Every offseason, dozens of players are released as teams decide they’re not worth their current contracts. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes another team reaps the benefits:
- Tough decisions coming for the Jets & Chargers especially
- A sea change in Tennessee
- Nuggets on Dak Prescott, Nathaniel Hackett & Patrick Mahomes
Cap Casualties From Every Team
Part of the offseason every year involves teams sitting down, evaluating their roster and their balance sheet, and deciding if they’re making the best use of the resources available to them. It results in a wave of what are usually called cap cuts or cap casualties, as in a lot of cases these players can still perform, just maybe not at the level expected by what they’re making.
Sometimes these decisions are obvious and can be spotted months away. Sometimes they’re hard decisions and carry a higher level of risk. Often they’re tough for teams and doubly tough on players, who may be fan favorites or have played their entire careers in one city.
Regardless, the end result is an influx of players to unrestricted free agency who weren’t scheduled to be there before. It’s the beginning of the end for some. But for others, it’s an opportunity to potentially reinvigorate their career with a new team.
A couple quick terms to know before we dive in:
- Dead money: When teams pay players signing bonuses, either when they sign them to a deal or restructure their existing contract, it doesn’t all hit the cap at once. Instead it is divided equally between the remaining years of the deal. This money, which has already been paid out, becomes known as dead money. When a team cuts or trades a player, the remaining dead money from however many years are left on the deal “accelerates” to the current year as a charge on the team’s salary cap.
- June 1 cut: After June 1, teams are only responsible for the dead money from the current year on any transaction, with the rest accelerating to the following year. Teams can designate two players each offseason as June 1 cuts and release them before that date, though the extra savings don’t kick in until after June 1.
- Example: Player A signed a five-year deal with a $10 million signing bonus last year. The team decides to cut him after just one season. If the release is processed normally, Player A will still count $8 million in dead money against the cap in 2023. If he’s designated a June 1 cut, he counts $2 million in dead money in 2023 and $6 million in 2024.
Teams with less projected cap space for 2023 will also obviously have more pressure to make cuts to create room. That said, teams never pass on the chance to save a buck if they think it can be better spent, so loads of cap space doesn’t mean no cap cuts. Here’s where things stand, per Over The Cap.
Without further ado, here’s a list of players from every team who could be potential cap cuts this offseason:
- RT La’el Collins ($6 million)
- WR Tyler Boyd ($8.9 million)
- CB Chidobe Awuzie ($6.4 million)
- CB Mike Hilton ($4 million)
- S Brandon Wilson ($2 million)
Cincinnati’s not pressed for cap space, and their berth in the AFC championship game this weekend shows they’re in pretty great shape. That makes it less likely they’d look to cut Boyd or Hilton, who are great in their slot-specific roles. Other teams might have a different philosophy when it comes to slot receivers or nickel corners.
Awuzie was a strong starter for the Bengals when healthy this season, so while his torn ACL is an unfortunate hurdle, Cincinnati has a lot of motivation to hang onto him and see if he can come back healthy. If he does, he’s a great value on his current deal. If not, it won’t hold the team back that much.
Collins also tore his ACL, and unfortunately for him he did it later in the season and wasn’t playing nearly as well as Awuzie before going down. Those factors make it much more likely Collins’ Bengals tenure lasts just one year, and the team goes looking for a new right tackle this offseason. Wilson is on IR and was primarily a special teamer before.
- C Mitch Morse ($5.2 million)
- RB Nyheim Hines ($4.8 million)
- CB Taron Johnson ($4.3 million)
- DB Siran Neal ($2.25 million)
In his end of season press conference this week, Bills GM Brandon Beane acknowledged they will have some work to do to get under the salary cap and have enough space to address some of the holes that were exposed during the postseason. They can accomplish a lot of that with restructures but there are some cuts to consider. Morse turns 31 this offseason and while he was a solid pass protector, Buffalo has eyed someone who can give them a more physical edge in the past.
The Bills acquired Hines in a trade at the deadline but his biggest impact has come on special teams, not offense. Unless they have a bigger plan for him, the savings are too much to turn down. Johnson is a starter as a nickel corner but as noted earlier, some teams like to go cheap here. Neal’s primary value has been on special teams.
- G Graham Glasgow ($11 million)
- CB Ronald Darby ($9.7 million)
- RB Chase Edmonds ($5.9 million)
- OLB Jacob Martin ($3.8 million)
- DL Mike Purcell ($3.5 million)
Unless he accepts a pay cut again, Glasgow will probably be searching for a new team and will be an interesting option for teams looking to bolster the interior of their offensive line. He can play guard or center. Darby went down with a torn ACL early in the season but the Broncos pass defense still finished as one of the best in football. Denver certainly will make note of that, and Darby probably won’t be back unless he agrees to a pay cut too.
