In the last few weeks, and many more times in the months ahead, you have and will see great NFL players released from their contracts. That is the beauty of pro football that allows teams to prosper in a way that MLB and NBA teams cannot: The players have to honor the contracts, the teams don't.

By cutting bad deals (and sometimes good ones), teams do not get stuck in the same sort of financial hell that you often see in other sports. Even the direst situations, like New Orleans and Buffalo, can be remedied over the course of a year or two. Sometimes all it takes is one day.

But what if every team had to be $40 million under the cap immediately? Which teams would be in the best situation moving forward, and which teams have so much guaranteed money tied up in bad players that they'd be left with nothing to build off of?

To answer these questions, I used's clever "Cap Calculator" to start shedding salaries for all 32 teams until they were at least $40 million under for 2016. The only rules were that I could only cut players who count for at least $1 million against the cap next season and I had to abide by the June 1 designation rule, which you can only use on two players each year. And since it is meant to be used only when teams absolutely need to save 2016 cap money, I tried not to abuse it.

I didn't just cut the players making the most money, but I focused on trying to leave every team with the best group of players left possible while still getting to the goal of $40 million. I also ignored the possibility of renegotiating or converting money to bonuses, since that can get complicated quickly.

Only one of the 32 teams could do nothing to get there, so they were disqualified from being "The Best Team Left Standing." Everyone else got to $40 million under the cap, and some had way more.

Notes: All dollar figures are in millions, and * means July 1 designation.

Buffalo Bills
Current estimated cap space: $209,715
• Players to release: Mario Williams* ($14.5), Stephon Gilmore ($11.08), Kyle Williams* ($6.5), Leodis McKelvin ($3.9), Manny Lawson, ($2.65) Kraig Urbik ($1.775), Robert Woods ($1.068), Anthony Dixon ($1.15), Jarius Wynn ($1), Dan Carpenter ($1.7)
• New cap space: $40.8 million

The Bills are going to release Super Mario for sure, giving them the breathing room they need to re-sign Richie Incognito and have some money to play with in free agency. They would never release Gilmore at this stage, but it was the only move possible to hit the magic number. Buffalo will also save money by restructuring Charles Clay's bonus money. Clay is in line for a $13.5 million cap hit despite his meager production.

Miami Dolphins
Current estimated cap space: $8.66 million
• Players to release: Cameron Wake ($8.4), Jordan Cameron ($7.5), Koa Misi ($3.7), Greg Jennings ($4), Dion Jordan ($3.21), Earl Mitchell ($3), Dion Sims ($1.67), Kenny Stills ($1.64)
• New cap space: $40.8 million

Wake will be a tough call, but the other Cameron basically has to go after a disappointing first season in Miami. The Dolphins already need to re-do Ndamukong Suh's deal, the worst contract in football right now. Dion Jordan may be on his way out, three years after being drafted third overall.

New England Patriots
Current estimated cap space: $6.086 million
• Players to release: Dont'a Hightower ($7.5), Jerod Mayo ($7), Danny Amendola* ($5.4), Marcus Cannon ($3.68), Brandon LaFell ($2.6), Alan Branch ($2.4), Scott Chandler ($2.05), Rob Ninkovich ($2), Josh Kline ($1.75), Chris Jones ($1.6), Duron Harmon ($1.6), Jonathan Freeny ($1.48)
• New cap space: $41.05 million

To get to $40 million, it had to be Hightower or Chandler Jones. Mayo has already announced his retirement, giving the Patriots some space to work with. Would they consider parting ways with Amendola or LaFell? Not surprisingly, a very good team remains with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Jones, Nate Solder and Devin McCourty.

New York Jets
Estimated cap space: $21.68 million
• Players to release: Marcus Gilchrist* ($5), Breno Giacomini ($4.3), James Carpenter* ($4.76), Nick Folk ($2.75), Jeremy Kerley ($1.3), Jeff Cumberland ($1.9), Brian Winters ($1.6)
• New cap space: $40 million

Antonio Cromartie was just let go, saving them $8 million. It wasn't easy to cut two starting offensive linemen, but this allows the Jets to keep their dominating defensive line, receivers, a couple of great offensive lineman, and Darrelle Revis. What they don't have right now is a quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens
Estimated cap space: $6.3 million
• Players to release: Eugene Monroe ($2.1), Lardarius Webb ($4), Dennis Pitta* ($5), Terrell Suggs* ($4.5), Steve Smith Sr. ($3), Justin Forsett ($2.3), Chris Canty ($2.15), Kyle Arrington ($1.1), Matt Elam ($1.3), Ryan Mallett ($1.5), Lawrence Guy ($1), Anthony Levine ($1), Will Hill ($2.84), Daryl Smith ($2.6), Ricky Wagner ($1.6)
New cap space: $40.2 million

The effort to get $40 million under the cap decimates the Ravens, much like injuries did last season. By using their two June 1 designations on Pitta and Suggs, they save almost $10 million, but must also wave goodbye to a number of other veterans. They are left with Joe Flacco, Elvis Dumervil, Marshall Yanda, and Jimmy Smith as the headliners.

