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A look at Bengals' $27M cap space

3/14/2014

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals still have about $27.1 million in cap space to work with, according to a report Friday from the NFL Players Association.

This time of year the group regularly updates each team's salary cap figures and numbers as players get cut, traded, re-signed or signed by other teams. The $27.1 million figure isn't too far off the $27.6 million ESPN's Stats & Info shows in its latest cap estimates.

With more than $27 million still in their cap reserves, the Bengals rank ninth in the league in available cap space. They also have about $7 million more than the league average of $19.9 remaining cap space, per the NFLPA report.

So the big question is why aren't the Bengals spending any of it?

Cincinnati has only re-signed three of its own players, cut another two and watched three more sign with other teams. Another free agent, Andrew Hawkins, appears to be on his way out, too, as the Bengals seem poised to avoid matching the four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet he signed with the Cleveland Browns. Coach Marvin Lewis said on a conference call with reporters Friday that the Bengals have not yet decided what they're going to do with respect to matching Hawkins' Browns offer.

The short answer to the question about why the Bengals haven't spent much has to do with future contracts. They have a number of players whose deals will be expiring after next season, and they want to rework some of them now. Among the players who could see extensions this offseason are quarterback Andy Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Basically, the Bengals are trying to save as much cash as they can in order to keep the few remaining 2014 free agents they want to re-sign, and start working on deals for the more expensive 2015 targets.

The long answer about why the Bengals aren't spending much is the idea behind it is that they just don't really have the funds to pull off some of the extravagant deals that may intrigue fans the most.

The thing about cap dollars is this. Yes, the NFL has set a spending limit of $133 million per team this year, but that exorbitant figure can be misleading. When you factor in the more than $8 million the Bengals have rolled over from last season, putting their current spending target closer to $141 million, it can seem like Cincinnati is rolling in money for its players.

But it's when you add in a series of mandatory, non-salary payments and projections for injury costs and future bonuses, that you see the number shrink. It especially shrinks when you consider that those funds get pulled from the slice of cap space (in Cincinnati's case, the $27 million) that isn't already devoted to paying existing player contracts. In theory, the Bengals are operating with a good bit less than $27 million with which the league says they can sign free agents.

So, understanding where the Bengals currently stand from a cap standpoint, we can imagine what their next signing steps will be. It's likely they will continue trying to bring back several of their remaining free agents while also adding a couple of comparatively cheap players from the outside. It's also likely they will set aside a considerable chunk of salary-cap money for draft picks, particularly with a rather high number of compensatory picks potentially headed their way. The leftover amount of cap money ought to be just enough to end up going to one -- if they're lucky, two -- of their big-money 2015 free agents.

Yes, like everyone else, they have money to spend, but what they have won't go as far as it might seem at first glance. If you want to know one big reason why the Bengals have been content acting in the draft instead of free agency, that's primarily it.