NFC East welcomes cap relief

Teams in the NFC East potentially have the most to gain from the $10 million jump in the salary cap.

For two years, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Washington Redskins have been cap-strapped. Watching them operate over that span has been fascinating, especially the different strategies used by Dallas and Washington.

NFL owners imposed cap penalties of $10 million against the Cowboys and $36 million against the Redskins for trying to free up future space by spending big during the uncapped year of 2010. I know that doesn't sound right, and Jones and Redskins owner Dan Snyder would agree.

The Cowboys and Redskins lost their appeals and two years of cap flexibility, with the penalties being assessed in 2011 and '12. Jones tried to deal with it by restructuring contracts, which ate up money in future cap years.

Thanks in part to those adjustments, the Cowboys are now about $16 million over the 2014 cap, with about $14.9 million of that from restructuring contracts in 2012 and 2013.

The Redskins didn't borrow as much from the future. They limited their signings to players willing to take less to play in Washington. As a result, they are now about $29.3 million under. Their cap albatross has been lifted.

The Giants, meanwhile, limited themselves mostly to signings of $1 million or less to get through two tight years of trying to keep what they thought was a Super Bowl team together. Now, they are $18 million under and can operate close to normal.

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Nick Foles' emergence has helped give the Eagles the ability to retain their players while still having a good chunk of cap space to use in free agency.

Don't underestimate the damage imposed to those three teams by tight caps. The Cowboys have been stuck at 8-8. The Giants have been out of the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl. The Redskins made the playoffs in 2012, thanks in large part to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but they crashed last season.

Only the Philadelphia Eagles have been able to build during the past two years. They have recovered from the 2011 Dream Team fiasco and have an early edge in the division this offseason. Last week, they re-signed wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and extended the contracts of offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce.

They did all that and still have more than $20 million of cap room. Because they have transitioned from Michael Vick to Nick Foles, they can follow the lead of the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks and leverage a couple of years with a low-priced starting quarterback to add an extra high-priced player or two to get them over the top.

The Eagles can't even think about extending Foles until after the 2014 season because of the new rules in the CBA prohibiting a draft choice from getting a second deal until after three seasons. Last year, the Seahawks used that advantage to improve their pass rush by adding Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, which helped them win a Super Bowl.

The Redskins are in a similar position, thanks to RG III. They can let his rookie contract play out while spending the savings on other players.

But now the race is on. Every team has more cap room than expected. The NFC East teams had fallen so far behind that the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs went 11-1 combined against them. Those wins helped those three AFC West teams make the playoffs.

The NFC East now has a chance to fix its cap problems of the past two years.

From the inbox

Q: I'm a huge Jets fan from the other side of the world. If the Buccaneers were to release Darrelle Revis, is there anything to stop the Jets from re-signing him? I do miss my favorite player on my team.

Shaye in Hamilton, New Zealand

A: The only things preventing such a move would be Revis' feelings about the Jets and Jets management. I still think it's too early to think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will cut him. If anything, Lovie Smith has to explore trade possibilities to reclaim some value. The Bucs gave up a No. 1 and a No. 3 for Revis. That's two potential starters. Releasing him would put them down another starter, but it would save them $16 million of cash and cap. For Tampa Bay, the trade never worked out. Greg Schiano must have thought the Bucs were one player away from a trip to the playoffs. They traded for Revis, a man-to-man specialist, and then played him in zone for the first half of the season. If he is cut, you know Rex Ryan will try to recruit him back. Imagine if the Jets could benefit by getting two prime draft choices and then get Revis back.

Q: As a Bears fan growing up in Browns country, I sometimes get intrigued when solid players leave Cleveland to go elsewhere. What are the odds of Chicago trying to land D'Qwell Jackson as a middle linebacker since Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic are both inexperienced?

Jerry in Youngstown, Ohio

A: I don't think the odds are very good. Jackson is a perfect fit in the middle of a defense for any team. No doubt, he could help the Bears. But I think the Bears want to get younger at linebacker and on defense. Moving McClellin off the line gives them three young players from the past two drafts at linebacker, along with Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

Q: Is there any locker room in the NFL able to handle acquiring both Jonathan Martin and Michael Sam? My thought is Denver, due to strong locker-room leadership, a strong front office and a veteran head coach able to remain focused on the game and not the impending media circus following both players.

Jason in Vallejo, Calif.

A: That's a great question. A strong locker room could handle both players. Martin just needs support and confidence. Sam just needs a team willing to give him a chance to be himself. Maybe I'm wrong, but the feeling from what players and coaches are saying is that Sam can be accepted. Ultimately, both will be judged on how they do on the field.

Q: Jadeveon Clowney reminds me of Aaron Curry. Their scouting combine stats are very similar, and it seems in college they got by on athleticism. Do you think teams look at comparisons like that before drafting a player like Clowney (possible work-ethic issues), or are the physical gifts worth the risk?

Mike in Seattle

A: Here is why I don't agree. Curry came into the league in a draft that has proven to be weak at the top for defensive players. This draft is one of the best in more than a decade, and Clowney is considered the best of the best on defense. The other difference is the position. Curry was a linebacker. His instincts at the position didn't translate from college to the pros. Clowney is the ideal defensive end in a 4-3. If he can just get around a tackle and get to the quarterback, he can be a star.

Q: There is lots of talk about the depth of this draft. For the Seahawks, who'll likely draft "best available" talent at 32, which position might provide the most value for later picks because of its depth?

Steven in Issaquah, Wash.

A: This draft is deep at wide receiver and guard, two main needs for the Seahawks. It's not out of the question that a starter at one of those positions could come out of the third or fourth rounds. The simple thing for Seattle, though, is to get a starter in each of the first two rounds. They don't have a third-rounder, which is unfortunate this year.

Q: If the Redskins re-sign Brian Orakpo and sign one second-tier OL and either a serviceable CB or safety, like T.J. Ward, in the offseason, where do you think they should prioritize in the draft? For instance, I'm not opposed to letting Perry Riley walk if he asks for more than he's worth.

Raymond in Washington, D.C.

A: The priority would be wide receiver. Too bad the first-round pick is gone, but the Redskins might get a good one in the second round. Josh Morgan and Santana Moss are free agents, and there is no guarantee either will be re-signed. Without a first-round pick, the Redskins will need free agency to fill some voids. With the re-signing of DeAngelo Hall, they don't have to prioritize a cornerback for this year, although they are getting a little old at that position. I definitely think the Redskins should spend on a safety.

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