As per 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, here's how much cap room each of the NFC East teams has:
Philadelphia Eagles: $20,693,473
Dallas Cowboys: $5,319,519
New York Giants: $3,900,091
Washington Redskins: $2,575,539
That doesn't mean of course that the Eagles are particularly frugal or that the Redskins have been handing out bloated contracts, far from it. But instead of taking a deep-dive into each team's cap situation, today let's look at the NFC East All-Cap team - the players with the highest 2014 salary cap numbers at their positions. We've listed "Starters" and "Backups" in the table below, the starters are the players with the highest cap hit at their positions, the backups have the second highest cap hit.
|NFC EAST ALL-CAP TEAM: Offense
|Quarterback||Eli Manning, Giants ($20.4 million)||Tony Romo, Cowboys ($11.8 million)|
|Running back||LeSean McCoy, Eagles ($9.7 million)||Darren Sproles, Eagles ($2.0 million)|
|Wide Receiver 1||Pierre Garcon, Redskins ($9.7 million)||DeSean Jackson, Redskins ($4.3 million)|
|Wide Receiver 2||Victor Cruz, Giants ($7.4 million)||Dez Bryant, Cowboys ($3.1 million)|
|Wide Receiver 3||Jeremy Maclin, Eagles ($5.3 million)||Andre Roberts, Redskins ($2.3 million)|
|Tight End||Jason Witten, Cowboys ($8.4 million)||Brent Celek, Eagles ($4.1 million)|
|Left Tackle||Trent Williams, Redskins ($11 million)||Jason Peters, Eagles ($8.3 million)|
|Left Guard||Evan Mathis, Eagles ($6.2 million)||Kory Lichtensteiger, Redskins ($3.3 million)|
|Center||Jason Kelce, Eagles ($2.6 million)||J.D. Walton, Giants ($1.9 million)|
|Right Guard||Chris Snee, Giants ($6.6 million)||Chris Chester, Redskins ($4.3 million)|
|Right Tackle||Doug Free, Cowboys ($6.5 million)||Tyler Polumbus, Redskins ($2.6 million)|
|NFC EAST ALL-CAP TEAM: Defense
|Edge Rusher 1||Brian Orakpo, Redskins ($11.5 million)||Mathias Kiwanuka, Giants ($5 million)|
|Edge Rusher 2||Trent Cole, Eagles ($6.6 million)||Connor Barwin, Eagles ($4.9 million)|
|Interior Defender 1||Barry Cofield, Redskins ($7.7 million)||Stephen Bowen, Redskins ($3.5 million)|
|Interior Defender 2||Jason Hatcher, Redskins ($3.8 million)||Cullen Jenkins, Giants ($3.3 million)|
|Linebacker 1||DeMeco Ryans, Eagles ($6.9 million)||Perry Riley, Redskins ($3 million)|
|Linebacker 2||Sean Lee, Cowboys ($3.7 million)||Darryl Sharpton, Redskins ($1.9 million)|
|Linebacker 3||Jon Beason, Giants ($3.1 million)||Jameel McClain, Giants ($1.8 million)|
|Cornerback 1||Brandon Carr, Cowboys ($12.2 million)||Morris Claiborne, Cowboys ($4.4 million)|
|Cornerback 2||Carey Williams, Eagles ($6.4 million)||Bradley Fletcher, Eagles ($3.7 million)|
|Safety 1||Antrel Rolle, Giants ($9.3 million)||Stevie Brown, Giants ($2.8 million)|
|Safety 2||Nate Allen, Eagles ($3 million)||Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles ($2.7 million)|
|NFC EAST ALL-CAP TEAM: Special Teams
|Kicker||Dan Bailey, Cowboys ($1.7 million)||Josh Brown, Giants ($1.4 million)|
|Punter||Steve Weatherford, Giants ($2.0 million)||Donnie Jones, Eagles ($1.3 million)|
Keep in mind that the cap charge is just funny money used for accounting purposes, and should not be confused with team strength or anything like that. But the table above does provide an interesting look at how teams allocate their cap resources.
Overall the Eagles have the most players on this All-Cap team with 15, followed by the Redskins (13) and Giants (12). The Cowboys bring up the rear with just eight players. And it's a similar picture when you look at the cap dollars each team has allocated to their top players:
|Players in All-Cap Team||15||13||12||8|
|Total Cap Hit||$73.2 million
||$68.9 million||$65.0 million||$51.8 million|
Obviously, these numbers offer just a snapshot of the current situation. Tony Romo's 2014 cap hit for example is artificially low, because the Cowboys restructured the contract to get under the cap. But the fact remains that the other teams are investing more into these players than the Cowboys do, while having about the same amount of cap space left, and in the Eagles' case, a lot more cap space left. How can that be?
Outside of the cap space determined for all teams annually by the NFL, two key factors play a role in how much cap space teams actually have available to invest into their players.
Previous Year Carryover: "Carryover" is a relatively new term in NFL salary capology. The 2011 CBA introduces this concept, which allows each team to roll over unused cap space from one year to the next. Nominally, the 2014 salary cap of $133 million is the amount of money available for each team to spend. But adding carryover from 2013 is what sets the de facto cap limit for each team. The Cowboys only had $1.3 million in carryover from 2013 to boost their 2014 cap.
Dead Money: Dead money is a salary cap charge for players that are no longer on a team’s roster, but for whom the team still carries a salary cap charge. When a player is released or traded, the remaining unamortized part of his signing bonus (and salary components that are treated like a signing bonus) accelerate immediately into his team’s current salary cap. Because dead money counts against a team's total cap space, that leaves less money to invest into the current roster. The Cowboys have some big chunks of dead money counting against the 2014 cap from DeMarcus Ware ($8.6 million), Jay Ratliff ($6.9 million), Miles Austin ($5.5 million), and many other players for a total dead money charge in 2014 of $26.1 million.
Here's how the carryover and the dead money adds up for the four NFC East teams:
|2014 NFL salary Cap||$133 million
||$133 million||$133 million||$133 million|
||-$9.3 million||-$10.6 million||
||$140.8 million||$123.7 million||$122.4 million||$108.2 million|
"Available" cap is the amount of cap space each team had available in 2014 for player contracts. Again, we are talking accounting money here, and teams can stretch that "available" cap quite significantly by restructuring existing contracts, but the number shows that in 2014, the Cowboys are structurally at a disadvantage in the NFC East.
When you looked over the NFC East All-Cap team, you may have felt good about the fact that the Cowboys "only" had eight players on the list, and assumed that this was a sign of prudent cap management. It's not, at least not in the Cowboys' case, as the Cowboys' hand was forced by salary cap constraints. If the Cowboys had had the room to maneuver that the Eagles had, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher might still be with the Cowboys. And Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray would likely already have signed long-term contract extensions.
There is one positive though: the numbers may not look good in 2014, but the salary cap crunch forced the Cowboys to make a number of decisions that will put them in a much better salary cap position going forward. Unless they regress to their old freewheelin' ways of course, then we're right back to where we were all along.