Edmonds and Martin were midseason trade acquisitions by the Broncos, and they did adequate jobs in the niche roles they were brought on for. Edmonds was a passing down back when healthy and Martin was a rotational pass rusher. Martin might have a better chance to be back at his current number than Edmonds given the positional value of pass rushers over running backs but that also happens to be a position the Broncos are deep at.
The final option is Purcell. He’s one of the veteran leaders on the team and the potential savings aren’t huge. But if the Broncos end up with a new defensive coaching staff, it’s often players like Purcell who are collateral damage.
- WR Jakeem Grant ($2.2 million)
- OL Joe Haeg ($2 million)
Cleveland will likely create most of its cap space via restructures. They could elect to keep both Grant and Haeg, as coming into this year they saw both as valuable depth or role players. Both have had injury issues, however.
- OLB Khalil Mack ($18.4 million)
- WR Keenan Allen ($14.8 million)
- CB Michael Davis ($7.4 million)
- G Matt Feiler ($6.5 million)
There isn’t another team with as many high-profile decisions — both in terms of name value and potential savings — to make than the Chargers this offseason. Allen is probably safe, as GM Tom Telesco said when asked about him that good players cost money. Perhaps a trade is a possibility if the Chargers get something decent back.
The decision with Mack will be fascinating. Los Angeles gave up a second-round pick last offseason to get him from the Bears and likely didn’t envision that being a one-year arrangement. They also likely envisioned Mack being able to team up with Joey Bosa across from him and not have to shoulder the brunt of the pass rush burden on his own like how things ended up playing out. He was solid, finishing the year with eight sacks and in the top third of PFF’s ratings.
But he’ll be 32 in February and $18.4 million is a ton of savings for a Chargers team that’s nearly $20 million over the cap right now and hasn’t extended QB Justin Herbert yet. Cut or trade Mack, and they have a major hole at edge rusher to fill. Keep him, and they either have to trim elsewhere or commit more money to him on an extension to lower his 2023 cap hit. One way or another, the Chargers have some problem-solving to do.
By comparison, the team’s decisions with Davis and Feiler are far simpler. Both were starters for all or most of this past season and will need to be replaced if cut. But the cap savings are arguably well worth it in both cases.
- DE Frank Clark ($21 million)
- WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling ($7 million)
Clark accepted a pay cut to come back on a reworked contract in 2023, but looks like he’s better off in a part-time role at this point in his career. $21 million in savings is a huge amount and the Chiefs are expected to take that and move on to younger options, unless Clark is willing to slash his pay big-time again.
Between that and a potential restructure of QB Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs could be well over $60 million in cap space. So they don’t need to take the out in Valdes-Scantling’s contract. But they still could if they decide they can upgrade a receiving corps that has been overall pretty meh outside of TE Travis Kelce.
- QB Matt Ryan ($17.2 million)
- C Ryan Kelly ($7.9 million)
- CB Stephon Gilmore ($9.9 million)
- DT Grover Stewart ($9.6 million)
- CB Kenny Moore ($7.7 million)
- QB Nick Foles ($2.1 million)
The failed Ryan experiment in Indianapolis will end this offseason with $17.2 coming off the books. Foles is also likely out the door, with a few beat reporters mentioning retirement. That should put the Colts in position to try and hit the reset button, with most believing they are leaning toward building around a young quarterback in the draft.
If that’s the case, there are some interesting decisions Indianapolis will need to make with a few veteran players. Gilmore came to the Colts this past offseason expecting to contend — which clearly didn’t happen. The Colts might be able to get something of value for him in a trade, and he could also ask to be released.
Kelly, Moore and Stewart have all been important starters for the Colts in the past but Kelly regressed in a major way this past season. Indianapolis will have to decide if that was just because of injuries or if it’s a sign of an imminent decline. The Colts refused to extend Moore when he lobbied for a new deal this offseason, which leads to questions about how they view his fit with them long-term, even though he’s been an outstanding nickel corner. Stewart is a two-down nose tackle, so the nearly $10 million in savings could be attractive if the Colts think they can find a cheaper replacement, though again, Stewart is really good at his job.
