NFL teams have money to spend. Two teams have over $100 million to spend and seven teams have over $50 million to spend, according to over the cap. Here are the five NFL teams which should be most active when free agency opens in the new league year.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Sillicon Valley is swimming in money. John Lynch has the most cap space in the NFL. Sure, he’s got to lock up ]Jimmy Garoppolo, but with $113.5 million to spend this offseason, Lynch won’t have to worry about fitting his quarterback’s contract under the cap. Aside from Garoppolo, their departing free agents aren’t a group of hugely desirable players.
They can take a look at the best players on the market at their positions of need, and bring in the best talent at top dollar. Frankly, they can just identify the best players on the market at pretty much any position and pursue that player. They’ve got needs across their depth chart. They could be in the market for tight end Jimmy Graham, receivers Terrelle Pryor and Allen Robinson, pass-rushers Ezekiel Ansah and DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Malcolm Butler and/or an interior lineman like Andrew Norwell.
If you think I just listed off the best free agents, then you’re right. That’s pretty much what I just did. There’s no reason why the 49ers, one of the most promising NFL teams with the most money, won’t have a great chance to land all of them.
The Jaguars are a nice example of how spending can swing the look of a franchise — and that franchise’s record. If the 49ers spend wisely, they could be looking at a huge turnaround next season behind Garoppolo.
2. Cleveland Browns
The 2018 offseason will be an enormous one with 12 draft picks and $110 million in cap space. Browns new general manager John Dorsey will be busy putting him imprint on this franchise. And frankly, anything will be better than past imprints.
They have almost as much money as the Niners, but they will have much more once the Niners lock up Garoppolo. The Browns would be lucky to invest their money in a quarterback like Garoppolo. But here they are in the same position they’re seemingly in every year. They stink.
They’re mostly young — but they’re not exactly stocked with talent. Name a position, and the Browns have a need. Much like the 49ers, the Browns will be pursuing some of the best players on the market.
Unfortunately, they’ll have to make those decisions before they cash in their 12 draft picks. But with so many needs, they can’t worry about redundancies. If the Eagles and Patriots showed us anything, you can’t have too much talent at any one position — including quarterback, a position which the Browns will probably fix with the No. 1 overall pick.
The Browns may have to overspend in free agency to get big names. But the Jaguars did just that in the last two offseason. And for now, they’re not handcuffed too badly.
3. Indianapolis Colts
[editor’s note: the original version of the post was written after Josh McDaniels was named coach but then changed his mind. It has been updated]. This Colts team felt like the 2011 team that sucked for Andrew Luck without Peyton Manning. In 2017, they sucked without Luck. Their roster looked incomplete without him.
With him likely returning, the Colts will have a huge amount of money to spend at $77 million. But that’s only the beginning. They could actually begin their busy offseason by cleaning house on defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins ($8.4 million), linebacker John Simon ($3.2 million), defensive ends Jabaal Sheard ($7.5 million) and Margus Hunt ($2.5 million) and tight end Jack Doyle ($5.6 million). They can cut any of those players — and a few more — with zero cap repercussions. That’s an absurd amount of liberty for GM Chris Ballard and whoever he gets as his new coach as they sit down to execute their vision of the future in Indy.
4. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have a few middle-class players they could retain like punter Shane Lechler and guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and perhaps even left tackle Chris Clark, aging cornerback Jonathan Joseph and safety Marcus Gilchrist. Odds are that maybe three of those players stick around, and the Texans won’t use much of their $56 million in cap space to keep those pending departures.
With Deshaun Watson, they looked like one of the NFL’s best teams. It’s time to polish off this roster (and for Bill O’Brien to lead a legitimate run through the playoffs).
DeAndre Hopkins has already put Butler atop his wish list. Another Patriots pending free agent, Dion Lewis, could be a nice compliment to D’Onta Foreman if the team moves on from LaMar Miller, who could be a cap casualty along with linebacker Brian Cushing. The team could clear over $11 million in cap space by cutting both players.
Ultimately, they’d be wise to use that money on a major overhaul on the offensive line while adding a few smaller pieces on defense. Graham or Trey Burton might be tempting with their tight end position looking depleted, but they have more pressing needs elsewhere with plenty of talented pass-catchers.
5. New England Patriots
The Patriots don’t have the same amount of money like the rest of the teams on this list. In fact, they’ve got just about $14 million. But New England has a number of players who will almost definitely become cap casualties. They’ll shed their Super Bowl skin, just like Belichick does almost every year. Then they’ll begin to equip themselves with a new group of Patriots.
By cutting Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen, Alan Branch and David Harris, they’ll free up $17 million in cap space. They’ll get $2.3 million more if linebacker Shea McClellin retires after concussion issues. And you know they’ll do the Tom Brady restructuring trick, now that he is fully entrenched there in his quest to play to 45 years old.
The Patriots could head into the league year with a surprising amount of cash at their disposal. The first problem is that they’ve got a number of free agents to take care of. If left tackle Nate Solder doesn’t retire, he might be willing to stick around on a short-term, team-friendly deal to stay in New England while his son undergoes cancer treatment. The Patriots will likely also pick a cheaper Rex Burkhead over Lewis. Malcolm Butler is gone. Matthew Slater and Danny Amendola could end up with the Colts.
New England will likely be looking to the free agency pool to bolster their defense, which looked anemic in Super Bowl LII.
*All cap information was taken from Over The Cap and Spotrac