The NFL won’t quite be out of the woods financially from the pandemic in 2022 and a bunch of teams have work to do to get under the cap:
- The Saints (surprise) once again have the biggest hole to dig out of
- But another team actually has the NFL’s worst cap situation
- A fork in the road in Green Bay
The Big Picture: The NFL’s Worst Cap Situations
The NFL salary cap is on its way back up after the league lost billions in revenue from the pandemic in 2020. The NFL and NFLPA have already agreed to set the maximum for the cap in 2022 at $208.2 million, which is a sizable increase from the $182.5 million it was this year.
Still, that’s a little off the pace from pre-coronavirus projections. Teams still have to adjust and do some creative accounting to fit their budgets under the cap this coming offseason. We won’t see the same massive bloodletting we did this spring or the same constraints that have handicapped so many teams. But several franchises have work to do.
Here’s a deep dive into those situations, courtesy of the excellent resources from Over The Cap. They have a metric I love called effective cap space that doesn’t just measure how much uncommitted cap space a team has in the future, but factors in how much they’ll need to fill out the rest of the roster.
For instance, the Texans have more than $40 million in projected cap space for 2022 right now. However, Houston only has only 26 players under contract. As a result, OTC’s expected cap space for Houston is just $12 million once accounting for the need to sign at least 25 more players to minimum deals.
The Saints, Packers, Cowboys, Vikings and Giants currently round out the bottom five in expected cap space for 2022. Here’s a deep dive into the decisions and challenges ahead for these teams as they face the task of balancing their books:
Expected 2022 cap space: -66,306,369
We’ve already seen the Saints dig out of a $100 million deficit this past offseason, so in a way $66 million in the red doesn’t seem so bad. New Orleans has still managed to field a pretty competitive team despite basically maxing out all their credit cards. There are only three contracts on the entire roster that aren’t minimum base salaries and one of them is the franchise tag for S Marcus Williams. They have just $700,498 in cap space right now.
But the challenge the Saints will face is that they have fewer options to create space in 2022 than they did last year. When teams restructure money, it compounds over time and eventually the bill comes due. That was a frequent criticism of the Saints’ cap strategy in the past decade, but New Orleans relied on the steadily rising cap to give them flexibility. The cap is growing but the Saints need to make it to 2023 to get out of the woods on their current situation.
Because restructures guarantee money to players in exchange for spreading the cap hit out over a longer period of time (up to five years), teams typically prefer not to hand them out to just anyone. Restructures should go to cornerstone players or guys who a team envisions being key contributors for an extended time. Anyone can get hurt in the NFL, but injury histories and trends for certain positions should play a factor as well.
With that in mind, the Saints do have several strong candidates for restructures.
Lattimore and Ramczyk each signed massive extensions this past year and are two of the key building blocks for this Saints team going forward. Each has a big roster bonus in 2022 that was likely given with the intention of restructuring. Together, these two moves hack about $32 million out of the deficit for New Orleans.
We’re going to break some of the restructuring rules with Kamara and Davis, but the Saints don’t have much of a choice. Running backs have the type of injury history that usually makes teams shy away from guarantees when they can avoid it, but Kamara is a critical piece for the offense. His deal was also constructed with a potential restructure in mind, as he has a $6 million roster bonus that’s already been guaranteed. Davis will be 33 in 2022 and linebackers can fall off a cliff fast, but he’s had some of his best years since arriving in New Orleans in his late 30s. Kamara’s restructure frees up $8.6 million and Davis’ adds $5 million.
Peat has battled injuries and some inconsistent play — PFF has graded him as better than average just twice in seven seasons. But the Saints clearly view him as a core piece given the contract they gave him and he’s due $10.85 million in base salary that’s already guaranteed. Might as well spread it out to save about $7 million in 2022.
This trio wouldn’t necessarily be restructure candidates in typical years as middle-class veterans who are getting up there in age. But the dead money to cap savings cost-benefit of cutting them doesn’t work out, so the only alternative is to restructure. Together the three moves save about $8 million from 2022’s cap.
The Saints traded a third-round pick for Roby but he’s only been a part-time player since arriving in New Orleans. Saints HC Sean Payton believes in having a lot of depth at corner so it’s not out of the question they try to bring Roby back. But it won’t be anywhere near his current number.
