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Sunday, March 9, 2014
Updated: March 11, 8:35 AM ET
How will teams use cap increase?

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Last year, NFL teams rolled more than $177 million of cap money to 2014 from their 2013 cap anticipating only a $3.3 million increase.

But with an increase of $10 million that pushed the cap to $133 million, teams face an interesting dilemma. They have to decide how much to save for future years with revenues getting a big spike because of increased television revenue. Don't be surprised if teams hold back some spending this year to save money for key re-signings for the future.

What general managers and capologists face is trying to retain the stars from loaded draft classes in 2010 and 2011.

The 2010 draft was the last one under the old collective bargaining agreement that helped top first-round choices receive big contracts. Sam Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal. Ndamukong Suh got $63.5 million over five years. Gerald McCoy signed for five years and $63 million. Trent Williams made $10 million a year.

Twenty-nine players from that draft have earned trips to the Pro Bowl, with many, including Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots, Geno Atkins of Cincinnati Bengals, Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks, Daryl Washington of the Arizona Cardinals, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and NaVorro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers, having already cashed in on big paydays while Jimmy Graham and Greg Hardy were franchised this offseason.

A bigger concern is the 2011 group, the first class in which draftees were slotted with lower contracts. Teams have to save to pay for them, and the costs could be staggering. Twenty players from that draft have been selected to the Pro Bowl. Just look at the names of the top picks from that draft: Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey and Ryan Kerrigan. Most -- if not all -- of those Pro Bowlers will be paid at the top of their positions.

The cost of re-signing many of these 2010 and 2011 draft choices could cost $10 million a year or more, and teams will have to plan for that.

The internal debate is how much to save for the offseasons over the next two years.

Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith's pass-rushing prowess will likely earn him a hefty paycheck once his rookie deal expires.

FROM THE IN-BOX

Q: What do you see Aldon Smith commanding? I have worries about him as great as he has been. My concern is in games with Justin Smith out, he has one sack, I believe. That concerns me. I remember him two years ago when he had 19.5 sacks with about three to four games left and Justin Smith was out with torn triceps and he got zero sacks in that time. I don't think he can be a double-digit sack guy without a great DT freeing him up one-on-one. The great pass rushers like Robert Quinn, Julius Peppers and Von Miller all did it with the attention their way. He also still looks lost in coverage.

Matthew in Richmond, Va.

A: I think he can go in the $10 million-a-year area. He's a great talent. It would hurt if Justin Smith is done after this year. Justin opens a lot of room for Aldon to get to the quarterback. Still, he was good enough to be Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011. Hoping that he's straightened out some of his off-the-field issues, I think he's poised to have a great season in 2014. If that's the case, I think he will be in the $10 million-a -year class next year.

Q: Since there is some consideration of revising the extra point kick, why not consider revising the field goal kick also? The object of the exercise is to advance the ball to and across the opponent's goal line. Change the field goal protocol so that the closer to the goal line, the more points awarded for a successful kick. Inside the 10-yard line is a three-pointer, outside the 10 but inside the 20, a two-pointer, and outside the 30, a one-pointer. Or something similar. The coaches would oppose because they would have to think more; however, as a fan, I would like to see more effort at gaining more yardage toward the goal line.

Bevo in La Quinta, Calif.

A: I just don't see why everyone wants to change something that is working. The field goals and extra points aren't broken; they don't need to be fixed. Kickers have made themselves more efficient and more valuable to teams. This isn't high school ball where it's easy to convert fourth downs into first downs. The league needs to reward success and not promote plays that might not work. Converting fourth-and-short is a 60.8 percent success rate. Kickers make more than 83 percent of their field goals. Don't change a winning formula.

Q: My question is on strategy. When a team is down by 15 and scores a touchdown late in the 3rd or early in the 4th, they always go for one. The commentators always justify the decision, saying a team should wait until it's necessary to go for two. Why not go for two right away? There's about a 50% chance the conversion will fail, so wouldn't it be helpful to know that as soon as possible? Failing to convert at the end of the 4th leaves no time to adjust.

Shaggy in Shreveport, La.

A: You are talking about a two-touchdown comeback. If you fail on the first with a two-point conversion, then you have to make it a three-possession comeback, which is very difficult. Maybe it might be more pressure going for the two-point conversion after the second touchdown, but that puts a team in a position to gamble more on defense to get that third possession if the first two-point attempt fails. The margin of error is tough enough when a team is down by 15. Going for two too early works against the team attempting the comeback.

Q: With the last pick in the first and second round and a need for an impact TE, wouldn't it make sense for the Seahawks to try to sign Jimmy Graham to a long-term deal? They could not find anyone better picking that late and it also hurts a big rival. Shouldn't they be at least exploring it? Shouldn't ANY team at the end of the first round look into this?

Bill in Long Island, N.Y.

A: The salary-cap consequences of the future prevent that from happening. The Seahawks are paying more than $10 million a year for wide receiver Percy Harvin. They have to do future contracts for Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. Those deals could come in at more than $10 million a year each. They couldn't afford to keep five players at that price along with giving up two first-round picks. That would mean the Seahawks gave up first-round picks in three consecutive years. That can't happen.

Q: As a long-suffering Bills fan, I continue to be dismayed by what I believe are poor decisions in Buffalo, regardless of the regime in place. I have seen time and time again the team release or trade top-notch talent (mostly on defense). Teams like the Saints, 49ers, and Vikings seem to raid Buffalo regularly. That said, I still cannot figure out the indefensible decision not to use the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd. Does this organization have a plan that I am not seeing or is this just another in a long line of baffling moves?

Brian in Huntsville, Ala.

A: I feel your pain, Brian. The Bills have had a long history of trading starters when they are set to become too costly or just losing them to the free-agent market. Marshawn Lynch and Donte Whitner are just two examples. In the case of Byrd, they apparently didn't want to pay two safeties. They paid more than $6 million a year to extend the contract of safety Aaron Williams. Byrd was going to cost more, so this was purely a business decision. Plus, talks with Byrd have been tough for more than a year. All of this doesn't matter until the Bills find the right quarterback. What you have to hope is that EJ Manuel is the long-term answer. If so, the future will be bright.

Q: What are your expectations for the Falcons this offseason and upcoming season? Tony Gonzalez retired, Roddy White is getting older and coming off a season limited by injury, they had virtually no pass rush, and they were decimated by injuries. Arthur Blank has made it clear he's committed to Coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on how they can hopefully bounce back.

Rob in High Point, N.C.

A: I do believe the Falcons will turn everything around and be a Super Bowl contender this year. The key is rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines. This is a very good draft for offensive linemen, and I think the Falcons will land a great tackle in the first round. Injuries were another big problem in 2013, but I can't see the Falcons losing five starters in a week like they did in Week 3 last year. The key for the Falcons is having Matt Ryan at quarterback. He can carry the team when needed and get Atlanta back into contention.