The final years of the NFL's previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA) rendered salary cap totals nearly moot. Big jumps in cap allowances eliminated almost every tight spot and, for the most part, allowed teams to sign the players they wanted without making a corresponding cap reduction.
We're still not sure how the new CBA and cap rules will impact player movement around the league. I'm guessing at least a few teams will need to make some tough decisions, but how impactful they are remains to be seen.
With those caveats in mind, let's take a look at where each NFC North team sits under the $120 million cap, based on documentation I've seen. If nothing else, these numbers indicate how easily a team could add a veteran player after Saturday's final roster cutdown. It will also give you an indication if it could sign some current players to contract extensions by the end of the season, and finally, it could give you a peak at teams' upcoming priorities.
Chicago Bears: $19.3 million
Green Bay Packers: $12.8 million
Detroit Lions: $736,000
Minnesota Vikings: $375,000
No NFL team has less cap space than the Vikings, but that figure could change quickly if they sign linebacker Chad Greenway and/or tailback Adrian Peterson to contract extensions. Greenway ($10.091 million) and Peterson ($12.775 million) account for about 19 percent of the team's total cap space at the moment.
The Lions don't have a lot of flexibility at this point, and what they have came after they renegotiated deals this month with receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
In many ways, the Lions are a classic victim of the NFL's previous CBA. Their reward for years of losing was a series of high draft choices, but those slots were extraordinarily expensive and, viewed together, they have created some cap headaches moving forward.
In 2012, Johnson ($18.5 million), Stafford ($16.1 million) and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ($12.2 million) would account for nearly 40 percent of the Lions' cap space under their current contract terms. For that reason, it seems almost certain that Johnson will have a new contract if he is a member of the Lions next season.
The Bears and Packers, meanwhile, have enough space to complete several veteran contract extensions apiece during the season. Among the possibilities for the Bears are running back Matt Forte, center Roberto Garza, safety Chris Harris and linebacker Lance Briggs. The Packers could approach guard Josh Sitton, tight end Jermichael Finley and/or punter Tim Masthay.