It’s that time of the NFL season with the draft is all but here and free agency has dried up for most NFL teams. With the NFL losing revenue in 2020 due to the global pandemic, the 2021 salary cap took the hit and decreased for the first time ever. This is made for a very interesting situation with many teams, while others were able to take advantage.
Right now, many teams appear to be in a holding pattern when it comes to signing new players. While the occasional small signing will continue to trickle in, the big names and big contracts being reported are becoming less and less frequent. Of course, no sooner then I go to make this statement and the Browns decide to make what some call a “splash move” while others look at it as a major over-payment when they signed Jadeveon Clowney this week. They’ll be more on that to come.
When looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers and what they could do, they are one of the teams who could still be in the market for players, but they’ve likely got to be in the right category. With the deadline for contracts no longer counting towards the compensatory formula for 2022, the Steelers likely won’t make a move to majorly change where they stand. While some fans feel this is not important, others think it is of the utmost importance. Gaining draft picks is never a bad thing, and if the Steelers had an unrestricted free agent they really wanted to sign who would count in the formula, chances are they would have already made the move.
Remember, players released by their previous team, or who were on the Steelers in 2020, do not count in the formula as well as players with smaller contracts. If you’re interested in more on this information and how the amount of the contract affects the formula, I recently covered this in an article about James Conner and how he most likely won’t factor into the compensatory formula.
But are there teams out there who can take advantage of this time of year when the prices may be dropping, and many teams are in a holding pattern to see what they get in the draft but do not want to miss out on any draft picks for next year?
Before I get started into which teams are in the best shape to still make moves, I want to give a disclaimer that I have not dug into team needs at all. I don’t know if these teams have a desperate need for a certain position, it’s simply if they have the ability to sign players. And what NFL franchise is not looking to improve their team for 2021?
There are a number of teams in the NFL who are not concerned about the compensatory formula at this time. If they’re not in line to gain a pick, what would hold them back from making another move? If they have already gained more free agents then they have lost, it really doesn’t matter if they gain more.
I have compiled a list of the NFL teams with the most salary cap space at this time and are not in line to gain a compensatory pick. I cut off teams who have less than $10 million in cap space according to overthecap.com. Additionally, I used OTC to determine if a team is in line for a compensatory pick by seeing how many compensatory free agents they have gained versus how many they have lost.
Here are the eight NFL teams who have the biggest ability to make a big free agent move prior or during the NFL draft. Each one is listed with their current amount of cap space and the number of additional free agents they have signed versus how many they have lost.
Jaguars: $39 million, +8
Broncos: $27.2 million, +0
Jets: $25 million, +1
Browns*: $20.9 million, +1
Washington: $18.4 million, +1
Panthers: $14.9 million, +4
Patriots: $13.5 million, +6
Houston: $10.4 million, +7
The reason I made a note of the Browns was they are a team who made some moves this week. Because they aren’t worried about the compensatory formula and had the cap space, they signed Jadeveon Clowney. What is interesting is they released defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and actually gained a lot more cap space than they had before signing Clowney. Either way, they’re still in the market to make moves.
Just because a team doesn’t appear on this list doesn’t mean they can’t sign players, the teams on this list just have the most freedom. If a team is looking at two players at the same position and one is a street free agent and the other an unrestricted free agent, if they’re still hoping to gain a compensatory draft pick they may choose the street free agent even if they would prefer the other player. Teams on the above list to not have to worry about such things.
If a team is on this list, it does that mean they’re going to go out and sign multiple, large-contract agents. Additionally, teams not on this list could still make moves before the draft as they feel the added player is more important then a draft pick in 2022. But it doesn’t hurt to know which teams may be scouring the market right now looking to snag players other teams may be waiting until after the draft to sign.