On Monday, fresh off of a massive Super Bowl featuring the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers that made the NFL the usual massive pile of money they always earn, the league decided that it was time for yet another salary cap increase. Pushing the cap to a reported $155 million, almost $12 million more than 2014’s $143.28 million salary cap.
The news of an increased cap space will be welcome news for playoff contenders operating close to the salary cap with a long list of important upcoming free agents who will now have over $10 million to work with before free agency opens.
Teams with tight salary cap situations and players who are due for a payday like the recent Super Bowl winning Broncos and the New England Patriots will be ecstatic at the news. The Buffalo Bills will be the biggest winners, however, as they will go from $209,715 in cap space to having an extra $12 million to work with.
Even better for teams who need to retain their talent this February before free agency, with the largest non-quarterback franchise cost coming at just over $15 million the salary cap increase pretty much gives every team in the league the cost of franchise tagging their best player this offseason.
While the salary cap increase is good news for the teams looking to keep players on their rosters, for the teams who have built up cap space to acquire the pieces to become a contender the recent salary cap news will not be as welcomed. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, both set to have around $80 million in cap space with the salary cap increase, now being left with a ton of money to spend with the chance that all of the top names are franchise tagged or retained by their current teams.
Both the Raiders and the Jaguars have rebuilt wisely to place themselves in the position to have the most money at the bargaining table with young rosters in a position to make a push at returning to the playoffs. Oakland with star names from the draft in Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray. Jacksonville with similar young pieces in place with quarterback Blake Bortles and wideout Allen Robinson being recent draft successes for the Jags. But what both teams desperately need are one or two big name players to put them over the top in the AFC picture instead of just being teams building for the future.
With the most cap space in 2016 free agency, the Raiders and Jaguars are positioned to make some major moves to do exactly that. Unfortunately for them, there might not be many difference makers left by the time the market opens. Especially if teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, who have a trio of top defensive players to attempt to retain, can use the salary cap increase to their advantage in the coming weeks.
An example of the salary cap increase coming into play is the Jets’ decision to franchise tag defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. A move that would have taken all of the Jets current cap space, now being a feasible move due to the additional $12 million that New York’s front office will have to work with this offseason. A name that both the Raiders and the Jags likely would have been in on to offer big money in March staying off of the open market.
On the other hand, some proven names have indicated that they will be hitting the open market. Chargers safety Eric Weddle’s situation in San Diego looks over, and running back Matt Forte confirmed this past week that he will be leaving the Chicago Bears. Both players are mid-level free agents this March, but will be upgrades at key positions for whatever team that brings them in and especially for the Raiders or Jaguars.
The hope for both teams is that not every top player decides to take the money from their current teams and instead listen to what they have to offer with their large negotiating resources. With the amount of cap space Oakland and Jacksonville both have, they will drastically improve their rosters regardless of the talent pool. But if they want to make the leap they will need some of the top names to flee to the open market, which will make the next few weeks awfully interesting as the teams with the most cap space in the league wait to see just how deep the free agency talent pool will be this March.