1. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams went all in and made it work. They will need to be creative in order to address their few deficiencies in the offseason, but the core of a championship team is set to return. Odell Beckham may miss the season with a knee injury, but the Rams will have Robert Woods, back and TE Tyler Higbee made a major step forward during the season. The Rams are in the bottom ten with regard to available cap space, and they have no picks in the first two rounds of the draft, so this team may look very familiar next season.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
While it might not feel like it today, it is a great time to be a Bengal fan. This team has a core of young players that should keep it in the mix for a championship for several years to come. The Bengals were just one defensive stop from winning it all. The offensive line needs significant improvement if the Bengals intend to avoid the Super Bowl loser’s hangover. The Bengals are 4th in available cap space and have a nice story to tell potential free agents.
3. Green Bay Packers
The Packers showed almost nothing in their lone playoff game after a dominant regular season. Now the circus around the future of Aaron Rodgers will restart. With Rodgers and free-agent Davante Adams, Green Bay is a major contender and a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Without them, things get very dicey. The Pack are second to last in cap space, but that number changes significantly if either Rodgers or Adams depart.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have holes to fill, but they will enter the offseason as a top contender in the AFC. Their marquee offensive weapons will be back, but there is a long list of major contributors who will be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Tyrann Mathieu and Melvin Ingram on defense and the right side of the offensive line are among those set to hit the market.
5. Buffalo Bills
No fans are sicker about how the season ended than the Bills, but outside of Cincinnati, the Bills have one of the brightest futures in the league. There are several high-salary players the Bills can dump this offseason to improve their 24th best cap number, and they have all their draft picks. If Buffalo can forget the last 13 seconds of regulation in KC, they will be right back next year.
6. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers very nearly completed a Cinderella run for the Super Bowl. Their improved end-of-season play coincided with the improved health of several key contributors. With better injury luck, the Niners should be a factor again next season. The offseason will be focused on the development of Trey Lance as Jimmy Garoppolo will be released before June 1st. That transaction will greatly improve the Niner’s cap space, which currently sits at 20th in the league. The Niners traded away their first-round pick in the deal that landed them Lance. San Francisco has picks in each of the remaining rounds and will need to be on their game to remedy soft spots in the lineup.
7. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals must find receiving help, for Kyler Murray who had no viable options after the injury to DeAndre Hopkins. The Cards sit at 22nd in cap space with high-priced veterans Chandler Jones, Zach Ertz, and AJ Green bumping that number northward. The Cards will also need to assure Murray he is still loved, as his recent actions suggest he is upset with the team. Arizona has no 4th rounder in the draft, but they are projected to receive two compensatory picks in the seventh round.
8. Tennessee Titans
The Titans would like to find an improvement for current starter Ryan Tannehill, but the team figures to be stuck with him under center again next season. Cutting Tannehill comes with a cap hit of over 57 million, and there doesn’t figure to be an eager bunch of suitors looking to trade for him. The Titans will likely need to focus on improving around their quarterback. The Titans sit at 26th in cap space without any big-ticket players in line to walk. They have a full complement of draft picks except for their 2nd round pick which was sent to Atlanta in the Julio Jones deal.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are facing a double-edged sword this offseason as several major contributors will enter free agency, while Dallas sits at 30th in available cap space. The Cowboys will need to be creative to hold onto major players such as Randy Gregory and Dalton Schultz who were high productivity, low dollar performers in 2021. The Cowboys have all their picks except for round seven, and they have an extra selection in round four.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Replacing the best quarterback ever is all Tampa needs to do to stay in contention in the NFC. The Bucs are 19th in available cap space, and they have multiple high-priced free agents. Chris Godwin, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ryan Jensen are all set to walk and combine for more than 37 million in salary. The difficulty Tampa faces is that many of their free agents will want to see how the Bucs replace Brady before signing. Godwin seems likely to be tagged if a contract can’t be worked out. Tampa has all its draft picks except for the sixth rounder which went to the Jets in a trade.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins finished the season winning eight of their last nine games. Miami will need the shake off the fallout from the probe into their owner conspiring to drop games and how things went down with the firing of their head coach. If those investigations get squared away, and the Dolphins can concentrate on improving their team, there is a lot to be excited about in South Florida. The Fins have a full set of draft selections and are projected to receive a compensatory pick in the fifth round. Miami also tops the league in cap space with over 64 million available.
12. New England Patriots
The Patriots got a good look at where they stand in the division in their blowout loss to Buffalo. The good news is that the Pats have a solid if not spectacular franchise quarterback and can spend the offseason focused on other positions. The Pats traded their 5th round draft pick but retain picks in each of the other rounds. Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower are unrestricted free agents. The Pats will save nearly 20 million in cap room if both were to leave.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles won four of their last five and six of their final eight games. Devonta Smith started looking like a go-to receiver as the season progressed, but the Eagles need someone other than their quarterback to lead the team in rushing. Somehow the Eagles are in the bottom half of the league in cap space despite not truly having a superstar on the roster. The Eagles should be able to plug the holes that exist on each level of their defense if they draft well. Philadelphia enters the draft with two picks in the first, second, and sixth rounds, and they have three picks in the fifth round. Look for Philly to be active in trade talks with all that draft capital.
14. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders won their last four games to qualify for the postseason. That streak included doing serious damage to the playoff hopes of the Browns and Colts and eliminating the Chargers. Vegas had easily the most adversity in the league having to deal with Jon Gruden’s unceremonious exit from the league and the tragic story around former first-round pick Henry Ruggs III. If the Raiders can find some stability in their front office and on their sideline, they have over 21 million in cap space and full complement of draft selections to address issues on both lines and in their porous secondary.
15. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had control of their destiny and allowed a postseason berth elude them. Rumors have the Colts looking to deal Carson Wentz, but the number of interested parties will be limited at best. The Colts have a boatload of cash to work with and may grow that stash by moving on from some high-priced older veterans. The Colts will have picks in each round of the draft with extra selections projected in the fifth and seventh rounds.
16. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were a wildly inconsistent group in 2021. The run defense was atrocious and has to be an off-season focus. Los Angeles will work with 57 million in available cap space – the league’s second most. The Chargers have all their picks in the draft and are projected to receive an extra three compensatory picks in the six round and one more in the seventh. With one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, the Chargers are in position to rise into the NFL’s elite level with a solid offseason.
17. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have one of the top-rated unrestricted free agents hitting the market in LT Terron Armstead. Armstead counted 13 million against the cap in 2021, and it may require more than that to keep him in New Orleans. Complicating things greatly for New Orleans is their current position as dead last in the league in cap space. The Saints have extra picks in the fourth and seventh round, but it’s hard to imagine that they can plug all their holes, especially the gaping one at QB, with their current cap situation.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers
The lack of planning makes it seems as though the Steelers were surprised by Big Ben’s retirement. How else can you explain the lack of talent at the quarterback position. Pittsburgh does have several exciting young players on offense, but none of them play quarterback. Free agency could be good for the Steelers as they enter the offseason just outside the top ten in available cap space. They will move comfortably into the top ten when Roethlisberger’s cash comes off the books and if Joe Haden retires and they move on from JuJu Smith Schuster. The Steelers will enter the draft with picks in each round except the fourth. They are projected to see an additional pick in the fifth and seventh rounds.
19. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were third from the bottom on defense in 2021. They have some decisions to make on that side of the ball as Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, and Sheldon Richardson are all unrestricted free agents. Those three players accounted for more than 20 million in cap space for a team that enters the offseason at 29th place – 14 million over the cap. The Vikings have no picks in the fourth or seventh rounds of the draft, but they will enter the day with three picks in the sixth. It will be difficult for the Vikings to make the type of improvements needed to lift themselves to the next level.
20. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were a huge disappointment in 2021. Some had them pegged as a Super Bowl team. Lamar Jackson regressed as a passer. The Ravens need to focus on his arm and on protecting him better next year. A bonafide number one wideout would do Jackson a world of good and help push Baltimore back into the AFC elite. The Ravens will pick twice in the third round of the draft and may have as many as five picks in the fifth with compensatory selections. Baltimore is in the middle of the pack in cap space but could free up quite a bit with departures by some high-priced vets.
21. Denver Broncos
This should be a wild offseason in Denver. As long as Aaron Rodgers remains in play, Denver will be in the headlines. If he does end up in Denver, the Broncos would rise considerably on this list and on the odds board in Vegas. If Rodgers returns to Green Bay, retires, or plays elsewhere, QB becomes the Broncos first order of business. Denver has the 5th most salary cap space in the league. The Broncos will have extra picks in the second, third, fifth, and seventh rounds of the draft. They could be active with all that draft capital if a young quarterback catches their eye.
22. Cleveland Browns
No team slid as far from preseason expectations as the Browns did in 2021. The Browns were a fashionable Super Bowl pick in the preseason but couldn’t stay above .500. What is Cleveland thinking about Baker Mayfield? If they want to move on, the Browns have 26 million is cap space to play with and some unrestricted free agents that could provide more slack against the cap. The free agent crop doesn’t appear to have a significant upgrade for Cleveland at QB. The Browns may be best served for firming up the spots around Mayfield and working on his game during the summer. Cleveland possesses all of its draft picks with an extra pick slated for the fourth round.
23. Washington Commanders
The Commanders have a new logo and will need a new man under center in 2022. The Commanders play hard for head coach Ron Rivera, but an influx of talent is needed to accompany that fire. Brandon Scherff will hit the market as one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents. His 18 million dollar cap number will provide more flexibility should he exit, but it will be hard to find a similar talent on the open market. The Commanders are another team in search of a franchise quarterback. Washington has a full set of draft picks save for round five which was dealt elsewhere. We are likely to see a similar season to the one we just watched in Washington with a young quarterback being groomed for future success.
24. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks appear to be considering trading away Russell Wilson, a move that would put the team in full rebuild mode. Dealing Wilson would return a king’s ransom, but the young players would likely take a while to find their footing. The competition in the division is brutal, and Seattle is clearly a step behind the pack, so a full rebuild would make some sense. If the Seahawks eschew a rebuild, they are 7th in the league in available cap space, so they could make waves on the market. Complicating a rebuild is the fact that Seattle will not have a first-round pick in the draft.
