FOX Sports Exclusive
Got questions about NFL free agency?
The NFL’s free-agent frenzy is about to begin.
The market opens at 4 p.m. ET on March 12 as teams try to find the missing pieces they hope will result in a Super Bowl title.
Here’s a FOXSports.com question-and-answer primer previewing the upcoming signing period and what fans should know about the process.
Q: What is the final salary cap number for each team?
A: The figure is $123 million, which is a jump of only $2.4 million from 2012. The limited growth stems from the guidelines accepted in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement struck between the league and NFL Players Association. The cap will show only modest growth in the next few years as well. In exchange, players are receiving more money toward benefits. All NFL teams are also forced to spend more on player payrolls than before with the inclusion of a minimum spending floor. Between 2013 and 2016, clubs must spend at least 89 percent of the overall cap figure on player contracts and league spending must equal at least 95 percent. Otherwise, the NFL will have to pay the difference to the NFLPA for allocation among players on the affected teams.
Q: What teams have the best cap situations?
A: According to CBSSports.com, eight franchises – Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and New England – have at least $25 million in cap space available. Most teams, though, will set aside roughly $4 million in cap space to sign their rookie classes. The room available also will shrink if any of those teams re-sign their own veterans before the signing period begins.
Q: And the worst?
A: Carolina and New Orleans are over the cap, which means they must release players or restructure contracts before March 12 to get under. Six other squads listed as having less than $5 million in space available – San Francisco, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Washington, Dallas and the New York Giants – will likely do the same to create room. The Cowboys and Redskins were given cap penalties after being found guilty of violating NFL rules in 2010.
Q: How is the NFL trying to remedy the ongoing tampering problem?
A: Teams are prohibited from displaying direct interest in a free-agent-to-be while that player is still under contract to another team. That hasn’t prevented some of them from doing so anyway. In an effort to solve the issue, the NFL has created a three-day window (March 9 to 11) in which clubs can legally speak with agents representing players from other teams to express interest and gauge market value. This should lead to a flurry of the top free agents quickly signing contracts elsewhere or being re-signed by their respective teams before the market opens.
Q: Who are the biggest names on the market?
A: Seven players who were tagged as franchise players in 2012 – most notably New England wide receiver Wes Welker, San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson and Washington tight end Fred Davis – are set to become UFAs after not receiving the designation by this year’s March 4 NFL deadline. Miami left tackle Jake Long will become the third No. 1 overall pick in the past seven years to have a chance at free agency. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, the No. 2 overall pick in 2006, is also likely to hit the market. Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, Baltimore safety Ed Reed and Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings could be playing elsewhere in 2013 after spending their entire careers with the same team.
Q: Which players who have never reached a Pro Bowl are set to cash in?
In a weak class of free-agent wide receivers, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace could secure a record-setting contract at the position (think in excess of $11.5 million a season). Baltimore’s Paul Kruger is the most appealing 3-4 outside linebacker with pass-rush skills. Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril’s sack numbers dropped in 2012 but he is still only 26 years old and the top pass-rushing 4-3 end. Buffalo left guard Andy Levitre will be a hot commodity. Minnesota’s Phil Loadholdt, New England’s Sebastian Vollmer and Cincinnati’s Andre Smith may land contracts in the $8 million to $9 million range annually as the top right tackles on the market. The thought of Tennessee’s Jared Cook stretching defenses down the seam makes him the most appealing option at tight end.
Q: Where are all the quarterbacks?
A: The pickings are extremely slim with backups like Chicago’s Jason Campbell and Kansas City’s Brady Quinn currently atop the list. The Chiefs will assuredly cut ties with Matt Cassel after finalizing the trade to acquire Alex Smith from San Francisco. Oakland’s Carson Palmer, Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and Arizona’s Kevin Kolb also could get released if they don’t agree to restructured contracts.
Q: Which players were given the franchise tag?
A: There were eight of them: Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks, Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee, Denver left tackle Ryan Clady, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson, Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert and Dallas outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Those players are essentially off the market as any offer sheet signed elsewhere would require two first-round draft picks as compensation.
Q: What about the class of restricted free agents?
A: There are some appealing players like New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta with three years of NFL experience set to hit the market. But as usual, few if any of the top RFAs will be changing teams. That’s because they will be tendered contracts by their respective clubs requiring first- or second-round compensation, which is usually too steep a price for a suitor to pay. Another deterrent: Teams have the right to match any offer sheet signed elsewhere by an RFA.
Q: What is the overall vibe surrounding the Class of 2013?
A: There is a relatively weak crop of talent available at the offensive skill positions, defensive tackle, 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends with pass-rush skills. It’s unusual to have so many starting left tackles potentially available in Long, Atlanta’s Sam Baker, Baltimore’s Bryant McKinnie and New Orleans’ Jermon Bushrod. There also should be plenty of first- and second-tier cornerbacks available led by Miami’s Sean Smith, Philadelphia’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Baltimore’s Cary Williams and New England’s Aqib Talib.
One thing that is the same between this free-agent class and all the previous ones: Some teams will be overpaying for players who won’t justify their lofty contracts.
Q: Has Randy Moss played his final game?
A: Potentially, as it doesn’t appear San Francisco will be re-signing the self-proclaimed greatest wide receiver in NFL history (cough, Jerry Rice, cough). Moss falls into the category of fading stars like Charles Woodson, John Abraham, Michael Turner, Richard Seymour and Bart Scott. There may be a new home awaiting them in 2013 but they probably won’t sign until much closer to the start of the season and it will be on a one-year contractual basis.