richardson’s strong season in Minnesota means he played himself out of the Vikings’ price range. They’ll need to replace those guys somehow, but the smart money is on the Vikes giving more snaps to in-house guys and/or finding depth pieces through the draft.
The big need here, as it has been for the past several years, is along the offensive line. They don’t have the money to just throw everything at the problem even if they want to, so they’ll have to go bargain shopping for low-end starters and serviceable backups, and hope this group doesn’t undermine their season like it did last year. Sitting out the first wave of free agency and swooping in for under-valued guys on short-term deals seems like the proper play.
Cap Space: $10,926,449
The Bucs opened up some additional room by trading DeSean Jackson to the Eagles, but they don’t have nearly enough space to do all the things they need to make this roster a respectable one. Bruce Arians and company have their work cut out for them in building a contender, especially after losing Jackson and Adam Humphries in one day. Tampa has deficiencies at running back and along the offensive line, at every level of the defense, and — depending on your perspective — under center.
They’re simply going to have to make some other hard choices, like cutting useful players such as Jason Pierre-Paul or Gerald McCoy in order to simply fill out their roster, if they cant get them to take pay-cuts. The Buccaneers should be in the market at corner, on the edge, at slot receiver, and perhaps in the backfield if Arians decides Ronald Jones II is not his guy at that spot. That’s a lot of roster-building without a lot of money to do it. Something else needs to happen here.
Cap Space: $9,091,653
No team has magicked up cap space out of nowhere over the years like the Saints, who famously created enough room to sign the ultimately ill-fated Jairus Byrd contract a few years back. This version of the Saints does not have nearly as many holes as that one did, so they presumably will not feel the same need to do the same kind of tricky maneuvering in 2019. If they can find a tight end to mix in with the group they had last season, that would be nice, but there just aren’t many other obvious, glaring needs.
Depth in the secondary and at receiver seem like they could be issues, but the top names are likely to prove too pricey. They may need to find a replacement for Mark Ingram, if he signs elsewhere in free agency, but it’s likely to be someone of the Mike Davis/Spencer Ware variety rather than a big name. And they can always find their complement to Alvin Kamara in the draft, since the versatile back is presumably going to take over the heavy snap load anyway.
Cap Space: $6,511,848
Atlanta’s big moves were franchising Grady Jarrett and letting go of Robert Alford. The former move locks up an important piece for at least one more year, and they can lower his cap hit by agreeing to a long-term deal, which would free up some money to fill holes elsewhere. Releasing Alford leaves them a bit thin in the defensive backfield, and that’s not even accounting for the fact the slot man Brian Poole is still on the market.
Atlanta also figures to lose Tevin Coleman in free agency, and with Devonta Freeman’s injury issues and Ito Smith’s incredible ineffectiveness last year, it wouldn’t hurt to add another body in the backfield. The Falcons are also always on the lookout for help on the edge — especially if it comes in a ridiculously athletic package. They may need to do some financial maneuvering before they make any real impact signings, though.