25. Chicago Bears
The Bears enter this postseason able to focus somewhere other than the quarterback position. Justin Fields will get the next few years to prove he is the man in Chicago. The Bears will be able to 29 million in salary cap space address their numerous other deficiencies. The Bears will enter the draft without a first or fourth round pick, so Chicago will need to work free agency to find the help they need. Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, and Andy Dalton are set for unrestricted free agency. Those three players accounted for nearly 40 million in cap space in 2021.
26. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons got next to nothing from their ground game, and that resulted in a difficult season for Matt Ryan. The Falcons were 6th from the bottom in TDs scored. The defense was equally inept at defending both the run and the pass. Despite the poor performance, Atlanta is only 25th in available cap space. The Falcons have an extra pick in round two, but the cap situation and the number of holes across the field will likely mean a struggle for mediocrity again in 2022.
27. New York Jets
The Jets were the 6th worst team in the league at running the ball and 4th worst at defending the run. It’s a time-honored recipe for a four-win season. Those two stats scream out for reinforcements along both lines. The good news is that the Jets will enter the offseason with the 6th most cap space – 44 million. That’s a number that could and should increase by allowing some dead weight to walk in free agency. The challenge is convincing a potential signee that this is a great place to come and play. The Jets are better than a handful of teams, but they have the worst brand in the league. Overcoming their long history of perpetual struggle and failure is the Jets biggest challenge. Talk from their front office isn’t going to do it. The only solution is on-field success. There is hope. If the Jets can continue to improve their offensive line, we should get a look at the considerable arm talent starting quarterback Zach Wilson possesses. Michael Carter’s 639 yards rushing equate to over 1,100 with a team that can block better than a traffic cone. The Jets will enter the draft with two first, second, and fourth-round picks. They are in great position to fleece a team looking for quarterback help in a draft light on top-level signal callers. The Jets have all the tools needed climb into a respectable place among NFL franchises and recreate themselves as a team on the rise. If they fail yet again, given all the assets they possess, it’s hard to imagine that they will ever make it work.
28. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers started on fire and fell off a cliff after week three. One of the major questions facing the Panthers is how they will best utilize Christian McCaffrey. Handing and throwing him the ball 30-plus time per game, does not seem viable moving forward. Carolina has a modest number under the cap to make some moves. They are right in the middle of the league, 16th, in cap space at roughly 18 million. They also have to decide how to handle Stephon Gilmore, who can leave once free agency starts. The Panthers will not have a second or third-round pick going into the draft, so more emphasis will be added to free agency. The Panthers also need to decide where they stand on Sam Darnold as their starter. Darnold was good when the Panthers were good, but he was atrocious otherwise.
29. Detroit Lions
The Lions played much better than their schedule shows in 2021. They lost four games by three or fewer points and were competitive in several others. Amon-Ra St. Brown was unstoppable down the stretch, and D’Andre Swift is a stud that the Lions need to keep on the field more in 2022. The Lions are at 14th in cap space with a respectable 21 million available. The Lions have two first-round picks in the draft as a result of the Matthew Stafford trade. They also enter the draft with two third-round selections. Much like the Jets, the Lions need to overcome brand issues in regard to free agent prospects, but there is hope in Detroit for a turnaround.
30. New York Giants
The Giants truly had a miserable year in 2021. They were unlucky when it came to health and just plain bad on the field. The finished the campaign with six straight losses, and are starting over with a new coach. The cap number isn’t great. The Giants stand at 28th in cap space – 10+ million over the cap. If Nate Solder retires or moves on, that number will improve by almost 16 million. The focus for New York has to be on keeping their young core of skill players healthy and drafting well. The Giants have two picks in the early part of round one. They also have two picks in rounds three and five.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags had a five-game skid to start the season; then they dropped eight straight games later in the year. Along the way they said goodbye to the coach that they thought would nurture their franchise quarterback to stardom. Between all that, the Jags mustered under 15 points per game. Their inability to move the ball made things all that much more difficult for their undermanned defense. The good news is that Trevor Lawrence seems to have all the capabilities people saw in him at Clemson, and James Robinson is still in the backfield and ready to be used properly. The Jags have the third best position against the cap with 56 million available. Jacksonville will go into the draft with extra selections in the fifth, six, and seventh rounds.
32. Houston Texans
The Texan’s season imploded before it even began in 2021. Deshaun Watson will probably not suit up again for Houston, and his trade value is irreparably damaged. Houston has 19 million to spend under the cap – good for 15th best in the league. Davis Mills filled in admirably for Watson, but it is not clear if he can be the answer for the long term. Brandin Cooks somehow caught 90 passes for over 1,000 yards in the middle of a terrible season. Houston has extra picks in the third and sixth rounds, but they are without a pick in the fifth round. It will be difficult to get anything of value for Watson, and there are too many holes to fill through the draft and free agency to see Houston advance beyond what they did in 2021.
NFL Cap figures from https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/cap/2022.