NFL salary cap casualties: AFC players whose jobs are at risk as free agency nears
NFL free agency begins on March 9 (and the legal-tampering window opens on March 7). As teams welcome in their new acquisitions, they’ll have to clear room—on their roster and in their books—by shipping out players who have overstayed their welcomes. So, which players could be released in the coming weeks? With help from spotrac's salary cap tracker, here's a team-by-team breakdown of the most likely candidates to be cut from each AFC team (check back tomorrow for the NFC):
Buffalo Bills (Current projected cap space: $26 million)
On the chopping block: K Dan Carpenter ($2.9 million cap hit; $537K dead money). Carpenter has accounted for 464 points as Buffalo’s kicker the past four seasons, but he’s coming off a year in which he hit just 76% of his field goal attempts (19 for 25). Add in five missed extra points and those two costly missed FGs in Week 16 against the Dolphins, and the math works against Carpenter. The Bills have some bigger decisions to make in the coming weeks on the likes of DT Kyle Williams, S Corey Graham and possible restructured contracts for Marcell Dareus and Cordy Glenn. If they need a little more spending cash, though, Carpenter could be the first to go.
Miami Dolphins (Current projected cap space: $42.3 million)
On the chopping block: LB Koa Misi ($6.5 million cap hit; $2.3 million dead money). Misi just wrapped the seventh year of his NFL career, all with Miami. But a neck injury limited him to three games and he turned 30 in January, so the price tag for him—even keeping in mind that he played well back in 2015—is steep. Misi also has not played a full 16-game regular season since his rookie campaign. The only thing that may hold Miami back from cutting him loose is its relative lack of depth at the linebacker position.
New England Patriots (Current projected cap space: $62.9 million)
On the chopping block: WR Danny Amendola ($7.8 million cap hit; $1.4 million dead money). The Patriots keep kicking the can down the road on Amendola, who’s now 31—Amendola took pay cuts ahead of both the 2015 and ’16 seasons, the latter dropping his contract by upwards of $4 million. Even though New England has a boatload of cap space right now, it has several big-ticket free agents (Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, etc.) to address, so Amendola’s current status as the fourth highest-paid Patriots player is out of whack. CSNNE’s Michael Giardi reported that Amendola “is receptive” to another reduction to stick with the defending champs. It’s that or head elsewhere.
New York Jets (Current projected cap space: $2.9 million)
On the chopping block: C Nick Mangold ($9.1 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Whenever a team can cut bait from a player without absorbing any cap penalty, that player’s future with the franchise is in jeopardy. So it goes for the 33-year-old Mangold, long one of the most reliable centers in football, who missed half of his 11th Jets season with an ankle injury. Given how tight the Jets are up against the cap as free agency approaches, Mangold at minimum will have to restructure and/or extend his contract.
Baltimore Ravens (Current projected cap space: $15.3 million)
On the chopping block: OLB Elvis Dumervil ($8.4 million cap hit; $2.4 million dead money). The Ravens’ pass rush was a bit of an Achilles’ heel last season, so releasing Dumervil may seem counter-productive. Keep in mind, though, that he missed eight games last season with a foot injury and has returned a total of nine sacks for about $14.7 million the past two years. If Baltimore believes Dumervil can return to his 2014 form (17.0 sacks), it will keep him around. It’s more likely that ship has sailed.
Cincinnati Bengals (Current projected cap space: $45 million)
On the chopping block: LB Rey Maualuga ($3.7 million cap hit; $0 dead money). It’s no secret that the Bengals need to get younger and more athletic at their linebacker spots. The 30-year-old Maualuga checks off neither of those boxes. The veteran has been a steady hand for the Bengals since arriving in 2009 as a second-round pick, but he certainly was not a $4 million player last season. Cincinnati likes to stay committed to its in-house veterans until a younger option is available on the roster. Players like Nick Vigil and Paul Dawson could help make Maualuga expendable.
Cleveland Browns (Current projected cap space: $108.8 million)
On the chopping block: QB Robert Grifffin III ($8.7 million cap hit; $1.8 million dead money). The Browns have approximately the GDP of a small island nation available to spend this off-season, so there’s no need to rush RG3—or, really, anyone—out the door. That said, Griffin’s future with Cleveland likely hinges on what moves the front office has in mind. If the Browns are going to chase a QB like Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, Griffin would become little more than a very high-priced backup. If the Browns use an early draft pick on a quarterback but don’t test the free-agent waters, Griffin could be the bridge option until that newcomer is ready.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Current projected cap space: $36.6 million)
On the chopping block: TE Ladarius Green ($6.2 million cap hit; $3.6 million dead money). The idea of Green in Pittsburgh’s offense, as a seam-attacking tight end for Ben Roethlisberger, made for an intriguing possibility headed into 2016. Unfortunately for Green, he was unable to stay healthy, and now a concussion has his ’17 status in doubt. Pittsburgh still would be on the hook for more than half of that $6.2 million cap hit this season, via dead money, but it also does not have a lot of cuttable contracts that could bring back significant savings. If the Steelers cannot count on Green for next season, they may take their $2.6 million and move on.