- CB Byron Jones ($3.5 million)
- LB Jerome Baker ($4 million)
- TE Durham Smythe ($3.5 million)
- CB Keion Crossen ($3.1 million)
- TE Cethan Carter ($2.3 million)
The Dolphins have a few options that merit consideration as a June 1 cut, including Jones, DE Emmanuel Ogbah and WR Cedrick Wilson. But the savings with Jones are $13.6 million compared to $2 million for Wilson and just $185,000 for Ogbah. I’d expect Miami to cut Jones given his lengthy Achilles rehab and move on.
Outside of that, the Dolphins don’t have a ton of options to create space with cuts. Carter played the least out of everyone aside from Jones this year, so his release is the most likely. Smythe has a role on offense and Crossen had roles on both defense and special teams. Baker started the whole season. Those three are probably cuts only if cheaper replacements fall into the Dolphins’ lap.
- CB Shaquill Griffin ($13.2 million)
- S Rayshawn Jenkins ($6.5 million)
- DL Roy Robertson-Harris ($7.8 million)
- WR Jamal Agnew ($4.7 million)
No team spent more than the Jaguars last offseason, and they’ll feel more of a budget pinch this year. Griffin is likely one of their first cuts given his large salary and relatively small on-field impact. After that the decisions get a lot harder.
Both Jenkins and Robertson-Harris were starters for the Jaguars this past season. Jenkins is probably more replaceable given his role and the position he plays, but ideally it seems like the Jaguars would prefer to keep both. If it came down to choosing between the two, I’d think Robertson-Harris would have the edge as Jacksonville tries to maintain its strength up front.
Agnew has been decent as a kick returner and schemed touch player. Is that worth passing on $4.7 million in savings? I have some doubts.
- LB C.J. Mosley ($6.6 million)
- DE Carl Lawson ($15.4 million)
- OT Duane Brown ($5 million)
- WR Corey Davis ($10.5 million)
- S Jordan Whitehead ($7.3 million)
- WR Braxton Berrios ($5 million)
If the Jets are going to bring in a big-name veteran quarterback to take this roster over the hump in 2023, they have some work to do on the financial side first. Some decisions will be pretty easy. Davis is not worth foregoing $10.5 million in savings. Berrios is probably making a premium for his role as a No. 4 receiver and kick returner, too.
Others will be trickier. Mosley was legitimately good this season, earning second-team All Pro and Pro Bowl honors. He has a $20+ million cap figure though that just is not tenable for the Jets. They could sign him to an extension, which would be a gamble given he’s on the other side of 30. They could try to talk him into a pay cut, though he might have enough leverage to call their bluff and get a decent deal elsewhere. If they cut him outright, they’d save a chunk, but then need to fill a gaping hole at inside linebacker.
Lawson had his first season wiped out by a torn Achilles. This year it looked like he was still feeling the effects of the injury. It’s tough because he looked primed to absolutely dominate but the Jets have a lot of depth at edge rusher and $15 million is a lot of savings.
Whitehead and Brown are another pair of recent free agent signings who have returned mixed results so far. Brown’s status likely depends on his health and how confident the Jets feel in former first-round OT Mekhi Becton taking over on the left side. Whitehead’s physicality and attitude are valued but he also busted a lot of coverages.
- TE Hunter Henry ($10.5 million)
- OT Trent Brown ($11 million)
- WR Kendrick Bourne ($5.5 million)
- CB Jalen Mills ($5 million)
- WR DeVante Parker ($6.2 million)
- P Jake Bailey ($805,000)
The Patriots would get the most savings out of Henry and Brown’s contracts but cutting Brown would mean finding two new starting tackles, as Isaiah Wynn is a pending free agent and not expected to be back. Brown wasn’t particularly good this past season, but the team moved him to the left side. In the past, he’s been a high-level right tackle, just not consistently. One way or another, the Patriots would be gambling.
Henry has been the team’s best tight end but as a whole, the offense has struggled to get consistent production from the position. There are factors at play out of Henry’s control here, but while he is more deserving of a spot on the roster than fellow 2021 free agent signee Jonnu Smith, the Patriots don’t have an out in Smith’s deal.
Bourne did a decent job when he was on the field but his playing time has been inconsistent the past two seasons with apparent clashes with the coaching staff. The Patriots could stand to upgrade at receiver anyway. Parker hasn’t been as productive as the team likely hoped when they traded a third-round pick for him. Mills also had his struggles this past season.
Bailey is a June 1 cut candidate due to his poor performance this past season, his injury and then a suspension that was later revoked under weird circumstances. His salary for 2023 is guaranteed but a June 1 cut would allow New England to save $2.3 million.
