It's around this time of year where NFL fans priorities are more segmented than they will be all season long.
Fans of the Seattle Seahawks are pleasantly sipping their Starbucks coffees, watching and waiting as deflated New England Patriots fans prepare to initiate the Boston Tea Party 2.0 if the NFL decides to hand down any Super Bowl-impacting punishment on their beloved Pats - with specific concern for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the ball boy who worked the AFC Championship game.
Fans of the Indianapolis Colts are silently praying for an unprecedented disqualification that would put them in the big game - while also silently praying that there is no DQ, because they know that the Seahawks would obliterate the Colts.
Packers fans...the wound is still fresh. We'll hold off. Too soon.
The rest of us? The rest of us are pouring over mock drafts, half-paying attention to practices being held in Mobile, Alabama, and scouring lists of free-agents-to-be, and dearly hoping that big names like Dez Bryant and Ndamukong Suh hit the open market so that our team's rich owners can start showering them with millions upon millions of guaranteed dollars.
Unfortunately, for some fanbases, those aforementioned rich owners hired some boneheaded general managers who did not foresee this potentially unprecedented free-agent class, in terms of the talent that might be available when the free agency bell rings on March 10, and thus have little cap space going into #FreeAgency2015 (because that's what it will eventually be referred to on Twitter).
Other teams, though, have either planned properly to back up the Brinks truck this spring, or found themselves in a favorable cap situation by sheer luck. Either way, if your team is near the top of this list, you can justify all those hours spent scouring the Internet's never-ending rumor mill (you can justify it to yourself, at least).
*Keep in mind that these numbers will change before March 10. Figures and situations below are based on current standing on January 22st, 2015. Day-to-day fluctuation of cap space situations make these numbers estimates rather than exact data. All numbers provided by www.overthecap.com.
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15 Atlanta Falcons ($19,766,008)
The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the more confusing teams over the past two seasons. Last year was somewhat excusable thanks to all the injuries they had to deal with, but 2014 was the straw that broke Mike Smith's back (his decision-making did not help his cause much, either). It's a supposed foregone conclusion that Dan Quinn will be taking over the reins on the Atlanta sideline. Sean Weatherspoon will likely be the internal priority for GM Thomas Dimitroff, but he'll also have to look to upgrade all over the defensive side of the ball to improve last season's 27th ranked defense.
14 Buffalo Bills ($24,324,395)
It goes without saying that the Buffalo Bills need to use this offseason to improve their offense. Their defense was the only thing that got them to 8-8, and it will likely be leaned on again this upcoming season with Rex Ryan now calling the shots. If the Bills can land a decent option at quarterback, they'll finally be able to unleash guys like Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Sammy Watkins. First, though, they must try to keep a hold of C.J. Spiller and Jerry Hughes, among others.
13 Seattle Seahawks ($25,017,629)
The Seattle Seahawks have bigger fish to fry over the next couple of weeks - but it's still interesting to note that a team this good still has this much cap space available going into an offseason after consecutive Super Bowl runs. Of course, all this will change once Russell Wilson gets paid, but until then, the main priorities are retaining some of the names already on their roster. Potentially being able to use the line "come help us win a third Super Bowl in a row" to lure free agents certainly doesn't hurt their chances of bringing in some fresh blood either.
12 San Diego Chargers ($25,382,099)
San Diego went from a potential Super Bowl contender early in the season (led by a potential MVP candidate in Phillip Rivers; also early in the season) to floundering down the stretch and falling out of a playoff spot on the final Sunday of the season. That is probably being viewed as unacceptable by the Chargers brass, who got a taste of the postseason with this roster in 2013 and were certainly expecting even more this year. They might be looking to re-sign a couple of offensive lineman, and potentially former first-round pick Ryan Matthews (if they believe he can finally stay healthy), but look for the Chargers to add some new pieces to revitalize a team that faded down the stretch.
11 Green Bay Packers ($25,462,643)
Good teams are good teams because they have good people doing good work for them - especially in management. Ted Thompson has spent years building, tweaking and retooling his roster through the draft, so it should come as a surprise to no one that a team this talented has this much cap space to play with this offseason. Granted, some of that will have to be used on electrifying wideout Randall Cobb - but the Packers will have to make some tough decisions on Bryan Bulaga and B.J. Raji. Don't be surprised if they both walk and the Packers plug the holes left behind with equally (if not more) talented - and cheaper - options.
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($25,845,889)
The Bucs need help all over the field - that much we know. What we also know is that, barring a major surprise, one of their biggest issues will be dealt with with the first overall pick in the draft. Jameis Winston is likely going to be wearing a Bucs jersey next season, and his presence alone should help the Bucs improve. He'll have some solid receiving options in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, so if the Bucs can plug some of the other holes on their roster with the rest of their cap space, they could surprise in 2015.
9 Chicago Bears ($27,644,395)
Out with the sort-of-new, in with the brand new. The Bears have a new head coach, a new GM - a lot of new things, to keep it short. They might be looking for a new quarterback, too, based on what happened at the end of last season. It would be foolish to give up on Jay Cutler after last season's debacle - he was bad, but the entire mess can't be pinned on him. The Bears defense was the second-worst unit in the league, and coaching has to come into question when an offense that features Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte finishes the season ranked 23rd in the league. New head honchos Ryan Pace and John Fox would be wise to use their ample cap space to upgrade their defense - that starts with getting younger and avoiding the temptation to shell out big bucks to over the hill names like Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman (who might be retiring anyways) and D.J. Williams.