Houston Texans (Current projected cap space: $26.7 million)
On the chopping block: OT Chris Clark ($3.3 million cap hit; $500K dead money). The Texans can clear $9.65 million off their 2017 cap by releasing tackle Duane Brown; they can take home another $3.2 million by bidding farewell to fellow OT Derek Newton, who suffered horrible simultaneous injuries to both knees last season. Then there is Clark, who was disappointing as a fill-in 12-game starter. The problem with all this: Someone has to play tackle for the Texans next season. Brown is too good to let go, and the Texans may plant Newton on IR until they see what he’s capable of post-recovery. Clark stands to be the odd man out, off his lackluster 2016.
Indianapolis Colts (Current projected cap space: $60.9 million)
On the chopping block: DT Arthur Jones ($7.4 million cap hit; $2.2 million dead money). About as obvious a move as there is on this list. Jones is only 40% of the way through the five-year, $33 million contract he signed a couple off-seasons ago, but he has missed a combined 15 games since—four this past year on suspension. The Colts have been shoddy against the run, which is the main argument remaining for hanging onto Jones. They shouldn’t do so unless he agrees to a reduced rate.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Current projected cap space: $78.3 million)
On the chopping block: CB Davon House ($6 million cap hit; $0 dead money). The Jaguars on Monday cleared another $8.5 million off their 2017 cap by releasing defensive lineman Jared Odrick. Now closing in on $80 million available, the front office doesn’t need to be in a hurry to trim any additional fat. That’s not to say House should feel comfortable. In year two of his four-year contract, House barely saw the field after an early-October benching. The impending free agency of fellow corner Prince Amukamara might buy House another shot, but the Jaguars can cut bait at any time.
Tennessee Titans (Current projected cap space: $67.6)
On the chopping block: CB Jason McCourty ($7 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Again, a veteran carrying a $0 dead-money penalty often will find himself looking for work in short order. The rub for Tennessee is that it’s already going to spend this off-season scrambling for secondary help, and cutting McCourty would remove the best CB on the roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean McCourty, 30 in August, is worth the $7 million hit—only Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan currently carry more expensive price tags for the 2017 Titans.
Denver Broncos (Current projected cap space: $33.1 million)
On the chopping block: OT Donald Stephenson ($5 million cap hit; $2 million dead money). A wild card in the Broncos’ off-season setup is OT Russell Okung. If Denver picks up his $1 million roster bonus next month, it triggers four years and $20 million-plus in guarantees. Either way, Stephenson’s future with Denver looks to be near its end—he isn’t going to step in at left tackle, and spending $5 million on an underwhelming swing tackle doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Kansas City Chiefs (Current projected cap space: $4.2 million)
On the chopping block: RB Jamaal Charles ($6.2 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Charles is among the league’s more electrifying backs when he’s healthy. The issue, of course, is that he has been unable to stay on the field—he rushed for 40 yards on 12 carries this season and missed 11 games in ’15. Charles also is 30 years old, which in general is the push-’em-off-the-cliff age for running backs in the eyes of NFL teams. The Chiefs’ cap situation will improve if and when they decline Nick Foles’s $6.4 million option. They still have to tiptoe around the cap, though, which will make it nearly impossible to retain Charles if he’s not 100%.
Los Angeles Chargers (Current projected cap space: $21.9 million)
On the chopping block: WR Stevie Johnson ($4.5 million cap hit; $1 million dead money). Johnson, who turns 31 in July, missed the entire 2016 season with a meniscus injury. He is now four seasons removed from his last 1,000-yard campaign: 2012, with the Bills. The Chargers may look for WR help, but they’re already rolling at least four deep (Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams). Combined, Allen and Benjamin are set to count $15.1 million against the Chargers’ cap. Los Angeles is not adding on to that with Johnson, at least not at his current price. The veteran receiver is a candidate for a one-year, prove-it deal somewhere.
Oakland Raiders (Current projected cap space: $49.9 million)
On the chopping block: CB Sean Smith ($9.5 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Smith’s hefty contract may have made his 2016 performance seem worse than it actually was. Still, the veteran cornerback hardly performed like the shutdown defender he was expected to be when Oakland handed him a $38 million contract. The Raiders should have the luxury of seeing what Smith can do as a bounce-back candidate, following off-season shoulder surgery. GM Reggie McKenzie has cap space with which to work, and very few holes on the roster to fill, meaning he can carry Smith’s contract for now. Should the Raiders come up against the cap in the coming months, though, that $0 in dead money will be appealing as a source of relief.