Cincinnati Bengals
Estimated cap space: $38.7 million
• Players to release: A.J. Hawk ($1.4)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

The already-talented Bengals have plenty of room and can hit $40 by doing the expected and releasing Hawk.

Cleveland Browns
Estimated cap space: $42 million
• Players to release: None
• Expected releases anyway: Dwayne Bowe ($3.4), Brian Hartline ($3)
• New cap space: $48 million

The Browns could easily get over $60 million in cutting a few more players, but cap room isn't their problem. Finding talent to take up the cap space is.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Estimated cap space: $8.4 million
• Players to release: Lawrence Timmons ($8.75), David DeCastro ($8), Mike MItchell* ($5), Cortez Allen* ($4.4), Heath Miller ($4), DeAngelo Williams ($2), Markus Wheaton ($1.6), Matt Spaeth ($1)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

Pittsburgh would have to make some devastating cuts to get this far under the cap, including Timmons, the 29-year-old leader of the defense. Notice how much easier this was for the Bengals than for the Steelers and Ravens?

Houston Texans
Estimated cap space: $32 million
• Players to release: Vince Wilfork ($4), Garrett Graham ($3.1), Cecil Shorts ($2.9)
• New cap space: $41.2 million

No devastating cuts here for the defending AFC South champs. The Texans could save almost $5 million more by releasing Brian Hoyer, but they may keep him around to assist the new guy, whoever that may be.

Indianapolis Colts
Estimated cap space: $24.5 million
• Players to release: Trent Cole ($6.1), Andre Johnson ($5), Frank Gore ($4), Nate Irving ($2)
• New cap space: $40.3 million

All of those "big" free-agent veteran signings? Yeah, they could all be released now and only make the team better and younger. Indy will have cap space, but will it use it wisely?

Jacksonville Jaguars
• Estimated cap space: $79.8 million
• Players to release: None
• Potential releases anyway: Chris Clemons ($4), Toby Gerhart ($3.5)
• New cap space: $86.7 million

The Jags practically can't afford to release anyone, but what are Clemons and Gerhart doing these days? Jacksonville will push hard to sign every big name in free agency, but it did that last year and only ended up with Jermey Parnell, Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick soaking up cap space. Can the Jaguars actually compete for elite free agents this year?

Tennessee Titans
Estimated cap space: $50.6 million
• Players to release: None
• Players to release anyway: Perrish Cox ($4.1), Harry Douglas ($3)
• New cap space: $57.4 million

In addition to the first overall pick, the Titans have a ton to spend in free agency. Can they get Marcus Mariota enough help to make a playoff run next season?

Denver Broncos
Estimated cap space: $8.1 million
• Players to release: Peyton Manning ($19), DeMarcus Ware ($10), Owen Daniels ($2.5), Cody Latimer ($.5)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

Manning's release is expected, but rumors persist that the Broncos will release Ware if he doesn't take a paycut. Just like that, $8 million becomes nearly $40, giving them room for Von Miller's new contract and more.

Kansas City Chiefs
Estimated cap space: $32.7 million
• Players to release: Jamaal Charles ($5.3), Dustin Colquitt ($2.85)
• New cap space: $40.4 million

Oddly enough, the Chiefs have a lot of cap space but not a lot of wiggle room because so much of the cap is tied up in Justin Houston, Alex Smith and Jeremy Maclin. (Those three take up 31.7 percent of the team's 2016 salary cap.) For that reason, cutting Charles and Colquitt was the only option.

Oakland Raiders
Estimated cap space: $74.2 million
• Players to release: None
• Players to release anyway: Roy Helu ($2), Lee Smith ($2.75)
• New cap space: $79.2 million

The allure of a revitalized Raiders team, playing with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, and a ridiculous amount of money to spend might actually help Oakland attract prized free agents this year.

San Diego Chargers
Estimated cap space: $31.7 million
• Players to release: Donald Brown ($3.5), Stevie Johnson ($1.9), King Dunlap ($1.4), Sean Lissemore ($1.75)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

The Chargers don't have far to go to get to $40 million.

