Packers, Vikings have $30M-plus to spend
NFC North foes Green Bay and Minnesota stand to be big winners when free agency finally gets under way.
Editor's note: The teams' cap numbers were as of noon ET on Friday, March 10. However, the numbers continue to change as teams continue to make roster and contract adjustments.
Here are the five potential winners in free agency thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement extension and the extra $7.5 million of cap room:
1. Green Bay Packers
At stake is the recruitment of Brett Favre (to keep him from retiring). The Packers have $35 million of cap room, and that's after re-signing Ahman Green to a one-year contract. However, if Favre retired, his departure would free up another $7.8 million of cap room, but there is probably not enough justification to spend $42.8 million in this market. The Packers are trying to keep defensive end Aaron Kampman from leaving, and they are keeping in touch with defensive tackle Grady Jackson. Throw in defensive end Mario Williams as a potential first-round choice, and suddenly the fortunes of the defensive line look improved. The Packers weren't big players in free agency last year, and in fact they lost a couple of valuable contributors. Now, they're at risk of having too much money to spend, especially if Favre leaves.
2. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are close to being a playoff team now. With $30.9 million available, they can fill any need possible. That's why it's puzzling that they're trying to trade Daunte Culpepper by sundown. His trade would free up another $3.8 million. Having $35 million to spend would seem to be too much, particularly when the early free-agent names coming from the Vikings camp are linebacker Ben Leber and running back Maurice Morris. The Vikings have holes on the offensive line and need to make big decisions at wide receiver as to keeping Koren Robinson and Nate Burleson. The Vikings do a great job of freeing up cap room, but the idea of losing Culpepper and Randy Moss in two years seems a little strange.
They are a dangerous team because they operate under the radar and they have $23.4 million of room. Expect them to make a major signing at linebacker. Most people think it could be Will Witherspoon of the Panthers, but don't count out LaVar Arrington of the Redskins. Putting Arrington with defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson and safety Donovin Darius would make their defense like an all-star team.
4. Denver Broncos
They've been the most active team of the offseason, re-signing offensive linemen Tom Nalen and Matt Lepsis, defensive ends Courtney Brown and John Engelberger and safeties Sam Brandon and John Lynch They still have almost $11 million of room and want to keep defensive tackle Gerard Warren. If head coach/executive VP Mike Shanahan can work some magic, he might be able to get wide receiver Terrell Owens, running back Jamal Lewis and defensive end John Abraham. Abraham might cost them a first-round draft pick, but he would be worth it. Those additional options might not have been possible if the cap hadn't grown because of the CBA extension.
5. Washington Redskins
Without a CBA extension, the Redskins would have had to release six players and submit a dozen restructured contracts. Now, they can be players in free agency. The Redskins entered Friday morning $7 million over the cap, but they hadn't released anyone except LaVar Arrington and they haven't submitted any redone contracts. The Skins can be players in the John Abraham sweepstakes and also could get safety Adam Archuleta.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
2006 Free Agency
Free agency opened with a bang Saturday. Here is everything you need to know, including analysis from John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli and in-depth scouting reports from Scouts Inc.
• Pasquarelli: Top 50 UFAs | Sleepers
• Clayton: What to watch in free agency
• Pasquarelli: Money to spend
• Scouts: 2006 free agent grades
• AFC East | NFC East
• AFC South | NFC South
• AFC North | NFC North
• AFC West | NFC West