- QB Derek Carr ($29.3 million)
- C Andre James ($5.1 million)
- DL Bilal Nichols ($3.1 million)
Though there’s a good chance Carr is ultimately traded, the Raiders will cut him if they can’t work out a deal before the deadline three days after the Super Bowl when his salary guarantees. One way or another, they’ll save nearly $30 million.
The current regime of HC Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler signed Nichols as a free agent this past offseason, so they might have some patience for him even though he wasn’t as much of an impact player as they might have hoped in 2022. James was a pet project of the previous regime and the offensive line has already been identified as a problem area, so his chances of being back aren’t as good.
- G Kevin Zeitler ($6.5 million)
- DL Calais Campbell ($7 million)
- S Chuck Clark ($3.5 million)
- DT Michael Pierce ($2.1 million)
- RB Gus Edwards ($4.4 million)
The saga with QB Lamar Jackson will loom over this entire offseason for the Ravens and impact every single move they make. If they plan to use the exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, they’ll need to allot about $45 million in cap space for that move alone, not including any other signings. That’s why you could see someone like Zeitler, who was one of the team’s best offensive players this past season, let go for savings. Often when teams need to tighten their belt, they’ll do so at positions like guard that are viewed as easier to replace. It’s how Baltimore landed Zeitler in the first place, as he was cut in a cost-saving move by the Giants.
Campbell mulled retirement last offseason and is expect to do so again this year. Even if he wants to come back, the Ravens would have to think hard about if they’re ready to turn things over to younger players on the defensive line. Which is probably why Pierce is likely gone even with minimal savings.
Clark has been one of the leaders of the defense the past few years but the team’s high investments at the position last year seemed to signal an imminent exit. Edwards could be a pay cut possibility, as the Ravens still seem like they want to be a run-heavy offense under a new coordinator and a flooded running back market could limit Edwards’ options.
- CB William Jackson ($12.2 million)
- LB Myles Jack ($8 million)
- QB Mitchell Trubisky ($8 million)
- CB Ahkello Witherspoon ($4 million)
- CB Levi Wallace ($4 million)
- WR Gunner Olszewski ($2 million)
Jackson never played a snap for the Steelers due to injury after being traded to the team midseason. If he’s back, it won’t be on his current deal. The Steelers will likely evaluate Witherspoon and Wallace as well, and move on if they find better or cheaper options.
Trubisky lost the starting job and his salary is too high for a backup. Judging by some of his comments this past year, he’ll want to move on in search of another opportunity to play, even though Pittsburgh will need a backup for QB Kenny Pickett.
Pittsburgh was all over Jack when he was cut by the Jaguars last year and the coaches spoke highly of him at times this past season. But his impact seemed rather limited and $8 million is not an insignificant amount of cap savings.
- LB Christian Kirksey ($5.3 million)
- G A.J. Cann ($4.2 million)
- S Eric Murray ($4 million)
- CB Desmond King ($3 million)
- DE Mario Addison ($2.3 million)
- LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin ($2.3 million)
- C Justin Britt ($3 million)
Texans GM Nick Caserio has been fond of signing veteran players to mid-level, two-year deals. In theory, it gives Houston reasonably priced, proven players who could either be steals in Year 2 or cut with little obligation. With a third coach coming in with a new system, however, odds are a lot of these players will be obsolete.
There’s already a youth movement at linebacker, so Kirksey and Reeves-Maybin’s spots are tenuous. Murray took a pay cut last year, so he’s also on shaky ground. King plays slot corner which may or may not be a priority depending on the new coach. Britt and Cann started this past season but the Texans could upgrade as they continue their rebuild. Edge rusher will also be a priority, which could push out Addison.
None of these moves make the needle jump much on their own, but collectively cutting these seven players would create $24 million in additional cap space, which is a strong amount.
- LT Taylor Lewan ($14.8 million)
- OLB Bud Dupree ($9.4 million)
- WR Robert Woods ($12 million)
- LB Zach Cunningham ($8.9 million)
- DL Denico Autry ($7.1 million)
- C Ben Jones ($3.7 million)
Tennessee appears to be on the verge of a major roster retool with a number of veterans possibly on the outs. Lewan tore his ACL this past season and would save the team nearly $15 million in a release. It would also create a big hole at left tackle, so both sides might be interested in a one-year prove-it deal at a lower rate.
