Predicting 2018 NFL free agency's biggest spenders -- and penny-pinchers

Keenum likely to be Vikings' starting QB next year (1:43)

Adam Schefter, Ryan Clark and Louis Riddick debate whether the Vikings should use the franchise tag on Case Keenum over Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater. (1:43)

Having the resources to spend in free agency doesn't mean an NFL team will be active on the open market or in retaining its own players -- but it does mean the door is open. So who will be the biggest spenders this offseason?

Before we run down our list of the top five teams primed to spend big, and the five least likely to open their wallets, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The NFL has not yet established its salary cap for the 2018 league year, which means that no records of cap space are official. A projected cap of $178 million will be used for this exercise.

  • Teams have the right to (and will) roll over cap space from one season to the next. So, for example, if a team had $10 million remaining on its 2017 cap and elected to roll all of it over, its adjusted cap space for 2018 would be $188 million.

  • Cap space can change rapidly. With one or several moves, teams can dramatically slash or increase payroll. The numbers below are snapshots of their current situations.

  • Free-agent activity also will be dictated by the players who are actually available. Some of the top projected free agents, such as Kirk Cousins and Le'Veon Bell, are still candidates to be franchise-tagged.

Let's start with the teams that will likely be the most active:


1. Cleveland Browns

2018 cap commitments: $126.2 million

Factoring in rollover cap space, the Browns are expected to have north of $100 million to spend in free agency with only one unrestricted free agent of note: running back Isaiah Crowell. Of the good players on the current roster, many are already under contract long term, meaning the Browns can focus on the open market instead of in-house extensions. When new Browns general manager John Dorsey took over the Chiefs in 2013 with an incredibly healthy cap situation, he immediately traded for quarterback Alex Smith, extended wide receiver Dwayne Bowe for five years and $56 million, then signed cornerback Sean Smith (three years, $18 million), wide receiver Donnie Avery (three years, $8.55 million) and others in free agency. Expect Dorsey to be aggressive again to accelerate the rebuild in Cleveland.