Gray is primarily a special teamer and Kpassagnon is a rotational rusher. New Orleans can find minimum or rookie salary guys to fill those roles. If Ingram is willing to take a pay cut, the Saints probably would love to have him back as a veteran leader and to take some of the load off of Kamara. But there’s too much running back talent in the league and the Saints need the cap space.
Factoring in all the moves listed so far would give the Saints about $9 million in cap space to work with to improve their roster in 2022, which isn’t enough to do much more than sign draft picks and make it through a season. There are a few more moves to make but there are mitigating factors the Saints will need to consider.
Extensions: DE Marcus Davenport
Davenport is slated to play in 2022 under the fifth-year option at $9.5 million. While he was hurt yet again and missed time earlier this season, he made a big impact in his return with two sacks against the Titans last week, giving him four sacks in five games this year. If he can keep it up, he’ll put himself in the discussion for a new deal, which would allow the Saints to potentially lower his cap hit by quite a bit.
There are some tricky details to keep in mind. If the team and Davenport can’t agree on a number, he could opt to play out his contract to force the Saints to either franchise tag him or let him hit the open market in 2023. New Orleans could tack on void years to the end of his deal and convert most of his base salary to a signing bonus like they did with Lattimore’s option, but if they do that they would lose the ability to franchise tag him.
Restructuring both Thomas and Jordan would save New Orleans about $18 million against the cap in 2022. In conjunction with the moves we’ve listed, plus potentially adding void years to certain deals, that would get the Saints above $25 million in cap space — enough to make a couple of targeted, high-impact moves.
However, restructuring Thomas and Jordan could backfire in a major way on the Saints. Although Thomas set the NFL receptions record just two years ago, he’s only been fully healthy for about four quarters since then after a nasty ankle injury in Week 1 of the 2020 season. He’s been trapped in a cycle of rehab and setbacks that will end up limiting him to seven games, 40 catches, 438 yards and no touchdowns between 2020-2021.
Perhaps Thomas will be able to pick up in 2022 where he left off in 2019. But he’ll be 29 and we’ve seen receivers fall off dramatically at about this time. A.J. Green saw his time in Cincinnati derailed by ankle injuries and Julio Jones’ nagging injuries have limited him to six games with the Titans. In normal circumstances, Thomas isn’t a player you’d guarantee $14 million to in a restructure.
The Saints don’t have many other options, however. Cutting or trading Thomas results in a $22.7 million dead money hit and just $2 million in savings. If they use a June 1 designation to break up that dead cap hit, they don’t get the benefit of the cap savings in March when they really need them. New Orleans basically has to roll the dice that Thomas can be a productive player for them and if he’s not, then they’ll have enough flexibility to work around that in 2023.
Jordan will be 33 in 2022 and he’s clearly not the same disruptive pass rusher he was in his prime. He has just three sacks so far this season. However, he’s still been a productive member of the defense as evidenced by ranking No. 1 in ESPN’s run stop win rate for edge defenders. It might not be wise to bet on that continuing, but the Saints might not have a choice.
New Orleans basically has no choice but to give Armstead whatever he wants. His deal is set to void so the Saints can’t use the franchise tag on him. To keep him from the open market, the Saints will essentially have to compete with whatever he thinks he can get. One way or another, it would not be a surprise to see Armstead become the NFL’s highest paid tackle.
The Saints also have to figure something out at quarterback. Both Hill and Winston have deals that are set to void and neither established themselves as long-term solutions at the position in auditions over the past two seasons. It’s not in Payton’s DNA to go small, and it’s worth noting that out of the list of four teams Seahawks QB Russell Wilson said he would accept a trade to, the Saints are the only ones without a long-term answer at the position.
Expected cap space: -$46,213,974
This offseason is a critical one for the Packers with ramifications that will reverberate for years. Obviously there’s the situation at quarterback but with a cap hole this big, the roster is going to change in other significant ways as well.
Big decisions: QB Aaron Rodgers
Here are the nuts and bolts of what it comes down to with Rodgers. Because he voided a year off of his deal and secured a no-tag clause to resolve his conflict with the Packers, there is a decision point for Green Bay this coming offseason. To avoid Rodgers leaving in unrestricted free agency in 2023 with zero return, the Packers have to either trade him this coming offseason or sign him to an extension.
