NFL Cap Space 2023 | Getting a Fantasy Read
Which teams can make the most noise in NFL free agency?
Why aren’t the Buccaneers at the center of the Aaron Rodgers chase? Because they can’t afford to be.
No NFL team hits 2023 with a worse salary-cap situation.
Why do you see the Bears mentioned as a landing spot for every wide receiver in free agency? Well, they weren’t very good at that spot last year, for one thing.
But Chicago is also flush with cap space for the coming season.
The NFL salary cap hits a new high of $224.8 for 2023, up from $208.2 million in 2022. The $16.6 million increase will help the salary-strapped teams around the league and likely inflate free-agent salaries.
What other teams have plenty to spend? Who's still in cap trouble? And how should that factor into your best ball drafting right now?
Let’s dig in …
9 Teams with Most Cap Space
Chicago Bears Cap Space: $98.8 million
- Offensive line
- Defense (the whole thing)
The WR need is probably exaggerated here. Darnell Mooney lost five games to injury last year. He caught 81 balls for 1,055 yards the season before and finished 23rd among PPR wideouts.
The Bears traded a second-round pick that became #32 overall for WR Chase Claypool in early November. He only got into five games before missing two with injury. Claypool ultimately played 50% of snaps or more just three times for Chicago.
He’s sure to play a much bigger role in 2023, for an offense that should be able to throw much more than the league-low 377 attempts of last year.
Who could they get?
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. The former Chief makes sense. He had to settle for modest one-year deals each of the past two offseasons. So it’s hard to project big money for him even in a weak free-agent class at WR.
The Bears will have free-agent options at RB – including David Montgomery – but can also address that position on Day 2 or 3 of the NFL Draft.
They’ve been tossed around as a potential Saquon Barkley suitor, but investing that much at RB doesn’t seem optimal for this team. And we’ll see whether the Giants even let him hit the market.
We’d bet on Chicago’s biggest free-agent investments addressing the defense and O-line. In the backfield, a cheaper committee type such as Miles Sanders, Damien Harris, or Devin Singletary would be a nice fit.
QB Justin Fields is going too early to be a prime target in best ball drafts (QB5, top of Round 4 in Underdog fantasy drafts).
But if you do select him, it’s easy to stack Mooney (WR50) and/or Claypool (WR70). Claypool – especially – is an attractive upside shot to take even if you don’t have Fields.
Fields is a bit more affordable by ADP in early FFPC drafts.
Khalil Herbert is the best current bet among Chicago RBs, but don’t overrate his opportunity. This team will add something to the backfield, and that new guy could easily become the top option.
Atlanta Falcons Cap Space: $66.7 million
- Defense (every level)
WR Drake London was terrific as a rookie. He and TE Kyle Pitts should lead this passing game for years. But there’s garbage behind them.
Olamide Zaccheaus ranked second on the team in targets last season. Don’t feel bad if this is the first time you’ve read his name.
The Falcons don’t look like they’re chasing QB Derek Carr on the open market, and we’d be shocked if they trade for QB Aaron Rodgers. So any change at the position would likely come via the NFL Draft. Although, our guy did recently predict Atlanta swiping Lamar Jackson via trade.
Who could they get?
WR D.J. Chark. The real answer here is “probably whomever they want.” Will the Falcons pay up for WR Jakobi Meyers? They could. But it would probably make more sense to spend bigger on defense.
Chark offers downfield potential to an offense that could use explosiveness. He signed just a one-year deal with the Lions last offseason, for $10 million.
Will he command more this time around? We’ll see.
Of course, the Falcons could also be a player for Meyers, Smith-Schuster, or Allen Lazard. Or they could target a cheaper veteran such as Robert Woods, Marvin Jones, or Sterling Shepard.
We don’t even know for sure who will start at QB for the 2023 Falcons. And this offense threw just 17 TD passes last year. Don’t go crazy with hypothetical scenarios. Just get some London and Pitts at their decent draft prices.
As for RB, Atlanta hasn’t wanted to invest much there since HC Arthur Smith arrived. The team did pay up a bit to retain Cordarrelle Patterson last offseason. Otherwise, though, primary imports have included:
- Mike Davis
- Damien Williams
- Tyler Allgeier (fifth round)
- and the smaller, one-year initial investment on Patterson.
