So, there is the link from the NFL Players association that details cap space.
We have 48 players under contract at a total cost of $108 Mil. The only team that has a lower payroll is the Browns.
The only way you can conclude that the Bengals are tight against the cap is if you think there's any validity to needing a whopping $10 Mil to sign draft picks. (And if that's the case, I'm waiting to hear about the drafted players that didn't get signed because their teams had no cap room.) And you have to accept that they NEED $10 Million in roll-over for next year to sign Dalton/Green. And you have to ignore the fact that Johnson is on a one year deal and consumes $11 Mil in cap.
So here's why needing $10 Mil to sign draftees is just plain wrong.
First of all, get used to the "51 Rule".
In simple terms, it means that during the offseason, for any player whose cap number is not among his team's 51 highest cap numbers, his base salary ("Paragraph 5" salary) does not count against the cap.
When a player is drafted, he automatically is tendered a one-year contract for the rookie minimum base salary. This amount immediately is applied to the team's rookie pool and salary cap. Because most teams have at least 51 players with cap numbers higher than the rookie minimum salary before the draft, the automatic tenders for drafted players won't affect those teams' caps at all. It sometimes is mistakenly reported that teams must have cap room in order to use their draft choices, but that applies only to teams that have fewer than 51 players signed or tendered at the time of the draft. And even then, it applies only to the number of draft choices a team uses until it has 51 players signed or tendered. So, for example, if a team had 49 players signed or tendered before the draft, it would need only $780,000 of cap room in order to make all of its selections. After the first two draftees are automatically tendered, the team would have 51 players signed or tendered, and the rest of the team's draftees would fall outside its 51 highest cap numbers and would not affect its cap.
Let's apply this logic to 2011's #6 pick, AJ Green.
He got 4 years, 19.6 Million, all guaranteed.
Base: $375K Signing Bonus: $3,204,655 (12.8 Mil over 4 years) Cap hit: $3,579,655
Don't forget that he moved a guy off of the "Top 51", so add back ~$400K to the cap, and the cap hit for a #6 pick is $3.1 Million.
Go to the second pick of the draft, Andy Dalton, and we can see what the drop off is to the next round:
Base: $375K Signing Bonus: $573,036 Cap Hit: $948,036
Andy comes out to be .5 Mil.
Round 3: Dontay Moch
Base: $375K Signing Bonus: $174,394 Cap Hit: $549,394
As you can see, by the third round, the cap hit for adding a rookie instead of a veteran is negligible.
So, assuming the worst, we have high picks in very round, a 4-5 Million reserve has all of your rookies comfortably in the cap.
To take that one step further, let's look at the picks in our spots from last year.
#21 Chandler Jones, NE
Base: $390K Signing Bonus: $1,095,750 Cap Hit: $1,485,750
#35 Courtney Upshaw
Base: $390K Signing Bonus: $573,000 Cap Hit: $963,000
#53 Devon Still
Base: $390K Signing Bonus: $295,000 Cap Hit: $685,000
Assuming that these guys don't displace anyone from the "Top 51", their total cap hit is $3,133,750. If they were to displace 3 guys making the minimum, take ~1.2 Million off that figure.
Furthermore, the league sets a "Rookie Pool" that is the maximum amount that can be paid out to drafted rookies as well as a wage scale.
Last year the Bengals were given a Rookie Pool of $6.88 Million because of their two first round draft picks. That number should be ~$2 Million lower this year. So the league has already told the Bengals that $5 Million is going to be set aside for the Rookie pool. Remember, these Rookies will offset another salary, so that's not the same as saying the Bengals NEED $5 Mil to sign their draft picks.
In season emergencies?
Let's assume that the Bengals have to go out and sign a veteran player sometime during the season... Remember, because of the "Top 51" rule, the player signed will not count against the cap if their salary is lower than the player they replace.
So who are we going to spend $5 Mil on for in-season emergencies?
Anderson, Wharton, and Allen could all be cut for $8 Million in cap relief. Johnson could be signed long term and free up another $3-4 Million.
Any article or report that tries to tell you the Bengals have no cap space is lies and propaganda.