The genesis of all of the turmoil between him and the team is the selection of QB Jordan Love in the first round, which shattered Rodgers’ vision of finishing his career in Green Bay. Obviously there would be no shortage of suitors if Green Bay decided to put him on the market. But if the Packers were to give him the opportunity to remain, it’s not impossible the bridges that have been damaged could be rebuilt.
That would mean being willing to walk away from Love, which would require a level of pride swallowing from Packers GM Brian Gutekunst that is not common among NFL executives, even though Love hasn’t done a ton to indicate confidence about the future with him at the helm. What Rodgers wants from the team is commitment, and that would be reflected in a contract that includes enough guarantees to keep him for the remainder of Love’s rookie contract.
Let’s say Green Bay chooses neither. It would only be possible if they have automatic conversion language to restructure Rodgers’ deal. Carrying him on his current $46 million cap hit for 2022 would make it nearly impossible to accomplish everything else the Packers need to do this coming offseason. If Rodgers has to sign off on a restructure, he can hold out and force either an extension or trade.
Even if the Packers can restructure the deal, they’ll still face the same choice — Rodgers or Love — in 2023 that they do this offseason. Perhaps the decision is easier if Father Time comes to collect from Rodgers or Love takes a Josh Allen-style leap. Perhaps Love shows he’s not the answer and Rodgers is willing to forgive being strung out for years to re-sign with the Packers (hah!). Ultimately, it makes no sense to go this route because of how much risk there is that Green Bay is left in the end holding the bag with nothing.
So we’re back to a trade or extension. Both would save the Packers in the neighborhood of $19 million, but obviously would have a massive impact on the other moves the franchise makes. Green Bay has to decide if it would rather have Rodgers for the next few years or Love and a few high draft picks. I know which one I would take, but I’m not the one who traded up to draft Love in the first round…
This will be a relief for the Packers after puzzling out every possible scenario with Rodgers. Bakhtiari and Clark are core players and restructuring their deals knocks almost $18 million out of the 2022 cap for Green Bay.
Amos is a key defensive starter and restructuring his deal saves about $5 million. Jones, Turner and Lowry add another $3 million or so apiece. Not a lot but also probably still worth doing given the need and the relatively little downside. Green Bay could save a little more by cutting Lowry but then they’d have to fill his starting spot.
Unfortunately it seems like a long shot that the Smith Brothers will continue past this season in Green Bay, one way or another. Preston took a steep pay cut to stay with the team and unless he’s willing to do it again, $12.5 million in savings is too much for the Packers to turn down.
Za’Darius’ back injury is an unfortunate blow to someone who really could have used another strong season to enhance his leverage. We probably would be talking about him as an extension candidate rather than a potential cap casualty. It’s not out of the question he comes back but it seems likely he takes a release and a chance to test the market first rather than a straight pay cut. Green Bay will likely be content to let the market set the price for a 30-year-old edge rusher coming off a back injury.
That will leave an awful lot in the hands of OLB Rashan Gary in terms of spearheading the Packers’ pass rush in 2022. You can probably pencil in an edge rusher with Green Bay’s first-round pick in any mocks you do this spring, unless they’re able to land someone compelling in free agency.
As for Cobb, he’d be a cut-and-dry cap casualty if the team had not just traded for him this summer as part of trying to appease Rodgers. There’s still no way he comes back at his current base salary of nearly $8 million but he could stick around on a pay cut if the team is still trying to make Rodgers happy.
Alexander is about to become one of the league’s highest-paid corners, perhaps as high as $19-$20 million a year. And that could actually save the Packers money in 2022 if they structure it to spread his $13.3 million fifth-year option over the length of the deal. Typically these types of deals are done in June and July but if the Packers feel the urgency to use that space sooner, they could prioritize negotiations. Alexander certainly isn’t getting any cheaper by waiting.
That same philosophy should apply to Jenkins, who will be entering a contract year in 2022. He’s made himself a lot of money with his ability to play legitimately five positions on the line, including left tackle. Green Bay would likely try to classify him as a guard, which would put him in the range of about $15-$16 million a year if he was paid at the current top market rate.
That bar is about to be raised, however, with Washington G Brandon Scherff hitting free agency and Colts G Quenton Nelson eligible for an extension next offseason. If the Packers don’t extend Jenkins next summer, they could be costing themselves millions.
Adams is obviously the headliner of this group and someone the Packers will make their top priority outside of figuring out Rodgers’ situation this offseason. The two are connected, though, as whether or not Rodgers remains in Green Bay will have a major impact on how badly Adams wants to stay.