Don’t bet on splash moves for the Falcons backfield before they happen.
Las Vegas Raiders Cap Space: $46.3 million
Duh. This team needs a QB. It needs lots of defensive help. And it’s about to throw big money at RB Josh Jacobs. Don’t bet on splash moves elsewhere on offense.
Who could they get?
QB Aaron Rodgers. That has to be the primary goal here, right? They didn’t dump Derek Carr to make way for Jarrett Stidham. They didn’t throw bags of money at WR Davante Adams and TE Darren Waller (both 30) to build for the future.
If they miss out on Rodgers, then QB Jimmy Garoppolo might be the next-best option.
We can’t do a whole lot here without the QB in place. If you’re drafting a bunch of best ball teams right now, though, you can mix in some Adams-Rodgers stacks. Waller works as well, especially at his modest TE8 ADP.
Just don’t bet too heavily on Rodgers getting here. Sprinkle in some WR Elijah Moore or TE Tyler Conklin, in case Rodgers lands with the Jets instead.
New York Giants Cap Space: $43.2 million
- Defense, especially LB and CB
It’s pretty clear that QB Daniel Jones isn’t leaving. And the Giants remain a prime player for RB Saquon Barkley. Why? Because they can afford it.
Of course, Barkley leaving would vault RB onto that list of needs. The Giants could find plenty of options between the NFL Draft and free agency, in that case.
Who could they get?
WR Allen Lazard. My pal Herms already hit on why Jakobi Meyers would make sense for the Giants. So let’s consider another guy with inside-outside versatility who might come a little cheaper.
Lazard has tallied just 3.0 receptions and 39.2 yards per game through five seasons in the NFL. Meyers sits just a little better at 3.9 and 46.0. But he has caught 59+ balls each of the past three years. Lazard eclipsed 40 receptions for the first time last season.
Really, the Giants can likely afford to go whichever way they choose here. And their best path at WR might be to prioritize the position in the NFL Draft.
QB Daniel Jones is a decent QB1 target in best ball drafts right now if you wait to address the position. The Giants almost can’t be worse at WR than they were in 2022.
You can take a few shots at stacking him with Meyers or Lazard (or D.J. Chark, or your own favorite). But don’t go crazy with it. WR Isaiah Hodgins makes the most sense there currently. WR Wan’Dale Robinson works as well. The ACL recovery obviously adds risk, but he’s going late enough to mitigate some of that.
Houston Texans Cap Space: $37.3 million
- Everything else …
The Texans have needs everywhere, but they also have the means to address them.
Along with this cap space, Houston holds the #2 and #12 picks in the NFL Draft – plus the second pick of Round 2 and a pair of third-rounders. (As well as six more selections on Day 3.)
Who could they get?
QB Bryce Young. Despite questions about his height, the Alabama QB sure seems like the best bet to lead the position in the NFL Draft. And the Bears don’t appear likely to draft a QB first overall.
If a team leaps over Houston for Young, then bet on the Texans taking the next QB on their board (C.J. Stroud?).
What about big-money free-agent investments? They could go anywhere. We’d be surprised to see a big WR contract, though, at least as long as Brandin Cooks remains.
If Houston trades Cooks, things could change.
The Texans could also pursue committee types for the backfield. Such a move might wait until after the NFL Draft, in case they land an attractive option there. But Devin Singletary, Raheem Mostert, or even Rashaad Penny could be cheap enough to add earlier.
Cooks’ apparent desire to move on adds late-round value to Texans WRs Nico Collins and John Metchie. A QB upgrade would obviously help as well, though it’s tough to expect a rookie passer to deliver huge numbers.
RB Dameon Pierce is going late enough to mix into your best ball drafting. Don’t over-invest in him, though, in case Houston makes a significant backfield addition – or two.
New England Patriots Cap Space: $36.4 million
Pro Football Focus graded the Pats among the league’s bottom half in run-blocking, and they lacked a full-time answer at right tackle. That didn’t keep RB Rhamondre Stevenson from having a breakthrough season. But further improvements up front obviously wouldn’t hurt.
At WR, Jakobi Meyers is set to hit the open market. And the Patriots don’t seem likely to pay up for him.
