Getting the NFL's five biggest spenders out of salary-cap hell

The Eagles will regain $20 million in cap room when Nick Foles comes off the books for the new league year. Matt Patterso/AP Photo

The New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles have the least amount of cap space to work with as free agency and the draft approach.

The Jaguars and Eagles are both over the cap.

Here's how each of these teams can save some money and still make a moderate splash in free agency.

New Orleans Saints

Salary cap rank: 28th

Cap space: $7,656,953 million

Key free agents: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mark Ingram II, DE Alex Okafor, K Wil Lutz (restricted), TE Benjamin Watson (retiring), DT Tyeler Davison

Possible solutions

Cut Kurt Coleman: The safety's debut season in New Orleans didn't pan out as hoped after he signed a three-year, $16.35 million contract. His role diminished as the year went on, and he played three snaps in the playoffs. The Saints can save at least $4 million in cap space by cutting him -- and $5.5 million if they designate it as a post-June 1 move.

Restructure QB Drew Brees' deal: Brees is scheduled to count $33.5 million against the cap in the final year of his contract (plus another $10.5 million in dead money in 2020 since the Saints have spent years pushing his cap costs into the future). They could obviously do it again this year and worry about paying off the credit card later. "We'll see what happens," general manager Mickey Loomis said in January. "We know [the big cap hit] is coming at some point. We've kicked the can down the road a number of times, haven't we?" The Saints also could restructure deals with LT Terron Armstead ($16 million cap charge) and DE Cameron Jordan ($14 million cap charge).

Let Bridgewater and Ingram go: If the Saints had limitless funds, they'd love to keep both of their top free agents. But they might be luxuries for a team on a tight budget. Bridgewater probably would cost $10 million-plus as a backup-in-waiting behind Brees, and Ingram might cost $5 million-plus as a No. 2 running back.

Cut WR Cameron Meredith: This is a tougher decision, because the Saints are optimistic the 26-year-old receiver can return to form after a major knee injury wiped out his 2017 season with the Bears and lingered into 2018, limiting him to six games. The Saints could save $3.7 million in cap space by releasing Meredith. Ideally they would wait to see how he looks throughout summer camps before deciding. But they may consider cutting him earlier if they spend on a veteran slot receiver in free agency.

Shop LG Andrus Peat: Peat made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018. But the former first-round draft pick is due $9.625 million in the final year of his contract. If the Saints don't plan on spending to keep him next year, they might want to consider trading him for cap savings and to add a draft pick in a year when they don't have a first-rounder, third-rounder or fourth-rounder.

Saints' cap number after moves: The Saints can easily carve out an additional $10 million in cap space by choosing just a couple of moves from the above list. Their top priority in free agency should be another pass-catcher (either at tight end or slot receiver). And they need to either re-sign Okafor or add another veteran edge rusher. They also might need to consider extending receiver Michael Thomas' contract before he becomes an extremely expensive free agent in 2020. -- Mike Triplett

Chicago Bears

Salary cap rank: 29th

Cap space: $7,271,312

Key free agents: CB Bryce Callahan, OLB Aaron Lynch, S Adrian Amos, T Bobby Massie, WR Kevin White

Possible solutions

Turn LB Khalil Mack's base salary into a signing bonus: Mack's base salary in the second year of his blockbuster contract jumps to $11.3 million, all of which must be counted on the cap for 2019 -- when his cap number is $22.3 million. If the Bears turned, say, $10 million of that into a signing bonus, it could then be prorated over five years. Then, the Bears would have to count only $1.3 million in base salary and $2 million of the prorated new signing bonus on this year's cap. That would save them $8 million in cap space for this season. However, it would increase their cap charge by $2 million for each of the next four years.

Go cheaper at backup QB: By having a veteran backup quarterback like Chase Daniel, the Bears are paying for it. Daniel's salary-cap charge for 2019 is $6 million. They could save half of that if they released him, though they already owe him $3 million for this season because $1 million of his $4 million base salary is guaranteed, and so is his $2 million roster bonus. They would be able to wipe off only the remaining $3 million of his base salary from their books.

Release TE Dion Sims: The veteran blocking tight end finished last season on injured reserve (concussion) and would count $6,333,334 against the salary cap this season. Almost all of that -- $6 million -- could be wiped off the books. That's his scheduled base salary, none of which is guaranteed. The only thing the Bears would have to count is $333,334 -- the remaining proration from the $1 million signing bonus he received as part of the three-year deal.

Bears' cap number after moves: The Bears would save $17 million off their 2019 cap with these three moves, giving them more than $24 million in cap space. That's still in the lower half of the league, but it would give them some freedom to make a move or two in free agency while also re-signing a couple of their own key free agents. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Salary cap rank: 30th

Cap space: $7,175,517

Key free agents: LB Anthony Barr, DT Sheldon Richardson, RB Latavius Murray, LG Nick Easton, K Dan Bailey

Possible solutions

Clearing out/restructuring along the offensive line: Left tackle Riley Reiff has the highest cap figure ($11.7 million). Minnesota doesn't have a ton of leverage to make Reiff restructure his deal, especially if they try to move him inside to play guard. Minnesota also could move on from tackle-turned-guard Mike Remmers, who carries a $6.35 million cap hit. With no guaranteed money left on his deal, releasing Remmers before June 1 would come with a $4.55 million cap savings (with $1.8 million in dead money). The Vikings also could opt to release the likes of Danny Isidora ($594,413 savings) and Aviante Collins ($645,000 savings) if they're looking to totally revamp the offensive line -- from their starters to the reserves. That won't create a ton more space but could certainly help the financials.