The crux of it will come down to money, however. The reason Adams and the Packers have not already worked out an extension is because they are at an impasse over where the top of the wide receiver market should be set. Adams points to the two-year, $27 million a year extension the Cardinals gave WR DeAndre Hopkins on top of the three years he had remaining on his deal when he was traded, while the Packers believe the $22 million a year deal the Falcons gave WR Julio Jones is a more accurate reflection of the market.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, the Packers do have the franchise tag in their back pocket at a figure of probably a little over $19 million in 2022. That’s not the most ideal solution for either side, as it would tie up a huge portion of cap space for the Packers in 2022. Adams has also suggested that he would not respond well to the tag at age 29, so this could turn into a holdout or otherwise ugly situation.
Assuming a tag and adding all these other moves together, the Packers will have around $25 million at the end of the day to re-sign their own players, pursue free agents, extend Jenkins or others and budget toward other uses in 2022. You can work with a sum like that, but it also goes extremely fast. Green Bay will have to be judicious.
Expected cap space: -$19,149,205
The challenges for the Cowboys aren’t so much in 2022. They have quite a bit of flexibility from a cap management standpoint to do just about anything they want to do. But the trick will be balancing that and not pushing too much money into 2023 when Dallas is projected to have the lowest expected cap space in the NFL — $30 million less than the next closest team.
Easy restructures: QB Dak Prescott
The Cowboys are 7-2 and Prescott is playing like an MVP candidate. From that perspective, his $40 million a year deal is already well worth it, especially if the team can follow through and win a Super Bowl for the first time in decades.
But this offseason there will be real challenges to navigate with Prescott’s deal on the books. It’s the price you pay for an elite quarterback. Dallas can knock that hit down in 2022 by about $15 million by restructuring his deal.
This is where the bulk of Dallas’ spending money in 2022 is going to come from and this is where they have the biggest decisions to make. Anything they push back will have to be dealt with in 2023, so the Cowboys have to carefully consider each move. On the surface, this list includes pretty much all core players but a deeper look reveals some potential landmines.
Consider Lawrence. Since signing a five-year, $105 million deal, he has 11.5 sacks the past three years and has been banged up with injuries, including being limited to just one game so far in 2021. He’ll be 30 in 2022, so Dallas might be best served taking a wait and see approach with his contract. Restructuring his deal would save $12 million in cap space but also create a $22 million dead cap hit should the Cowboys need to cut Lawrence in 2023.
Cooper seems like a strong restructure candidate. His deal carries the fewest strings attached if Dallas wanted to cut him for some reason. That would save $16 million but it feels more likely they restructure the 27-year-old for about $13 million in savings instead.
Restructuring Elliott would add $9 million in space in 2022 but it would essentially tie the running back to Dallas until 2024 when he’ll be 29. Martin and Smith would add $7 million and $8 million in space respectively with restructures, but both are about to turn 31 and Smith in particular has a long injury history. Restructures would also essentially lock them in for 2023.
Collins is interesting because during his suspension this year, the Cowboys discovered that OT Terence Steele could play really well on the right side. That opens up a discussion about trading Collins, but that would only free up marginal cap space for Dallas and they’d have to find a taker for his $10 million base salary. Steele is a second-year UDFA, so he’ll be cheap for a couple more seasons. That means Dallas doesn’t need to rush into anything there, including deciding on a restructure for Collins to free up $6 million.
If I had to order the likelihood of restructures, it would be Cooper, a gap, then Martin, Elliott, Lawrence, Collins and then Smith. That would give Dallas anywhere between $12 million and $42 million in additional space depending on how many contracts they rework.
Dallas might not cut all of these guys but these are their options to shed salary. Brown has been a solid contributor but the team has a number of young corners in the wings and $5 million is a decent chunk of savings. Zuerlein has struggled with consistency and injuries, so Dallas could try and go cheap at kicker if the results won’t be that different. Jarwin is probably only in danger if the Cowboys are able to re-sign TE Dalton Schultz, at which point it becomes either/or in terms of having a decent-sized tight end contract on the roster.
Dallas has a long list of free agents and won’t be able to keep all of them. Gregory should be the top priority though after the team stuck by him for so long to finally be rewarded this season. He’s been hurt and missed some time but he’s been Dallas’ most disruptive defensive lineman when he’s been on the field. It’ll be interesting to see what a deal for him looks like.
