The Expendables: NFC players who could be cap casualties as free agency nears
On Monday, we glanced at the books to find a player each AFC team could send packing in the coming weeks. Now, it’s on to the NFC. 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 NFC team.
Dallas Cowboys (Current projected cap space: $6.7 million) On the chopping block: RB Alfred Morris ($2.1 million cap hit; $500K dead money). Settling the Tony Romo situation would free up a little bit of extra change for the Cowboys—he’s set to cost $24.7 million against the cap, with a $19.6 million dead-money hit, hence the desire to rework his deal pre-trade. Elsewhere, this is a roster built more for contract restructuring than for releasing overpriced players. Morris’s contract is far from unreasonable, but he also barely played down the stretch. If the Cowboys opt to re-sign Darren McFadden or draft another back, Morris could be bumped.
New York Giants (Current projected cap space: $34.4 million) On the chopping block: RB Shane Vereen ($4.9 million cap hit; $1.1 million dead money). The Giants already axed running back Rashad Jennings, so cutting the versatile Vereen on top of that might leave them too thin in the backfield. Flip side: Vereen played just five games last season while battling a pair of triceps tears, so spending $5 million on him only makes moderate sense if he’s going to be ready to go in 2017.
Philadelphia Eagles (Current projected cap space: $11.6 million) On the chopping block: OLB Connor Barwin ($8.4 million cap hit; $600K dead money). Add another RB to the list here, too: The Eagles can save $4 million—significant for a team in need of cap space—by cutting Ryan Mathews this off-season. As for Barwin, he recently said he’d be open to taking a pay cut so he could stay in Philadelphia. The trade rumors are already circling around his name, though, which is good indication that the front office is hoping to reclaim some value rather than simply releasing him. Barwin proved a misfit in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, and that tiny dead-money penalty won’t force the Eagles’ hand.
Washington Redskins (Current projected cap space: $64.6 millions) On the chopping block: DB DeAngelo Hall ($5.1 million cap hit; $813K dead money). Hall will turn 34 this season (his 14th in the NFL, assuming he plays), and he is working his way back from the torn ACL that ended his ’16 campaign in September. Washington probably would not mind keeping his veteran presence at safety, but that cap hit is up there for an aging vet with injury concerns. A safer bet is that Hall winds up playing for less cash next season.
Chicago Bears (Current projected cap space: $58.8 million) On the chopping block: QB Jay Cutler ($16 million cap hit; $2 million dead money). The Bears may not say so publicly, but over at least the past few months they had to be glancing ahead to this off-season, when Cutler’s contract became far less burdensome. If they’re set on moving on at QB, the $14 million in savings they’d get from releasing Cutler outweighs the paltry dead money. Other options to free up a little space: underrated but oft-injured WR Eddie Royal ($5 million cap hit) and OLB Lamarr Houston ($7 million), who has had serious knee issues.
Detroit Lions (Current projected cap space: $37.4 million) On the chopping block: DT Haloti Ngata ($7.7 million cap hit; $2 million dead money). The Lions have minimal depth at defensive tackle and Ngata, when healthy, remains a solid run-stuffing tackle, so the math may work in his favor here. Shy of releasing Matthew Stafford or Ziggy Ansah, though, Ngata is the player who could put the most money back into the Lions’ pockets. He just turned 33 and has missed a handful of time during his two Detroit seasons.
Green Bay Packers (Current projected cap space: $43.6 million) On the chopping block: DT Letroy Guion ($3.6 million cap hit; $333K dead money). In truth, the Packers do not have any contracts that really stand out as problematic (unless you count Clay Matthews being a $15 million player with declining production). They also tend to be rather passive in free agency and have $43 million in the bank already, so any cuts are likely to be performance-based. For the purposes of this exercise, however, Guion’s hit-to-dead money ratio works in the team’s favor.
Minnesota Vikings (Current projected cap space: $23.1 million) On the chopping block: RB Adrian Peterson ($18 million cap hit; $0 dead money). The Vikings are not going to retain Peterson at $18 million. Not when he will turn 32 in March and is coming off another knee injury (meniscus, this time). Perhaps he would be willing to rework his contract, vastly reducing that cap hit in exchange for a guaranteed-money topper—if Peterson’s not feeling his potential market, he could push for this. If not, the Vikings will hand him his walking papers.