If he leaves, Kendrick Bourne would be the highest paid WR on the team. WR DeVante Parker would follow.
Bet on them adding to the position somehow.
Who could they get?
WR Jarvis Landry. Doesn’t this just seem like a Bill Belichick signing?
Landry struggled to find a market in free agency last year. He’s certainly not going to do better this time around, after managing just 25 catches across 9 appearances with the Saints.
Landry’s the same age as Davante Adams, though. If he can stay healthy, he could be a bargain-bin replacement for Meyers. Landry’s 9.6-yard average depth of target last year checked in just 0.3 short of Meyers’ ADOT, according to Pro Football Reference.
This is not an offense to target with any excitement in best-ball drafts. You can take some Mac Jones as a late QB3, if you want. Second-year WR Tyquan Thornton and TE Hunter Henry might be the best options at their cheap ADPs.
Landry is going undrafted in best ball tournaments right now. That makes him a potential difference maker if he lands a significant role with any team.
Cincinnati Bengals Cap Space: $36.2 million
Cincinnati is well-positioned to do whatever it wants. Upgrading the O-line likely sits atop the team’s priority list.
RB Joe Mixon has been discussed as a cut candidate. That would leave a big hole in a backfield that also has RB Samaje Perine set to hit free agency.
The Bengals, however, could easily address that via a strong RB market or the NFL Draft.
Who could they get?
Some TE. Cincinnati showed last year that it doesn’t want to invest heavily at this spot. The Bengals let C.J. Uzomah walk for a sizable three-year deal with the Jets. They replaced him with Hayden Hurst’s one-year pact.
Don’t be surprised if Hurst returns for modest money. But if he’s set to command more, then bet on Cincinnati letting him walk. And don’t bet on a high-dollar replacement.
If Hurst leaves, Irv Smith would be intriguing as the next reclamation projection. The former second-round pick disappointed in Minnesota but remains a high-upside athlete.
Smith makes for an interesting end-of-draft TE3 no matter where he lands in free agency.
As for current Bengals, the Mixon uncertainty has made him a draft value – especially if he sticks in Cincinnati (which can obviously still afford him).
Baltimore Ravens Cap Space: $26 million
Let’s assume that QB Lamar Jackson sticks around. In that case, even GM Eric DeCosta had to admit the WR need at his NFL Scouting Combine interview.
Who could they get?
WR Robert Woods. Herms already made the case for JuJu Smith-Schuster in Baltimore, which would make sense.
Woods would be even less exciting than Smith-Schuster, given that he’s 4.5 years older. But he’s also just eight months older than Davante Adams. And Woods now has a full season between him and the ACL tear that ended his 2021.
Assuming he’s stronger than last year, Woods would offer a reliable set of hands plus some veteran leadership. That could help third-year WR Rashod Bateman and any WR Baltimore might add in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The Ravens know they need to upgrade at WR. That can only help Lamar Jackson, assuming he sticks around. Jackson presents nice upside as the fifth or sixth QB off the board – on average – in current best ball drafting.
Seattle Seahawks Cap Space: $24.7 million
Geno Smith probably isn’t the long-term answer at QB, heading into his age-33 season. But Seattle doesn’t appear likely to replace him for 2023. He’s actually eligible to hit free agency, but the two sides have been trending toward an extension.
If that doesn’t work out, of course, Seattle’s needs change. (Or maybe it’s Drew Lock’s turn.)
Similarly, the Seahawks could stand to add young WRs. But no new guy there is likely to see a big target share with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett around.
RB Kenneth Walker III leads a backfield that could bring back Rashaad Penny as well.
And the Seahawks have little reason to address TE in any big way. They re-signed Will Dissly for three years last offseason. And Noah Fant remains a high-level talent, even though his numbers disappointed in his first Seattle season.
Who could they get?
Defense. This doesn’t look like a place to expect splashy free-agent arrivals on offense. The D, on the other hand, could stand to add players at any (maybe every) level.
The key players appear set here. Lockett, as usual, is going late enough in best ball drafts to be a solid-to-strong value. And Fant’s ADP says he’s an afterthought. That makes the former first-round pick at least interesting.
And even though we're not worried about Walker taking on serious workload competition, he might already be a potential sell in your dynasty league.