Given how many resources have already been allocated to the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to keep Gallup. To a similar degree, the same is true for Schultz. On the bright side, the two should qualify for some decent compensatory picks. There’s a good chance Dallas will be able to bring back guys like Vander Esch, Neal, Kearse and Kazee to deals that don’t break the bank with room to address other needs elsewhere.
Expected cap space: -$11,433,203
The final eight games of the season for the Vikings will determine how this offseason will go. If Minnesota can string together some wins, make the postseason and make some noise, the odds go up that HC Mike Zimmer is back for another season in 2022.
If they can’t, Minnesota will be looking at its fifth year out of the playoffs out of eight under Zimmer, with no back-to-back winning seasons and questions about just how high the ceiling is for the team as currently constructed. There’s quite a bit of rumbling that that would be the final straw for ownership, with widespread changes not stopping at just Zimmer.
How this ultimately shakes out will determine if the Vikings try to patch things up and take another run at contending in 2022 or pull the band-aid off and start to rebuild.
2022 will be the final year of the two-year, $66 million extension Cousins signed last March that also happened to be fully guaranteed. He’ll have a $45 million cap hit in 2022. To alleviate the pressure from one player taking up nearly 25 percent of a salary cap that has to pay for 50 others, the Vikings have to do something with the deal.
Cutting him is not an option given his guarantees. The Vikings have to either extend or trade Cousins. The veteran has been productive enough that an extension seems more likely, especially if Zimmer is back. But if there’s a new regime that’s not as impressed with Cousins, or if ownership has seen enough, perhaps Minnesota explores a trade more aggressively. That $35 million base salary will make things difficult, but if another team gets desperate and strikes out on some of the other big names who might be available, Cousins might look more attractive.
Hunter is another player who the Vikings have set up a deadline with this offseason. To temporarily mend the relationship after Hunter grew discontented with the bargain extension he signed in 2018, Minnesota agreed to put in an $18.5 million roster bonus to Hunter’s deal that is due the fifth day of the 2022 league year. That means the Vikings have to either cut him to avoid paying it, sign him to a new deal or try and work out a trade.
Before tearing his pec in Week 8, Hunter had notched six sacks in seven games and was well on his way to a huge season after missing the entire 2020 season with a spinal injury. The injuries don’t help but a torn pectoral muscle is a relatively complication-free rehab and not something that should impact Hunter going forward. He’s still only 27 and looking for a deal that pays him like the rest of the elite edge rushers in the NFL. Given the Vikings don’t have much else in the way of long-term options at edge rusher, that deal probably should come from them.
A trade would be complicated unless another team is completely sold on Hunter as an impact edge rusher and the Vikings aren’t. Cutting Hunter would save $14.6 million but Minnesota would be better off signing him to an extension that could save at least that much while keeping him in the fold.
Extensions for Cousins and Hunter alone could give the Vikings $29 million in space to work with in 2022. That’s a healthy chunk to try and reload for a run. Trading Cousins if they can find a taker frees up even more space but at this point, it feels like the Vikings might prefer to stay hitched to Cousins for at least a little bit longer.
If the Vikings need more space, Kendricks, O’Neill and Tomlinson are the best candidates here. Restructuring all three would create just $10 million more in space but it also carries minimal risk given their projected status with the team.
If Minnesota is really looking to go all-in, Thielen and Cook represent “break glass in case of emergency” restructures. Thielen’s deal represents the biggest chunk of savings, about $8 million but he’ll be 32 next year and Father Time is not kind to wide receivers. Restructuring Cook would add about $6 million in space but in addition to the hazards of tying up guaranteed money long-term in a running back, Cook’s pending legal situation is a variable to consider.
Cap cuts: Michael Pierce ($6.5M)
Pierce signed in Minnesota with big hopes in 2020. But he missed that entire season after opting out due to the pandemic and he’s been hurt for a majority of this season. It just hasn’t worked out and the Vikings might be ready to move on and try and get their money’s worth elsewhere.
This is a long list of free agents, all of them key starters and basically the Vikings’ entire secondary. Even without a potential coaching change, Minnesota would be due for a lot of turnover just based on natural attrition. If there is a new staff, it’s very possible none of these players are back in 2022.
