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Free Agency Watch: Salary Cap Winners and Losers

Feb 24, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos general manager John Elway speaks at a press conference during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Feb 24, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos general manager John Elway speaks at a press conference during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

For the sake of fairness, it could be noted that salary cap "winners" are more often than not (but not always) your worst teams from the previous year.

Here are the rough cap numbers from La Canfora. These are based on Mondays numbers, so deals such as the Sione Pouha extension are not factored in largely speaking. The cap number is constantly changing as of today, so this rough list is subject to heavy and frequent shifts in numbers.

Highlights: Despite being a fixture at third place in the division, the Dolphins have the least money to spend out of any AFC East team with just under 10 million until the cap limit. Buffalo has the most to spend in the division, nothing new. The Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, and Arizona Cardinals are all well over the cap. The Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders all have less than 2 million to spend.

Due to size constraints, the list of "winners" and "losers" will be after the jump. Feel free to post your thoughts about the cap in general, or how much of an impact you think we can have in free agency with these numbers.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers; estimated cap space of $44.9M

Kinda hard for me to call the Bucs "winners", in any regard. A regular third place contender in their division, Tampa Bay has a lot of heavy lifting to do in free agency and the draft just to have a decent year in same division as the Saints, Falcons, and rising Panthers. 140 million in cap space probably couldn't save them.

Loser: Arizona Cardinals; estimated nearly $14 million over the cap.

Why even bother pursuing Peyton Manning when you have to completely tear down your team and make it a shell in order to make signing him a remote possibility? After slipping hard in the NFC West recently, it seems the Cardinals are making the incorrect assumption that their team is only a QB away from the post season and betting the cash they don't have on that. Either way, they're broke.

Push: NY Jets; $13 million estimated with cap exemptions in excess of 1.5 million and a deal with Sione Pouha pending.

The Jets GM did some of his trademark cap magic early this offseason, leading to an unexpected bounty of cap money to spend on critical improvements. A middle of the pack 2011-12 team gets middle of the pack money to improve it. The unexpected money is nice, but the teams needs may be too great to effectively use it.

Winner: Denver Broncos; over $42 million in cap space.

I have to say, I'm impressed. Aside from Tim Tebow, the team has made the most out of its draft picks in the last few years, and the defense of the Broncos looks like it will potentially soon be one of the best in the NFL. Now the team has a mass of money to pursue Peyton Manning and friends, or to make offensive improvements even if they can't win over the former Colt.

Loser: Indianapolis Colts: roughly $13 million in cap space.

For a team that parted ways with their star QB and is losing most of its receiving corps, even going so far as to cut some decent players, you would really think the Colts would have more to show for their pruning efforts. No wonder they fired their GM and President. 13 million isn't much cash to inject into the team with the worst showing in the entire NFL last year.

Push: Green Bay Packers; estimated $5.6 million under the cap.

They don't have much of any money to spend, but do they even need it? Not really.

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals; just under $40 million in cap space.

For a team that has made great leaps and bounds on defense while finding franchise caliber passing and receiving solutions through the draft, they have quite a bit of cash on hand. The Bengals could elect to buy a serious run at the Super Bowl this year if they are so inclined.

Loser: Dallas Cowboys; nearly $3 million over the cap.

These figures are BEFORE pending cap penalties against this and other NFL teams. The Cowboys had their hands full struggling with the Giants and Eagles for the NFC East last year. They fell short, and in spite of that they have the least money out of any NFC East team, in fact they have negative dollars. Only the Cardinals and Lions are in worse financial positions relative to the cap right now, and arguably the latter of those teams has a much better roster to show for it. Talk of extending luxuries like Laurent Robinson, or signing away FA's will have to wait until the Cowboys can balance their finances.

Push: Baltimore Ravens, $13 million under the cap.

13 million is kind of on the bubble as to whether or not you have a decent amount of cash to spend on an NFL team. The Ravens are in considerably better salary cap condition than their most fierce rivals, the Steelers, despite faring better in both the regular and post seasons. While not in the most ideal position to make a grab for free agents, the Ravens should be able to take advantage of the Steelers need to cut the fat, and cement their role as the number one team of the AFC North.

Honorable mentions: San Francisco has over 20 million to spend after a great playoff run last year. Chicago has 23.5 million dollars to improve their team. Jacksonville is nearly 35 million under the cap, but three times that amount couldn't buy them a team. Seattle has over 27 million to spend, which could put them over the top in a tumultuous division. Kansas, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Tennessee all have between 22 and 25.1 million in cap space.

Dishonorable mentions:
Oakland has under 700k to spend on Free Agency and draft signings unless they cut or restructure some of their players. Houston has even less with just over 600k and a long list of needs and departing players. Miami will have to rely on 9.8 million to woo Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and anyone else who may want to go there. The Rams will also be using 9.8 million to fill their countless needs, As noted earlier; the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and Carolina Panthers all have less than 2 million to spend. The Washington Redskins cap space of $16.4 million makes it unlikely they'll be able to offer any big contracts to lessen the stigma of playing for Washington. The Cleveland Browns have very few franchise players, departing big names, and an exhaustive list of critical needs. Atlanta is only 7 million under the cap.

Push: San Diego (16.3 million), Philadelphia (13.9 million).