January brings us the NFL playoffs. March takes us into free agency, April (usually) holds down the draft and May ushers in offseason workouts. February? For the most part, it is the NFL's month of accounting.
(Oh, and the annual scouting combine, but that's not until next week. Work with me here.)
Yes, we have arrived at the time of year when even casual fans are interested in the salary cap, the otherwise mind-numbing monolith that generates a flurry of player moves in February and early March. All teams must be under the NFL's mandated cap total, likely to fall between $126 million and $128 million, by March 11.
I always hesitate to pass along team-by-team salary-cap figures given how fluid they are at this time of year. But the fourth column of the monster chart in this post provides a decent estimation of how much work each team has (or doesn't have) in front of it. You can see the range of cap commitments runs from the massively strapped Dallas Cowboys ($152.2 million) to the bare-bones Oakland Raiders ($67.8 million). Keep in mind that each team must save between $3 million and $7 million for signing its draft class, based on draft position and number of picks.
The chart, however, is sorted by another figure I wanted to highlight. "Projected carryover" is a relatively new term in NFL salary caponomics, created by an addition to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that allows each team to roll over unused cap space from one year to another. (Previously, teams resorted to tricks such as "phony bonuses" to push excess into the following year.)
The carryover must be declared in writing before the end of the regular season, so you can assume that the figures in the chart -- provided by ESPN's Roster Management Tool -- are reasonably accurate estimations.
The easiest way to think about carryover is to add it the NFL's official salary cap number. Say the 2014 cap number is $127 million per team. The Philadelphia Eagles technically were at $123 million when I grabbed these numbers late last week, a total that would put them in compliance but might not even be enough to sign their draft class. Because the Eagles are carrying over $17.2 million in space, however, their actual cap spending limit will be about $144 million.
All but three teams are projected to carry over some space, but only half the NFL's 32 teams will bring more than $2 million in additional cap funds into 2014.
Carryover totals aren't necessarily an indicator of quality cap management, nor do they necessarily reflect an unwillingness to spend cash. No one was more aggressive on the free-agent market last year than the Miami Dolphins, and they are still projected to carry over $18.1 million in extra space for 2014. I present these numbers mostly as a utility to help you get a better grip of where your team will stand after the dust settles in March.
Some of you might look at the larger carryover numbers and wonder how those teams are in compliance with the NFL's minimum spending requirement. Keep in mind that the league's calculation for minimum spending comes over four-year periods, the first of which began in 2013. Teams must consume 89 percent of the NFL's total cap allotment over that period. In other words, no one is out of compliance yet.