Expected cap space: -$7,309,861
Like the Vikings, the Giants are also in an interesting situation. They are on pace for their fifth straight losing season and ownership is obviously losing patience. Still, it’s hard to see them moving on from HC Joe Judge and hiring their third coach in six seasons. That’s too much instability for an organization as proud as the Giants.
Someone still has to be held accountable, and right now Giants GM Dave Gettleman looks ripe to be the scapegoat given he’s overseen a lot of losing in the past four seasons. So let’s assume they head into 2022 with Judge needing a big year to save his job. He’ll have to deal with the ramifications of Gettleman’s 2021 spending spree which has pushed the team near the bottom of the list in expected cap space.
New York’s challenge for 2022 will be figuring out which investments are worth keeping and which ones the team needs to move on to address other holes on the roster, particularly the offensive line.
New York swung a trade to bring in Williams, then handed him a deal worth $21 million a year after his breakout season last year. So far he’s continued to play at a high level, so New York should feel comfortable restructuring his deal. It would add $9 million in cap space and put the Giants into the black.
Jackson was one of New York’s biggest signings this offseason. The former Titans first-rounder doesn’t have any interceptions so far this season but he’s holding up fairly well in coverage. He’s allowed just a 54.4 completion percentage and 5.0 yards per target. A restructure would add $5 million while also still leaving the Giants with the flexibility to cut him in 2023 if needed.
Bradberry is allowing more receptions this year than he did in 2020, when he was playing like one of the NFL’s best corners. He’s still making plays and having a solid season, though. There’s a case to be made for cutting him outright and saving more than $12 million. But the Giants would need to find a replacement given how much they rely on playing man coverage. A restructure would save half that but not leave a hole in the lineup. Bradberry’s deal is set to void in 2023 and a restructure would leave New York with $7.5 million in dead money if they didn’t extend him.
Ideally the Giants would prefer Golladay to have been in the former group of core players. But the veteran receiver has struggled mightily with injuries and to get on the same page as the quarterback. He’s caught 19 of 32 targets for 310 yards in six games, which is a decent 16.3 yards per catch, but he hasn’t found the end zone yet.
A restructure would be the single most impactful move the Giants could make in terms of creating cap space in 2022. His salary for next year is guaranteed already. But a restructure would lock Golladay into a $22 million dead cap hit should New York want to move on in 2023. Given how he’s struggled to transition this year so far, it feels like the Giants would want to see more to feel comfortable with that decision.
Shepard and Ryan are two other key veteran players, and restructures would add about $4 million for each. That also doesn’t tie too much up in terms of future dead cap — though at some point the accumulation of all these restructures together is a consideration. But Shepard hasn’t been able to get through a full season since 2018 and Ryan will be 31. Age isn’t kind to defensive backs. If the Giants can avoid restructuring those two, they should.
Dixon ranks 21st out of 36 punters with more than 10 kicks currently in punting average. Saving $3 million is a no-brainer. Moving on from Rudolph and Martinez would be a little bit tougher, not necessarily because of their production on the field, but because they were notable free agent signings the past couple of seasons. Rudolph has just 16 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in nine games. The veteran’s production shouldn’t stand in the way of saving $5 million.
Martinez is a bit trickier because when he was healthy, he was a solid starter for the Giants at linebacker and the pipeline there is thin. Still, $8.5 million is a considerable amount in savings and the veteran is coming off of a torn ACL. What New York could do is give Martinez a short, frontloaded extension that lowers his cap hit in 2022. He’ll be just 28 in 2022 so he could still be a starting level player.
If we assume restructures for Williams, Bradberry and Jackson and releases for Dixon and Rudolph, that gives the Giants about $26 million in cap space to improve the roster. They don’t have a ton of pending free agents they need to worry about saving for. Peppers might be worth bringing back on a one-year deal after his torn ACL, but no one else should be much of a priority. Engram and Hernandez are probably better off with fresh starts.
For the past few seasons, Jones and Barkley have been the cornerstone players the Giants have built around. Obviously the results on the field have not been good. Barkley has lost huge swathes of the past two seasons to injury despite the Giants’ best efforts. While his talent is undeniable, he’s proving the naysayers right who said taking a running back No. 2 overall was a poor decision. Unless he has an incandescent final eight games, it feels like the Giants might want to defer a decision on his extension again.