Dallas Cowboys
Estimated Cap Space: $11.8 million
• Players to Release: Brandon Carr* ($9.1), Barry Church ($4.25), Darren McFadden ($2), Doug Free* ($4), Andrew Gachkar ($1.6), Terrell McClain ($1), Terrance Williams ($1.6), Jason Witten ($4.4), Orlando Scandrick ($1.8), JJ Wilcox ($1.6), L.P. Ladouceur ($.9), Gavin Escobar ($.9)
New Cap Space: $40.4 million

You have to cut almost every single player who is making at least a million dollars who actually saves you money by being released. Pretty much only Travis Frederick was spared. Why? Tony Romo, Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant account for almost a third of the total cap space.

New York Giants
Estimated cap space: $58.6 million
• Players to release: None
• Could get released anyway: Victor Cruz ($6.1), Shane Vereen ($2.5)
• New cap space: $67.3 million

The Giants have the luxury of keeping Cruz around if they want to, but they'll be making a hard push in free agency and trades looking for pass rushers. Those aren't cheap.

Philadelphia Eagles
Estimated cap space: $27.5 million*
• Players to release: Mark Sanchez ($3.5), DeMeco Ryans ($3.5), Darren Sproles ($3.5), Allen Barbre ($1.6), Bennie Logan ($1.6), Chris Maragos ($1.5), Andrew Gardner ($1), Ryan Mathews ($1)
• New cap space: $40 million

The free-spending Eagles have already made many of the biggest deals of 2016, a fitting encore to locking up players like DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell a year ago. Philly has a considerable amount of talent signed for next season, but it still lacks a quarterback. It remains to be seen if Doug Pederson can do a better job with Murray and Maxwell than Chip Kelly could.

*Created $1.5 million in cap room by extending Malcolm Jenkins on Monday

Washington Redskins
Estimated cap space: $13.3 million
• Players to release: Robert Griffin III ($16.1), Chris Culliver ($5.5), Dashon Goldson ($8), Andre Roberts ($3)
• New cap space: $44.5 million

The Redskins will have the easiest path to opening up an extra $30 million in cap space. They could even take it farther if they needed to, with DeAngelo Hall, Pierre Garcon, Ricky Jean-Francois, Jason Hatcher and Perry Riley. There's plenty of money for Kirk Cousins, but will that make the team any more comfortable in giving him a long-term pact?

Chicago Bears
Estimated cap space: $60 million
• Players to release: None

The reason Chicago might not be in a hurry to get rid of Jay Cutler is it doesn't have to. Or anyone else, for that matter. The Bears have a lot of cap room and not many overpaid players. It doesn't mean they won't make changes, but the Bears can bring in more than they push out.

Detroit Lions
Estimated cap space: $26 million
• Players to release: Calvin Johnson ($11), Brandon Pettigrew ($2.6), Rashean Mathis ($1.5)
• New cap space: $41.4 million

With the retirements of Johnson and Mathis already underway, Detroit is easily able to get to $40 million. The Lions won't easily replace Megatron, however.

Green Bay Packers
Estimated cap space: $21.8 million
• Players to release: Julius Peppers ($8), T.J. Lang ($5.1), Letroy Guion ($3), Micah Hyde ($1.6), Datone Jones ($1.4)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

It had to be Lang or Josh Sitton, and the guard with three Pro Bowl appearances got the nod. Peppers may not plan to retire, but the Packers may not plan to pay him $8 million. Jones has not done much since being a first-round pick three years ago. Green Bay is left with plenty of talent after these cuts.

Minnesota Vikings
Estimated cap space: $24.5 million
• Players to release: Mike Wallace ($11.5), Shaun Hill ($3.25), Joe Berger ($1.4), Cordarrelle Patterson ($1.3)
• New cap space: $40.7 million

The decision to release Berger and Patterson would probably be controversial, but this is the path of least resistance. Patterson is going nowhere as a receiver. Wallace had just 473 yards and two touchdowns last season. The Vikings retain a strong core of young defensive players.

Atlanta Falcons
Estimated cap space: $27.4 million
• Players to release: Roddy White* ($4.25), Devin Hester ($3), Jacob Tamme ($2.4), Jonathan Babineaux ($2), Eric Weems ($.9)
• New cap space: $40 million

The Falcons don't have any huge contracts outside of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, giving them flexibility but not a lot of savings when releasing players. They need to find receivers to complement Jones, since it looks like White is well past his prime. Overall, the offense and defense in Atlanta both need help.

Carolina Panthers
Estimated cap space: $22.3 million
• Players to release: Jared Allen ($8.5), Charles Johnson ($11)
• New cap space: $41.4 million

Allen has already retired, so the Panthers could get over $40 million in cap space just by releasing Johnson, who is coming off of an injury-plagued season and is soon turning 30. They can use the extra room to re-sign Josh Norman and find more help for Cam Newton.