Trade CB Xavier Rhodes: The Vikings have depth behind Rhodes, who's their best option for a trade and would free up $13.4 million in cap space. Despite a rocky season filled with injuries, Rhodes is still one of the league's top corners and trading him could bring the Vikings multiple draft picks to address other needs (i.e., the offensive line). With Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Mackensie Alexander, Minnesota could even opt to draft a corner.

Release DE Everson Griffen: Upon his return midway through the 2018 season after dealing with mental health issues, Griffen had his lowest sack total (5.5) since 2013, when he was a rotational edge rusher. While he's largely considered a top-10 pass-rusher and would create a hole on the defensive line, cutting Griffen before June 1 would come with a cap savings of $10.7 million. The Vikings have depth at defensive end between Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower, but might have to use a high draft pick on a DE to make cutting Griffen worth it.

Release S Andrew Sendejo: After the veteran safety injured his groin and was limited to five games last season, the Vikings can opt to move on from Sendejo. A pre-June 1 release would add an additional $5.5 million in cap space.

Restructure TE Kyle Rudolph's deal: The Vikings would not part ways with their tenured tight end, but Rudolph is entering the final year of his contract, has no guaranteed money left on his deal and carries a $7.625 million cap number. If Minnesota offers Rudolph a short-term extension along with a signing bonus to bring down his cap hit, that could free up somewhere in the range of $2 million to $3 million.

Vikings' cap number after moves: The Vikings would gain more than $38 million in cap space by making the moves above and be in position to retain the services of Richardson and Barr (the franchise tag might be the easiest route to go) and pursue a starting offensive lineman in free agency. -- Courtney Cronin

Jacksonville Jaguars

Salary cap rank: 31st

Cap space: Over the cap by $7,817,558

Key free agents: RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Donte Moncrief, RB Corey Grant, G A.J. Cann

Possible solutions

Release DT Malik Jackson: This is a move the Jaguars are expected to make after Jackson was pulled from the starting lineup and used mainly in pass-rush packages midway through the 2018 season. The team will have $4 million in dead money but will save $11 million with the move.

Release RT Jermey Parnell: He has battled knee issues the past two seasons and missed six games the past two seasons. He turns 33 in July and it's time for the Jaguars to get younger at that position with either 2018 draft pick Will Richardson or a rookie in 2019. The move will save the Jaguars $6 million.

Release S Tashaun Gipson: He played at a high level in 2017 and showed last season he's still capable of handling some of the NFL's top tight ends in one-on-one coverage. But the Jaguars have a younger (and cheaper) option in Jarrod Wilson, whom they recently signed to a three-year extension. Releasing Gipson saves the Jaguars $7.45 million.

Release QB Blake Bortles: The Jaguars are expected to move on from Bortles after five seasons, but the hitch is the three-year contract extension Tom Coughlin, executive VP of football ops, signed off on last year. It includes $16.5 million in dead money in 2019, but the Jaguars can mitigate that somewhat by designating him a post-June 1 cut. They'd still be stuck with $11.5 million in dead money but they'd save $10 million against the cap, though that wouldn't be available until after June 1.

Restructure CB A.J. Bouye: Bouye is due $40.5 million over the next three years, but none of it is guaranteed. One potential scenario: The Jaguars offer Bouye a restructured deal that includes a signing bonus of $12.2 million (which is essentially the non-guaranteed $13 million base salary he's scheduled to earn in 2019). Because of CBA rules regarding mandated salary as well as his current roster bonuses and original signing bonus proration, Bouye's 2019 cap charge could drop from $15.5 million to $7.37 million -- a savings of $8.13 million.

Jaguars' cap number after moves: The Jaguars declined to pick up the option on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins so that saves an additional $4.4 million, which brings the total cap savings to $46.22 million. That would leave them with $38.402 million in cap space. Remember, $10 million of that won't be available until after June 1 (the Bortles release) but that money could be helpful in signing DE Yannick Ngakoue (who is entering the final year of his rookie deal) to an extension closer to training camp. Or CB Jalen Ramsey, though the Jaguars can wait to start negotiating because they are expected to pick up the fifth-year option in May. -- Mike DiRocco


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Philadelphia Eagles

Salary cap rank: 32nd

Cap space: Over the cap by $22,923,806

Key free agents: DE Brandon Graham, LB Jordan Hicks, WR Golden Tate, RB Jay Ajayi, RB Darren Sproles, CB Ronald Darby

Possible solutions

Recoup QB Nick Foles' money: The Super Bowl MVP is on the books for $20 million in 2019. Foles, though, voided the option year recently by paying the Eagles $2 million. Not only will Philly get cap relief when the $20 million officially comes off the books, but the $2 million he paid back will be applied to the 2019 cap as salary credited/refunded.

New deal for WR Nelson Agholor: He is set to make about $9.4 million this season after the Eagles exercised his fifth-year option. By working out an extension, they could lower his 2019 cap number while ensuring he stays in Philly beyond this season.

Release/restructure DT Tim Jernigan: A good player, but his projected cap number of $13 million is simply too high, especially for someone coming off a serious back/neck injury. The Eagles have until March 13 to exercise his 2019 option. The prudent play is to try to negotiate a new deal between now and then, and let him walk if those efforts fail.

Release/restructure LT Jason Peters: This one is tricky. Peters is 37 years old and has been hampered by injuries of late, but he's still better than most tackles in the game. His 2019 cap number of around $13 million is reasonable for his position. He has been reluctant to restructure in the past. If Philly feels it really needs the cap room, it can save more than $10 million by releasing him.

Eagles' cap number after moves: The Eagles can free up nearly $50 million through these moves alone, which would get them cap compliant and allow them to be modest players in free agency. -- Tim McManus