As for Jones, the Giants will have to decide in May on his fifth-year option for the 2023 season. It would guarantee him about $21.4 million. However, Jones has not shown enough for the Giants to commit to him with anything longer, and there’s an argument against picking up the option.
The Giants have steadfastly stood behind Jones, saying publicly and privately he has the work ethic and talent to be a franchise quarterback. The No. 6 pick in 2019 continues to be less than the sum of his parts, however. So far in 2021, he’s completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,059 yards, just eight touchdowns and five interceptions. The advanced stats don’t paint a prettier picture, as he ranks 25th in EPA/CPOE. He has been quite dangerous on the ground, with 50 carries, 258 yards and two touchdowns.
At this point, it’s hard to see the Giants being willing to commit to either Jones or Barkley before the 2022 season. That means next year is shaping up to be a pivotal season for a long, long list of people in New York.
Bonus team, Falcons
Expected cap space: -3,559,783
The Saints get a lot of the cap hell headlines but the Falcons actually had the league’s worst cap situation this year. It doesn’t get much better in 2022.
Atlanta’s issue is that their roster is overwhelmingly top-heavy and as a result the Falcons have very limited options to create space.
- More than half their cap space in 2022 is tied up in four players — QB Matt Ryan ($48.66 million cap hit), DT Grady Jarrett ($23.8 million), LT Jake Matthews ($23.7 million) and LB Deion Jones ($20 million).
- The only other deal they can rework for space is WR Calvin Ridley’s $11 million fifth-year option via an extension.
- The only other veteran, non-minimum contracts on the roster are for DT Tyeler Davison, RB Mike Davis and FB Keith Smith. Cutting each would create $3.8 million, $2.5 million and $1.3 million in cap space respectively, though once you factor in the cost of adding a minimum salary player to replace them, it dulls the savings.
The challenge the Falcons face is they almost have no choice but to push a bunch of money into 2023 and deal with it then. The rising cap should help with that. Atlanta also has a long list of free agents to decide on, including WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson and K Younghoe Koo. Their cap situation unfortunately might make some of those decisions for them.
This Week In Football
- After last week’s dizzying NFL news cycle, things slowed down considerably this past week. That wasn’t until after the Rams caught one of the unluckiest breaks of the year when, literally as they were signing Odell Beckham, WR Robert Woods tore his ACL and was lost for the season. It’s a crushing blow, as Woods was both a star and a glue guy for Los Angeles’ offense. The timeline will be tight, but Woods should be able to make it back for the start of next season.
- Sunday saw the return of Panthers QB Cam Newton in the same stadium that he made his NFL debut back in 2011. The former MVP proved he’s still capable of making an impact, scoring two touchdowns on his first two snaps and helping key Carolina to a huge, 34-10 upset over the Cardinals. If Newton can build on this performance, get Carolina into the playoffs and just in general look like a solid starting quarterback, the Panthers have not closed the door on this reunion continuing in 2022. Sam Darnold represents a nearly $19 million anchor on plans to go after anyone else, which is not ideal but also not insurmountable. One tack I think you could see Carolina take is to convert his option to a signing bonus and sign him to an extension with void years to spread that hit out and give them more flexibility in 2022. It might even salvage some trade value for Darnold.
- Things continue to trend in a poor direction for Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He is healing after suffering a hip subluxation in Week 1 — a similar injury to what Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa suffered his final year at Alabama but thankfully less severe — but the 37-year-old is healing slowly. At this point, it’s looking more and more like he won’t make it back at all in 2021. Unfortunately, that puts his NFL future in doubt as well. Washington suffered another blow on Sunday when it lost DE Chase Young to a torn ACL, ending a disappointing season where the former No. 2 overall pick recorded just 1.5 sacks.
- The Jets have decided to start veteran QB Joe Flacco this week against the Dolphins. It’s not exactly clear why. It is clear they don’t want to start No. 2 overall QB Zach Wilson. They claim it’s because of a knee injury but he’s been participating in practice so in theory he should be healthy enough to play. The reality is the offense has run better with literally every single other quarterback on the roster, so it’s probably fine to give Wilson some time to sit and learn. What’s confusing about the Flacco decision is that it takes away reps from QB Mike White, who had an abysmal outing against the Bills last week but showed genuine flashes of competency in the weeks before that. Are the Jets trying to avoid a controversy between White and Wilson? They say Flacco’s experience gives him the edge over White, but something just doesn’t quite add up. It’s all very on brand for the Jets.