Possible New Salary Cap Structure: The Winners

On Sunday, I focused on the losers of what a new salary cap would look like when a collective bargaining agreement is eventually agreed to.

There aren't going to be a lot of changes from the previous collective bargaining agreement, but the changes are in-depth and will change what some teams are planning to do during the shortened off-season. 

The Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders were my losers, mostly because of their payroll and the new structure of the cap. This morning I am going to focus on the winners. 

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They are going to have a whopping 52 million dollars in salary cap room, which means they will HAVE to spend at least 45 million on free agency. John Clayton over at ESPN suggested that this was a bad thing, but I just don't see it that way. Tampa Bay has a wide array of young talent that is going to demand a huge pay day in the not so distant future. Clayton's thinking is that ownership is going to have to dole out the money now and affect their salary cap stability in the future. Well, this isn't the case. 

The Buccaneers can easily front load longer term contracts when it comes to free agency. This means that when their young stars are due for a contract extension, these free agents will be making considerably less than they did during the 1st year of their contract. 

When a team that has extremely talented young players is able to spend a lot of money during the off-season, it spells disaster for the rest of the division. Tampa Bay isn't in the mold of spending a lot in free agency, but they could acquire a couple of the most talented players on the market and contend for a conference crown sooner rather than later. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agents: Maurice Stovall, Jeremy Trueblood, Davin Joseph, Quincy Black and Barrett Ruud

Top Free Agent Possibilities: Santonio Holmes, Steve Smith, Sidney Rice, Harvey Dahl, Dough Free, Willie Colon, Johnathan Joseph, Chris Carr, Antonio Cromartie and Eric Weddle

Analysis: Don't look for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to break their building mold and go after long tenured players at this point. Instead, they are going to target younger players in the prime of their career. That fits perfectly into the amount of money they have to spend on the free agent market. 

 

2. Arizona Cardinals: Arizona is going to have about 39 million dollars in cap room this upcoming off-season. That is good because they have a lot of holes to fill. Clayton suggests that it gives them the ability to acquire Kevin Kolb and give him a "huge contract". The issue with Kolb is not money, it is the fact that Arizona will have to give up a couple high round draft picks. 

With so many holes to fill and so much money to spend, the Cardinals could fall into a common trap. Overpaying for certain players that will not be productive long term (See: Washington). However, when you have money to spend, and you are able to utilize that money in a smart way, the results are going to be good most of the time. 

Arizona Cardinals Free Agents: Tim Hightower (Restricted), Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Deuce Latui, Alan Faneca, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson

Top Free Agent Possibilities: QB- Kevin Kolb (Trade), QB- Carson Palmer (Trade), OL- Doug Free, OL- Tyson Clabo, OL- Jammal Brown, DL- Aubrayo Franklin, DL- Pat Williams, LB- Manny Lawson, CB- Nnamdi Asomugha and CB- Carlos Rogers

Analysis: The Arizona Cardinals have major holes to fill at quarterback, tight end, offensive tackle, guard, defensive tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback. No one can expect them to address all of these holes, even with nearly 39 million dollars to spend. 

That said, the NFC West remains an incredibly weak division and upgrades at a couple of those position will go a long way in determining whether or not Arizona will contend in 2011. I will tell you one thing; signing Marc Bulger will not get it done. He may have been a solid quarterback during his prime, but at this point is a solid backup; nothing more. Arizona should utilize the money wisely and look to the future with Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals can be smart with the money they have to spend, but something tells me it could blow up in their face. 


3. Philadelphia Eagles: I could easily put the Seattle Seahawks or Carolina Panthers on this list; both have nearly 40 million in cap room as well. However, Philadelphia is in a position to contend for the NFC Title in 2011, so they have to be #3 on this list. When all is said and done the Eagles should have about 20 million in cap room, with the possibility of gaining 5-6 million more depending on certain situations as they pertain to the collective bargaining agreement. 

With not many holes to fill, that is an incredibly large sum of money. This means that Philadelphia could narrow down their search  to a couple of positions and hone in on certain players. 

Philadelphia Eagles Free Agents: Reggie Wells, Victor Abiamiri, Jerome Harrison, Ernie Sims, Akeem Jordan, Stewart Bradley and Quintin Mikell 

Top Free Agent Possibilities: Reggie Bush (Trade), Michael Bush, DeAngelo Williams, Plaxico Burress, Steve Smith, Tyson Clabo, Doug Free, Nnamdi Asomugha and Eric Weddle

Analysis: When you have nearly 20 million dollars to spend and not many holes to fill, it equals good times; this is the situation Philadelphia is in. They could use a complementary back to "Shady" McCoy and Reggie Bush would be a nice fit. Why not attempt to upgrade at the wide receiver position as well, giving Michael Vick more weapons. We know that Philadelphia already had DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, but Burress would be a nice add as the #3 wide receiver, as would Steve Smith.

What is even more interesting is the possibility of Philadelphia going after Asomugha. He would instantly make Philadelphia's secondary one of the best in the NFL. In fact, that acquisition would still enable the Eagles to sign a couple more solid veterans. It might be time to pencil in the Eagles to win the NFC East, we will just have to wait and see how it plays out. 

 

Are the 49ers in the market for any big name players? Well, the answer is extremely taxing. They could be players if they want to be. There is a happy medium between building through the draft and finding spot upgrades through free agency. Some teams trend too far towards the free agent aspect, and find themselves burnt because of it. I could give you ample examples, but Washington comes to mind first. 

If the 49ers are going to look to spend "big money" when free agency starts it will be at the cornerback and wide receiver positions; a couple reasons for this. First, those two position are stacked when it comes to the open market. Secondly, the 49ers could use upgrades at both positions. Currently, they do not have a #1 wide receiver or a #1 cornerback. Obviously, Crabtree has played less than a season and a half, but right now he isn't a #1 target for Alex Smith. 

I will continue to maintain that the 49ers are possible landing spots for the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph and Antonio Cromartie at corner. They are also possible landing spots for Steve Smith, Braylon Edwards and Sidney Rice at the wide receiver position. 

I highly doubt that the 49ers will acquire top tier players at each position. However, it is possible they will get a top tier player at one position and acquire a mid level veteran at the other position. 

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