Ranking 10 NFL teams most in jeopardy of losing key players this offseason

And now the have-nots.

While quite a few NFL teams have the wherewithal to make significant upgrades during the 2024 offseason, several others – including a handful of 2023 playoff outfits – will have to get awfully creative in order to merely tread water (looking at you, Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Whether it be a lack of salary cap space, diminished draft capital or other considerations, some franchises appear especially stuck – and we're not even including the New Orleans Saints, who are more than $83 million overspent ahead of free agency, yet always treat it like a teenager with a credit card and continue pushing their debt load into the future.

Here are 10 squads seemingly relegated to the sidelines during this year’s silly season, their impactful outlooks ranked from insubstantial to those seemingly staring at self-destructive maneuvers going into the 2024 campaign (note: salary cap projections courtesy Over The Cap):

10. New York Jets

They'll get injured QB Aaron Rodgers back, and that might be enough to break what’s extended into a 13-season playoff drought. But the NYJ have virtually no cap space nor a second-round draft pick (the last piece of the Rodgers trade compensation). GM Joe Douglas can still reasonably create cap room, but it's going to be tough to find enough to re-sign premier pass rusher Bryce Huff, S Jordan Whitehead and K Greg Zuerlein while adding needed protection and weapons for Rodgers.

9. Seattle Seahawks

New HC Mike Macdonald could be the breath of fresh air this organization needs. However the ‘Hawks could be exhaling pending free-agent defenders like LB Bobby Wagner and DL Leonard Williams, whose acquisition at last year’s trade deadline came at the expense of this year’s Round 2 pick. GM John Schneider also needs to shave about $5 million just to get the cap in order ahead of the start of free agency next month.

8. Baltimore Ravens

The reigning AFC North champions finished one win shy of Super Bowl 58 during a season when they obtained the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed and got another MVP performance out of Lamar Jackson. Yet they also benefited as the only team in their division not to experience major quarterback issues in 2023. So how do they get better after losing Macdonald as DC while keeping the sub-Kansas City wolves at bay? With draft slots near the end of each round, just $5 million in cap space and a free agent list including WR Odell Beckham Jr., DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney, RBs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, LB Patrick Queen, S Geno Stone, G Kevin Zeitler and, perhaps most important, Pro Bowl DT Justin Madubuike, seems like a high bar to getting better … or even standing pat.

7. Carolina Panthers

Almost no one’s going to argue they’re not the worst team in the league. Their two wins last season were two fewer than any other club – and even though Carolina’s former regime dealt the first-round pick that would become the No. 1 selection of the 2024 draft to the Chicago Bears a year ago in order to enlist disappointing (thus far) QB Bryce Young atop last April's draft. Not only that, if the Panthers wind up franchising Pro Bowl OLB Brian Burns, that would basically wipe out their ability to bring in free agents or re-sign a quality performer like LB Frankie Luvu.

6. Los Angeles Chargers

The hiring of HC Jim Harbaugh has already made this a momentous offseason for the Bolts. Still, moving forward, they’re more than $35 million in the red with RB Austin Ekeler among their free agents. And with WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and OLBs Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack all carrying cap hits in excess of $30 million, it’s pretty obvious who could be on the chopping block.

5. Dallas Cowboys

Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) wait for play to resume against the Chicago Bears during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-489313 ORIG FILE ID: 20221030_jpm_an4_005543.JPG
Oct 30, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) wait for play to resume against the Chicago Bears during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: IMAGN-489313 ORIG FILE ID: 20221030_jpm_an4_005543.JPG

The NFC East titlists won’t necessarily be running it back, their laundry list of key free agents including DE Dorance Armstrong, C Tyler Biadasz, CB Stephon Gilmore, RB Tony Pollard and LT Tyron Smith. Meanwhile, QB Dak Prescott is carrying a nearly $60 million cap hit next season, the final one before he’s scheduled to explore free agency – this at a time when All-Pro WR CeeDee Lamb and OLB Micah Parsons need extensions. Did we mention the Cowboys are already more than $20 million over next year’s cap, too?

4. Denver Broncos

They’re currently more than $24 million over the cap for 2024. Cutting QB Russell Wilson, who already carries a $35.4 million cap charge this year, would accelerate nearly $50 million more into Denver’s expenditures. Did we mention the Broncos have no second-round pick, sending it to New Orleans as part of the compensation for hiring HC Sean Payton last year?

3. Buffalo Bills

Currently $55 million overbudget – only the Saints are in a deeper salary cap hole – this despite the fact the AFC East champs have a dozen middle-of-the-roster free agents who could leaving a gaping hole in the depth chart. That also means players like QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs and OLB Von Miller are leading candidates for restructures their contracts while others could suffer worse fates merely to get Buffalo back to level financially. Doesn’t sound like an optimal formula for a team, which is also without its third-round draft pick, still desperately chasing its first Lombardi Trophy.

2. Cleveland Browns

In a vacuum, they could weather the departures of players like DE Za'Darius Smith or LB Anthony Walker or RB Kareem Hunt. But this is a vacuum that’s going to suck given the Browns are also at a nearly $20 million deficit and still owe the Houston Texans this year’s first- and fourth-round draft picks as the final payouts of what looks like an increasingly ill-considered transaction for QB Deshaun Watson given how well the Browns played with fill-in Joe Flacco last season.

1. Miami Dolphins

A team becoming known for fades under HC Mike McDaniel could struggle significantly to start next season well. Miami has three key linemen – DT Christian Wilkins, C Connor Williams and RG Robert Hunt – among its unsigned starters as well as versatile defender Andrew Van Ginkel, who helped (slightly) soften injuries to top OLBs Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips, who could still be recovering from leg injuries when Week 1 rolls around. Also consider the Fins are nearly $52 million into the cap tank and have no draft picks in the third or fourth round, the former forfeited after the league’s tampering investigation into owner Stephen Ross. Could matters be headed south quickly on South Beach?


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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys, Bills among NFL teams most in jeopardy of losing key players