The NFL kicks off free agency in just under two weeks, and that means teams are figuring out where they stand in relation to the potential 2015 NFL salary cap. The official cap number is being figured out based on 2015 television revenue projections, so the number is not finalized.
While the cap provides a maximum spending figure, the NFL also has a minimum cash spending requirement negotiated into the current. The CBA requires that over the course of two separate four-year periods, teams must spend cash totaling 89 percent of the cap during those periods. The periods in question are 2013-2016 and 2017-2020.
The NFLPA released a list of teams that are currently under that 89 percent mark. The 2014 spending numbers will not be finalized until March 10, but this provides a glimpse into where teams are at. That group includes the following, via USA Today percentage of cash spent in parenthesis):
Oakland Raiders (80.2)
Carolina Panthers (80.8)
New York Jets (81.16)
Jacksonville Jaguars (82.2)
Dallas Cowboys (82.6)
New England Patriots (82.7)
New Orleans Saints (86.2)
New York Giants (87.9)
Pittsburgh Steelers (88.3)
The top spenders in the league include the following:
Green Bay Packers (116.0)
Atlanta Falcons (109.1)
Seattle Seahawks (107.4)
Chicago Bears (106.0)
Denver Broncos (105.4)
The NFLPA will likely release a complete list of the 32 teams next week. I inquired about the San Francisco 49ers, and they said the 49ers are at roughly 104.36 percent of the cap over the last two years. This does not mean they can just shut down spending. The 89 percent requirement is based on four years worth of salary caps.
The list above released to USA Today consists of 15 teams. That 49ers percentage likely puts them in the top ten of spending, although we obviously don't know for certain. I'll keep an eye out for the full list next week.
If you are wondering how a team can spend over 100 percent of the cap in this situation, a year ago I broke down the difference between cap spending and cash spending. To give you a basic example, say a player signs a 5-year deal next month that includes a $10 million signing bonus. For 2015, cash spending is $10 million. However, for cap purposes, the bonus is prorated over the five years of the contract, and so 2015 cap spending is only $2 million. Bonuses can be prorated over the life of a contract, or five years, whichever is less.
Those teams listed as under the minimum spending requirement have two years to get above the 89 percent. If they do not, owners will have to pay out the difference, which the NFLPA would then distribute among players. This does not necessarily mean each team will be huge free agency spenders. If a team wants to clear some cap space, they might convert a player's contract into signing bonus. That can lower the cap figure while boosting the cash spend number. It is my understanding that the Steelers might have moved past the threshold since USA Today first reported those figures. I believe they made some internal adjustments that moved them above the threshold.
That being said, some of those teams will be quite active in free agency. I think the Raiders in particular are a team that will look to make some big splashes. That does not mean they will be successful in signing these free agents, but look for them to push hard.