Everyone's vulnerable in NFL cap world

Former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt is looking for work. He was in Buffalo Monday, Tuesday in...

Former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt is looking for work. He was in Buffalo Monday, Tuesday in Kansas and now he's about to check-out Dallas. (REUTERS)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:50 PM ET

TORONTO - The winds of change are blowing through the NFL and it isn’t necessarily whispering the name of Peyton Manning.

Various players are being courted as they start blowing into cities across America; or conversely in cases such as Hines Ward, Bart Scott, or Brandon Jacobs, getting blown out of town.

“The sky is the limit,” free agent cornerback Stanford Routt told the media after meeting with Buffalo Bills officials. Of course that was Monday, and Tuesday he was off to Kansas City saying pretty much the same thing.

And, that will be before blowing kisses to the Dallas Cowboys later this week.

“I like the atmosphere around here,’’ Routt said, as his mutual admiration tour of America got underway. Routt is looking for a new home after being cut adrift by the Raiders who decided they didn’t love him enough to pay a $5 million bonus that would’ve come due last Friday.

Routt and the Raiders are just at the forefront of a small avalanche of such sober thought. Sometimes such thought occurs even when players’ abilities are not in doubt. Sometimes teams just run up against salary cap issues. The Jets are reportedly ready to jettison linebacking stalwart Scott, due in large part to a $5.6 million base salary. The Titans are toying with letting Cortland Finnegan walk.

Four teams still have to get under the salary cap by March 13. The Steelers have redone three contracts but remain $11.7 million over, the Raiders are $11 million over (which makes Routt just the first unkindest cut), the Carolina Panthers remain $9.6 million over. Meantime, the Giants are $7.3 million over the projected 2012 cap which is expected to be close to $120.3 million.

Thus, Jacobs’ dilemma. He’s hit 30 candles on the birthday cake — passing the “best before” date for running backs. That, a $4 million base salary, plus a $500,000 bonus, could mean the end of the road with the Giants.

Seeing this dead end, Jacobs is making nice with the enemy, suggesting he’d love playing with the rival Jets. Just a few weeks ago he was telling head coach Rex Ryan, “It’s time to shut up, fat boy” after the Giants beat the Jets. “Rex Ryan is a disrespectful bastard ... (the) Jets have a big mouth, big belly coach that talks too much.”

Jacobs now says “no apology” is needed and that “I like the way Rex handles his business.” So if the Jets sign him they can get two faces for the price of one.

Jacobs is right about one thing. The NFL truly is; not so much a game as a business.

New Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie is cleaning up the mistakes of other people (read owner Al Davis) and Routt is just the first swept from the roster. “We’ve got some contracts that are kind of out of whack,” McKenzie told CSN. Routt was a decent player. He just wasn’t worth what Davis was paying him, and other Raiders with similar targets on their backs include Aaron Curry ($5.76 million), John Henderson ($4 million), Michael Huff ($8 million), and Tommy Kelly ($6 million).

In Indianapolis, Reggie Wayne’s situation is clouded. Again, it’s nothing performance related, but he’ll be 34 by next season, which probably puts him out of the equation for a rebuilding project. Chances are that, like Manning, he’ll be politely asked to say good-bye.

In Baltimore, Ray Lewis is starting his 17th season and the Ravens are going to have to start looking at his eventual successor. Ditto, Green Bay with Charles Woodson, now 36. In Atlanta, the Falcons are facing the prospect that tight end Tony Gonzalez is nearing the end of an illustrious career.

Lofa Tatupu visited the Saints Monday in hopes of getting back into the NFL after sitting out 2011. He was named to the Pro Bowl his first three seasons and seemed marked for stardom, but personal issues including an arrest for drunk driving, a torn pectoral muscle and a knee problem all culminated with him asking for his release.

But, now Saints be praised!

Tatupu still is just 29. If he’s still got game, evidently the Saints are game, too.

In Pittsburgh, Ward’s case may be unfortunate but owner Art Rooney is looking up against the salary cap and trying to prevent the Steelers from becoming like the Titanic heading for the iceberg. They have to find a way to pay rising star receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. They’ve got a payroll that includes Ben Roethlisberger’s $11.6 million.

Which explains the persistent speculation that the Steelers can’t afford to pick up the $4 million 2012 contract due Ward, a hero now buried on the depth chart. Defensive end Aaron Smith ($2.1 million), guard Chris Kemoeatu (3.5 million) linebacker James Harrison ($5.5 million), and nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is costing them $8.1 million against the cap, may be asked to renegotiate deals or be released.

Money and talent. In the NFL they go hand-in-hand. And sometimes the left one doesn’t know what the right is doing next.

And, then, there’s Manning. Reports Tuesday indicated that he wouldn’t mind playing in Houston ... and, that the Texans are interested. But, then, who isn’t.


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