Salary Cap Check-in Around the AFC East
It’s been nearly a month since the Buffalo Bills cleared up a decent chunk of cap space for the 2021 NFL season. With $9 million in available cap space, fans are getting antsy with Brandon Beane for not spending it yet. More specifically, fans are wondering why a trade hasn’t been made for Zach Ertz yet. We know that the Bills are in a great position, being on the positive side of the salary cap heading into training camp in a few weeks.
So I wanted to take a look at the other AFC East contenders to see where what their financial situations were like. Before I do that, it’s never a bad time to recall that the Bills dominated, and I don’t use that word lightly, the rest of the AFC East last season. In addition to sweeping the division, they outscored the Patriots, Dolphins, and Jets 194-111 in those six games.
Miami Dolphins (Cap Space: $6.5 million)
The Dolphins began free agency with $33.1 million in cap space. As you can see, they spent a good chunk of that money over the past few months. The Dolphins are in an okay position with the regular season is inching closer. $6.5 million is enough to add a few depth players or possibly take a stab at a surprise cut during preseason cuts. The major pieces of the team are in place and while the jury is still out on Tua Tagovaiola, the Dolphins are lucky to be in a position where they have to trim salary this late in the offseason. Overall, they have managed their money well and present a significant threat to the Bills in the AFC East.
New England Patriots (Cap Space: $20.1 million)
That is a scary line to write. Giving Bill Belichick that much money with two months to go until the start of the regular season is asking for trouble. The Patriots also had a massive amount of cap room at the start of free agency: a whopping $69 million. The team spent nearly $50 million bolstering their previously unknown Tight End and Receiving cores, adding Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The team also added talent on the defensive side of the ball. You knew that Bill Belichick was not in the mood for a long rebuild, and the spending in the offseason showed he wants back in the AFC East race.
The most puzzling move for the Patriots was their inaction at the Quarterback position. Maybe Mac Jones was who they wanted all along, but the Patriots did not make a move on draft night to grab one of the top Quarterbacks on the board. With a sizeable amount of cap room left to get creative with, Bills fans have a right to be nervous that the Patriots could swing a trade for Deshaun Watson or Jimmy Garoppolo. Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past Belichick to do it.
New York Jets (Cap Space: $35.3 million)
Similar to New England, the Jets started the offseason with a large amount of money at their disposal. They had $69.3 million before free agency means that the Jets spent about $34 million over the past three months. Outside of WR Corey Davis (3 yrs/$37.5 million) and DE Carl Lawson (3 yrs/$45 million), many of the contracts that they handed out were small. In other words, the Jets did not make the splash in free agency that the Patriots did.
Their splash came on draft night, as they made BYU Quarterback Zach Wilson their franchise guy. With so much money left to spend and their Quarterback already in place, the Jets may seem content to roll over their money into next year’s cap. This isn’t the worst idea for the Jets, as long as Wilson shows promise this year. If Wilson is their Quarterback of the future, they will be able to spend away next offseason filling in gaps on their team to contend in the AFC East long-term.
Things are looking pretty steady within the AFC East as teams prepare for training camp. All four teams managed their money very well this offseason. The Bills and Dolphins have some wiggle room to continue to add some players or to make a trade. The Patriots and Jets have a ton of money that they can roll over into next year. While the gap between the Bills and the rest of the division was huge last year and continues to be large this year, I expect that talent gap to close considerably in the next few seasons as long as the division continues to manage the cap situation in an intelligent way.