Detroit Lions Cap Space: $23.1 million
- Defense (most of it)
These Lions really don’t have many holes to fill, especially on offense.
TE is probably the biggest. Detroit traded T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings in November. That left Brock Wright’s 24 targets and 18 catches to lead the position.
Even with seven games of Hockenson, Lions TEs ranked just 24th in the league in receptions.
Who could they get?
TE Dalton Schultz. This is a good market for TEs, so Detroit shouldn’t need to overpay unless it covets a specific player.
Schultz is a much better blocker than Mike Gesicki, which makes him seem the more likely target. His short-to-mid-range game could also replace what Hockenson left.
Of course, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and RB D’Andre Swift can also lead that area. So perhaps Detroit favors Gesicki’s downfield speed.
Or maybe the team favors a cheap option – Irv Smith? Dan Arnold? Austin Hooper? – so that it can spend on defense instead.
There’s not much to do with this one, unless you want to guess at which TE they sign. Even in that case, stacking a TE with QB Jared Goff isn’t winning you a best ball tournament.
Goff proved terrific vs. expectations last season. But he posted just four top-6 fantasy finishes and six among the top 12.
5 Teams with Least Salary Cap Space
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cap Space: Over by $57 million
Where could it hurt: QB
Why are the Bucs talking up Kyle Trask as a Tom Brady replacement? Because they need to believe he’s worth a shot. They can’t afford a replacement on the open market, and they’re likely not picking early enough in the NFL Draft to land a 2023 starter
WRs Chris Godwin and Mike Evans look like solid-to-good values at their early best ball ADPs. But the QB situation keeps them from being exciting.
Both players benefited from high passing volume and high efficiency (completion rate and TD rate) with Brady.
Los Angeles Chargers Cap Space: Over by $19.9 million
Where could it hurt: WR or TE
WR Keenan Allen has been mentioned as a cut candidate. That move would save about $15 million in cap space, though he’d still account for $6.9 million in dead cap.
If Allen leaves, there will be a more immediate need at WR. The Chargers already have lead TE Gerald Everett hitting the open market. The team might be better set up to address that position in free agency and leave WR for the NFL Draft.
That said, the incoming rookie class sports plenty of intriguing options at both positions.
Jacksonville Jaguars Cap Space: Over by $19.4 million
Where could it hurt: nowhere?
The Jags made it to the second round of the playoffs. They’ll add WR Calvin Ridley this season and are retaining TE Evan Engram.
The defense added talent in free agency and the draft last year.
After spending big on the open market last offseason, Jacksonville figures to be much quieter this time around.
Buffalo Bills Cap Space: Over by $18.7 million
Where could it hurt: WR
Buffalo has won the division three straight years and made the playoffs in five of HC Sean McDermott’s six seasons. So let’s not pretend they have a bunch of holes to fill.
But the team could use a more reliable second receiver than what Gabe Davis provided in 2022.
Might Davis progress in his fourth season? Sure. Might Khalil Shakir become more of a factor in his second year? Perhaps.
Buffalo also could target some low-level help on the open market. Signing WR Jamison Crowder in that vein might have helped more last season had he stayed healthier.
New Orleans Saints Cap Space: Over by $17.3 million
Why it can’t hurt: Saints don’t believe money is real
New Orleans sports one of the worst cap situations heading into the new league year. Naturally, their first move was to strike a deal with probably the second most expensive QB available.
Derek Carr is a solid pickup for the health of the Saints offense. His signing also signals we shouldn’t assume too much about what the team can or can’t do in the market.
WR Michael Thomas looks like the next biggest salary question mark. According to Spotrac, though, cutting him would actually cost more ($26.1 million in dead cap space) than keeping him ($13.6 million cap number).
The new NFL league year kicks off March 15 at 4 p.m. EST, which opens up free agency. “Legal tampering” begins March 13 and clubs are permitted to enter into contract negotiations with unrestricted free agents. So we’ll start seeing soon who all these teams want and can get. The NFL Draft sits a month and a half beyond that.
We’ll be evaluating every move as it happens, and reassessing fantasy football values.
To stay up to date on all free agency news, make sure to download the Free Draft Sharks app from the Apple Store or Google Play store. And follow our Shark Bites for immediate fantasy analysis.
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