This was the first edition of Madden to implement the use of a salary cap when customizing team rosters. It also featured the new Baltimore Ravens, the expansion franchise that absorbed the roster of the Cleveland Browns for the 1996 season. The game also adds a team of real free agents (as opposed to the blank slate used in Madden 96) which can be traded and added to other teams' rosters (led by recently semi-retired quarterback Randall Cunningham), and could be played by using a cheat code.
Classic teams were once again used, although most were different from the previous year's teams; the years ranged as far back as 1952 (Detroit Lions) and as recent as 1990 (Buffalo Bills). Jacksonville and Carolina, once again, did not get classic teams, but Baltimore was attached to a classic Cleveland Browns team.
The best team in the overall ranking, with a score of 85 was the Dallas Cowboys and the worst team with a score of 62 was the Baltimore Ravens. The best ranked offenses were between the Cowboys and the Lions with a score of 92. The St. Louis Rams had the best ranked defense with an 86. The Miami Dolphins had the best ranked special teams with a 93.