Cowboys, Packers and Saints are all in salary cap turmoil


Free agency is an exciting time for teams with a ton of cash to spend. This is an opportunity to dramatically improve your team and bring new faces into the fold. Conversely, for teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, in an exercise in frugality, stress management and spreadsheets.

The Cowboys, Packers and Saints will all watch with envy as teams like the Miami Dolpins, Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars try to be big spenders in free agency.

For the three former organizations, spending big just isn’t in the cards in 2022. Here’s a breakdown of each team’s salary cap crisis heading into the league’s 2022 year.

Dallas Cowboys – Roughly $21.1 million over cap

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones chat before a game against the New Orleans Saints | Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Jerry Jones has spent a lot of money over the past few seasons on players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence, and now is the time to pay the piper, so to speak.

If it were as simple as restructuring contracts, the Cowboys could probably quickly pump some cash into the future and be done with it. However, they have a whopping 21 free agents who could also be worried, which greatly complicates the situation.

We know Jones is disappointed with how the Cowboys broke out in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, but now Dallas faces the real possibility of losing some key contributors to the 2021 team, which otherwise looked like a list of the Super Bowl.

Tight end Dalton Schultz was a massive offensive contributor last season (808 yards, eight TDs), but he was so good he probably walked out of the Cowboys’ market.

Randy Gregory will also generate major interest in the open market thanks to the six sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception he notched in just 10 games. He finished the season healthy and explosive, and it’s not hard to imagine another team taking a chance on him and offering him a good deal to get him away from Dallas.

Other key free agents include linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, widouts Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson and Malik Turner, defensemen Keanu Neal and Jayron Kearse and punter Bryan Anger.

That’s a ton of holes to fill and not a lot of money to do it.

Green Bay Packers – About $37.4 million over the cap

Brian Gutekunst, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst watches play during a game between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers | Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The entirety of the offseason in Green Bay has focused on Aaron Rodgers and his ‘will he, won’t he’ drama, but the real story is Green Bay’s salary cap issues. .

The Packers are at least down about $28 million after some restructuring, but even that is terrible. There was a time when it was worse, though. Prior to restructurings for defensive tackle Kenny Clark, running back Aaron Jones and left tackle David Bakhtiari, the Pack was nearly $50 million over the cap.

Green Bay is saying all the right things about keeping its Super Bowl window open, but there’s no way the Packers can escape that problem without some severe cuts. Star passing thrower Za’Darius Smith is likely on the chopping block, where the Packers can save $15.2 million, and it’s seriously doubtful that any key players becoming free agents will be able to re-sign.

Davante Adams is, of course, the marquee free agent for Green Bay, and he’s going to cost a pretty penny to stay. Vital contributors like tight end Robert Tonyan Jr., linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, guard Lucas Patrick, cornerback Rasul Douglas and wide receivers Allen Lazard (restricted free agent) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling can all come out deservedly this offseason looking for more money, though.

The Packers look set to get creative and throw some cash into the future to make it work, but they’re playing a dangerous game with superstars like cornerback Jaire Alexander and offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins who should be free agents in 2023.

Green Bay runs the risk of going all-in this offseason only to see the team implode without a Lombardi trophy.

New Orleans Saints – Approximately $49.9 million above the cap

If the Packers were smart, they would look to the Saints and learn from their mistakes. The saints live the reality mentioned above. They jumped into Drew Brees’ final years to try to bring another Super Bowl to New Orleans before he retired, and they’re still paying for it.

They never won the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, because they pushed so much money into the future, they spent the 2021 season paying dead money to players who weren’t even on the team. Brees retired but still owed $11.1 million in 2021. He will still have $11.5 million for this season salary cap. This, even though he has been officially retired since June 2021.

Consider it in this context: The Saints will end up owing Brees money for two full seasons after his last snap.

Their dead cap situation isn’t as bad as it was in 2021 ($49.1m vs. $12.5m), but they’re still nearly $50m above the cap with a lot of work to do. Notably, left tackle Terron Armstead will be a free agent, as will quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Trevor Siemian.

Winston and Siemian don’t seem like great free agents, but how comfortable will new head coach Dennis Allen be with Taysom Hill leading the offense?

Allen is no Sean Payton, who will likely be in a commentary booth this season.

So, to recap: Just a few seasons after going all-in and pushing money into the future, the Saints are without Payton, they’re still paying a retired Brees, and they have the worst salary cap situation in the NFL. They also don’t have a reliable quarterback.

Sometimes you fire your shot and miss.

Statistics provided by ESPN and Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Spotrac

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