Atlanta Falcons (Current projected cap space: $28.8 million) On the chopping block: DE Tyson Jackson ($5.9 million cap hit; $3.2 dead money). There may not be enough in it for the Falcons to release Jackson, at least without designating him as a post-June 1 cut—that move would bump the dead money down to $1.6 million. But either way, Jackson’s price tag is too elevated for what he provided last season (13 tackles, zero sacks). Another pay cut-or-else candidate.
Carolina Panthers (Current projected cap space: $50.5 million) On the chopping block: RB Jonathan Stewart ($8.3 million cap hit; $3.5 million dead money). Designating Stewart as a post-June 1 cut would bump the dead-money number down to $2 million—saving the Panthers $6.25 million off this year’s cap—so that makes Stewart’s exit quite feasible. The sticking point, of course, is that, despite the fact that he’s about to turn 30 and has not played more than 13 regular-season games in five years, Stewart remains the Panthers’ clear top back. Cutting him would necessitate a move, via the draft or other means.
New Orleans Saints (Current projected cap space: $28.7 million) On the chopping block: QB Luke McCown ($1.75 million cap hit; $250K dead money). Frankly, it’s a little unusual to see the Saints with a) money to spend and b) a lack of unwieldy contracts, but here we are. Releasing McCown won’t make or break the Saints’ off-season plans—an extra $1.5 million might be a nice luxury, but it is not currently a need. Still, there’s also no reason to continue carrying three QBs if New Orleans believes 2015 pick Garrett Grayson is capable of backing up Drew Brees.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Current projected cap space: $72.8 million) On the chopping block: CB Alterraun Verner ($6.5 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Verner was viewed as a bubble player last off-season. This time around, with Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes in place and the guaranteed money on Verner’s contract dried up, he’s an odds-on favorite to be bounced. What could keep him around is that friendly number next to Tampa Bay’s projected cap space. The Buccaneers really would lose nothing by hanging onto Verner into camp—he still would be a free-of-charge release then, if there’s no space for him.
Arizona Cardinals (Current projected cap space: $35.5 million) On the chopping block: S Tyvon Branch ($4.2 million cap hit; $500K dead money). This, in large part, comes down to health. Branch played a full 16 games with Kansas City in 2015, before jumping to Arizona; he suited up for a total of 11 contests in ’12, ’13 and ’16 (the first two years with Oakland). Branch does offer quite a bit of versatility on the back end, which Arizona—and all teams, to some extent—value. That’s just a pricey contract for a banged-up player.
Los Angeles Rams (Current projected cap space: $39 million) On the chopping block: TE Lance Kendricks ($4.3 million cap hit; $0 dead money). Kendricks quietly produced a career-high 50 catches last season, but he fell a yard shy of 500 (robbing him of a $250K bonus) and found the end zone just twice. In other words, while the Rams are almost barren when it comes to reliable offensive options, Kendricks’s production does not measure up to his salary. The first $500K of that $4.25 million kicks in via a roster bonus if he’s still around next month.
San Francisco 49ers (Current projected cap space: $81.9 million) On the chopping block: S Antoine Bethea ($7 million cap hit; $1.25 million dead money). This is similar to the Buccaneers’ situation: The 49ers already have more cap space available than they’re likely to spend this off-season, so any additional cuts would be as much for performance as price tag. And Bethea was a 110-tackle defender last season. That said, new GM John Lynch could opt to roll with younger bodies in the secondary, which—coupled with his relatively high-priced contract—could put Bethea on the wrong side of the ledger.
Seattle Seahawks (Current projected cap space: $26.6 million) On the chopping block: WR Jermaine Kearse ($4 million cap hit; $3.7 million dead money). Another post-June 1 cut candidate—as you can see in the provided numbers, releasing Kearse now would free up just $300K or so, hardly worth it unless the Seahawks are just that fed up with Kearse’s disappointing production. After June 1, the savings for 2017 bumps up to $2.2 million. If Tyler Lockett remains on track to be ready for Week 1 following his gruesome playoff leg injury, Kearse projects as no better than Seattle’s fourth-best receiver.