8 Denver Broncos ($27,802,129)
John Elway has proven to be a bit of an evil genius throughout his time with the Broncos. He found a way to lure Peyton Manning to Mile High, he's managed to replace well-respected John Fox with an arguably better option in Gary Kubiak, and he'll find a way to retain offensive studs Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas this offseason, too. He'll have to make some concessions to do that, though, with Wes Welker, Rahim Moore and Terrance Knighton, among others, all up for new deals - but when you have Peyton Manning running your offense, you don't have to worry as much about the pieces you surround him with. With more than $22 million to spend, Denver fans can sit back and relax - even if Manning does decide to hand 'em up.
7 Cincinnati Bengals ($34,298,150)
If I were a betting man, I'd considering making a wager that the Cincinnati Bengals would trade a good chunk - if not all - of their cap space to switch Andy Dalton for almost any other quarterback in the league.
That may seem a bit harsh, but if you're a member of the Bengals front office, or a fan for that matter, how many sleepless nights have their been wondering why the Red Rifle could not up his game in the postseason. The Bengals can at least find some resolve in the fact that they have ample cap space to continue to improve an already solid roster. Rey Maualuga's contract situation will need to be resolved, but for the most part, the Bengals are in good shape to reload and try to improve on their middle-of-the-pack units (15th on offense, 12th on defense).
6 Indianapolis Colts ($37,358,059)
Ask any reputable NFL analyst or observer and they'll all tell you the same thing: the Colts need a lot of work. The majority of their issues were masked by the remarkable play of Andrew Luck, but even a top-notch quarterback can only carry a bunch of scrubs so far. Firstly, the Colts need upgrades in the backfield. The Colts might be without long-time wideout Reggie Wayne, and will also have to decide if they want to commit to certain members of their defensive backfield - notably Sergio Brown, Darius Butler, and Mike Adams. With their cap space, the Colts are in a good position to not only upgrade their defense but hopefully assemble some semblance of a ground game with some smart acquisitions.
5 Tennessee Titans ($41,125,599)
The Tennessee Titans were atrocious this season. There's no way to sugarcoat the fact. The good thing about it is that they get to hit the reset button, add a blue-chip prospect with the second overall pick, and hopefully attract some top talent with all the cap space they have at their disposal. The Titans are most likely done with the Jake Locker experiment, and other than LT Michael Roos there isn't anyone on their roster that will command big money on the open market, meaning the Titans have the option to start loading up with talent this summer or saving their money for a later date after they do some retooling in the draft.
4 New York Jets ($48,985,074)
After what can only be described as a tumultuous season for the Jets, a thorough house-cleaning and some fresh blood might be exactly what the doctor ordered for one of the league's most highly scrutinized franchises. The arrival of Todd Bowles was viewed as a head-scratcher around the league - why get rid of one defensive-minded coach in Rex Ryan to bring in another with barely any head coaching experience?
Bowles will spend less time in the spotlight during the entire 2015 season than Ryan would in one week of game prep, so he's just what the doctor ordered in the Big Apple. Besides, he'll keep the defense strong and with all the money the Jets have to spend, they can focus on finally building something resembling a National Football League caliber passing attack.
3 Cleveland Browns ($49,369,654)
The Cleveland Browns have gone all in on Johnny Football, and they are dearly hoping that Manziel puts it all together - ASAP - before things get out of hand in Cleveland. After a promising start, things went off the rails when Brian Hoyer began to struggle and Manziel replaced him. It would appear that the starting job is now Manziel's to lose, and he's going to need all the help he can get.
Luckily for the him and the Browns, they have plenty of cap space to add some talent around their young quarterback. The Browns have some in-house contracts to deal with first, though: Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron (if healthy), Buster Skrine and Tashaun Gipson all figure to get at least the same salaries, if not more. The Browns would be wise to worry about their free agents before they start splurging on the open market.
2 Oakland Raiders ($56,117,366)
It seems like Raiders fans finally have something to smile about. Derek Carr is entrenched as the team's franchise quarterback, Khalil Mack showed flashes of the dominant defender he can become - and the Raiders have nearly $50 million dollars to throw around. They're smartest move (so far) was bringing in a well-respected coach like Jack Del Rio (as opposed to an unproven commodity). He'll be able to continue to mould a young team that will only get stronger after this offseason. If I'm a Raiders fan, I'm praying for Amari Cooper to be the pick at #4 overall, and with no major re-signings to worry about the Raiders can be major players in a free agency pool that will potentially include names like Suh, Orakpo, Spiller, Maclin, McCourty, Crabtree, Iupati, and many, many more big names that could turn the Raiders around a lot quicker than people might think.
1 Jacksonville Jaguars ($63,502,876)
As has been the case for the past several seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars found themselves at the bottom of the standings and preparing to make a top selection in the Draft. The past few years have sparked an otherwise listless franchise, though, as Gus Bradley's group has shown flashes - the talent level just isn't up to par as it stands. With a high pick and a boatload of cash, the Jags can finally start to fill in the pieces to at least start to recreate the type of defense Bradley began to build in Seattle. Blake Bortles could use some help, too - the Jags allowed a league-worst 71 sacks last season. If Bortles is going to flourish, he'll need much better protection. With the amount of money they have at their disposal, they might even be able to blow a few guys out of the water and sway them over with big contract offers that other teams won't be able to match.
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