New Orleans Saints
Estimated cap space: $7.4 million
• Players to release: Drew Brees ($9.1), Max Unger ($4.7), Marques Colston ($3.2), Thomas Morstead ($3.25), Brandon Browner* (2.25), Zach Strief* (3.4), Terron Armstead ($1.6), John Jenkins ($1.6)
• New cap space: $34.9 million

Even by decimating the roster (including the already-released Colston), you can't get the Saints $40 million under the cap. They were in the worst financial situation headed into the offseason, and even though they have more space than they did a couple of weeks ago, they still have a load of immovable contracts, including a $10.9 million cap hit for Jairus Byrd and $6.35 million for Keenan Lewis. They're spending a combined $8.5 million on running backs C.J. Spiller and Mark Ingram. Even releasing two players with the June 1 designation doesn't help enough. This team is in dire trouble, and it needs a new accountant ASAP. Brees' contract has to be addressed immediately.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Estimated cap space: $49.3 million
• Players to release: None
• Players they can release anyway: Vincent Jackson ($9.7), Logan Mankins ($7), Bruce Carter ($4.25), Evan Dietrich-Smith ($2.5), George Johnson ($2)
New cap space: $73.1 million

Watch out for the Bucs. Not only do they have a lot of cap space, they could survive without all of those players and still have Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David to build around. There's plenty to re-sign Doug Martin, and they can go after every big name in free agency, from Russell Okung to Alshon Jeffery.

Arizona Cardinals
Estimated cap space: $19.5 million
• Players to release: Calais Campbell ($9.75), Michael Floyd ($7.3), Cory Redding ($3), Kevin Minter ($1), Frostee Rucker ($1.3)
• New cap space: $40.1 million

It was either Campbell or at least five other players, including Jared Veldheer and Tyrann Mathieu. Losing Floyd hurts, but he's still only the third most valuable receiver on the team. But make no mistake about it, the Cardinals can't get $40 million under the cap without seriously hurting the team or moving some money around on the deals of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald.

Los Angeles Rams
Estimated cap space: $58.3 million
• Players to release: None

The Rams have so much cap space, it makes you wonder what would have happened if they just put all their savings into a new stadium in St. Louis. After releasing Chris Long and others last week, they have plenty of room for anyone enchanted by the allure of Los Angeles. But they also don't have a quarterback and still look like a middle-of-the-road team until further notice.

San Francisco 49ers
Estimated cap space: $55.2 million
• Players to release: None

The 49ers are another team with lots of space. Unless they want to save $8 million by releasing Colin Kaepernick, they don't have a lot of reason to start chopping down current contracts. It'll be interesting to see what Chip Kelly's first offseason with San Francisco looks like, and if general manager Trent Baalke will fight against him or with him.

Seattle Seahawks
Estimated cap space: $23 million
• Players to release: Marshawn Lynch ($6.5), Jimmy Graham ($9), Steven Hauschka ($2.7)
• New cap space: $40.3 million

Lynch has indicated that he's calling it quits already, while there are lingering questions about Graham's ability to recover from a devastating knee injury and whether Seattle will keep him around at $9 million. Hauschka may actually be the most worrisome loss here, but it was either him, Kam Chancellor or the insanely cheap Michael Bennett. The Seahawks still keep their four "key" players in Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Bennett.

The best team remaining

So if all of that were to happen, there would be an amazing pool of free agents with every team (except the Saints) having lots of cap room. Who would have the best situation (remaining core, additional money, attractive options) by division?

Some are easy: The Patriots in the AFC East, the Bengals in the AFC South, and the Seahawks in the NFC West are proven winners loaded with players still signed for next season. The Packers probably get an edge in the NFC North for having Aaron Rodgers, while the Giants do the same in the NFC East for having a QB and the most cap space in the division.

Other interesting debates include whether or not you'd rather be the defending-champion Broncos who have to cut Ware and have no quarterback, or the Raiders with Carr and twice as much cap space? Or would you take Blake Bortles and the Jaguars' $87 million in cap space over Andrew Luck and the Colts or J.J. Watt and the Texans? Where do the Titans fit in with Mariota, this year's No. 1 pick and $57 million in space? And while the Panthers have some money, Newton and a great defense, is that as good as the Bucs having Winston, some elite defensive players and $73 million to spend?

Those are fascinating options, but the team that stands easiest after the melee is Cincinnati. The Bengals are balanced, make the playoffs every year, have money even though they are set to return almost every key player from last season, and should only be getting better from here on out. That sounds crazy for a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in 25 years, but maybe it's finally their time. They have at least 40 million reasons to get even better next season.

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