Dupree hasn’t had the impact the Titans envisioned when they signed him in free agency. Same for Woods who arrived in a trade with the Rams. The savings for both are too much to ignore, which is also the case with Cunningham. He missed most of the season and the team was just fine at linebacker without him.
Autry would be a tougher cut, as the coaching staff absolutely loves what he brings to the team from a toughness and culture perspective. He was still productive when healthy too, but given he’ll be 33 in 2023 the Titans have to consider the possibility of him breaking down. Jones is in a similar boat at 34, as he’s played through a ton of injuries the past couple of seasons. It would not be surprising to see him retire.
We should also discuss Titans QB Ryan Tannehill here. At this point, it would be surprising to see him straight up cut but new GM Ran Carthon also didn’t tie himself to Tannehill. Whether it’s a cut or trade, moving Tannehill would create $17.8 million in savings but also $18.8 million in dead money. As the team formulates its plans for this offseason, Tannehill is a situation to monitor.
The 49ers’ books are spotless and they have $16 million in cap space to work with. There really aren’t any bad contracts and they can do a few restructures if they need more space for free agents or extensions.
- S Eddie Jackson ($7.5 million)
- G Cody Whitehair ($5.8 million)
Chicago is pacing to have the most cap space in the NFL this offseason by tens of millions of dollars and there are still a couple areas they can generate more. Jackson is a holdover from the previous regime. He also turned 30 in December. Old, hurt, expensive and unfamiliar are not recipes for sticking around long.
Whitehair is also in jeopardy as the Bears rebuild their offensive line. He wasn’t the biggest problem for the unit in 2022 but he’s also old and is on an extension that wasn’t signed by the current front office. Chicago might want someone younger, cheaper or more familiar — or all three.
- LT Donovan Smith ($10 million)
- G Shaq Mason ($5.3 million)
- RB Leonard Fournette ($3.5 million)
- TE Cameron Brate ($2 million)
- K Ryan Succop ($3.3 million)
Tampa Bay has a pretty massive cap hole to dig out of this offseason, so there almost have to be some cuts one way or another unless Brady is back. It would sting to move on from Smith and Mason, as both are generally solid offensive linemen, but the cap savings from Smith’s deal are hard to ignore, while guards tend to be more easily replaceable.
The savings from cutting Fournette, Brate and Succop aren’t a lot on their own, but together they add up to a decent amount. The Bucs already have younger options behind Fournette and Brate, and HC Todd Bowles comments about needing to be able to kick more reliably from beyond 50 yards are telling when it comes to Succop.
- WR Robbie Anderson ($12 million)
- OLB Markus Golden ($3 million)
The midseason trade for Anderson just did not work out, and there’s no way he’s back on that cap figure for 2023. Golden outperforms his contract just about every year but the Cardinals have some younger players at edge rusher they could be looking to free up snaps for. A new coach is another factor to consider, though it seems like Arizona would love to retain DC Vance Joseph one way or another.
- QB Carson Wentz ($26.2 million)
- C Chase Roullier ($4.3 million)
- TE Logan Thomas ($5.2 million)
- S Bobby McCain ($2.3 million)
- G Andrew Norwell ($2.3 million)
Wentz will be cut to save a bushel of money, and it’s fair to wonder if this is it for him in the NFL. On Washington’s side, that opens up quite a bit of financial flexibility for them to either go after another veteran or keep building out the roster. But some early signs from D.C. point to the Commanders maybe trying to avoid cutting a lot of checks until Dan Snyder is out the door.
If they’re going to be in cost-cutting mode, there are some other veterans in danger. Roullier has been hurt for the bulk of the past two seasons, and Thomas has also dealt with a lengthy injury rehab. They could go younger and move on from McCain and Norwell, and both could also be positions they look to upgrade.
- LT Tyron Smith ($9.6 million)
- RB Ezekiel Elliott ($4.9 million)
- S Jayron Kearse ($4.4 million)
- CB Jourdan Lewis ($4.7 million)
- DT Neville Gallimore ($2.7 million)
The biggest name here is Elliott who has been viewed as a bit of a contractual anchor for a couple seasons now. This is the first offseason Dallas can realistically move on, with a straight release saving just under $5 million with nearly $12 million in dead money. A June 1 cut would up the savings to $10.9 million, but Elliott also brought up the possibility of taking a pay cut to stay in Dallas. His base salary is $10.9 million in 2023. Maybe they cut that in half?
Smith is a highly-decorated, longtime Cowboy. But they drafted his replacement in the first round this past offseason, Tyler Smith, who already has pushed the veteran Smith over to the right side. Never rule out the two sides working out something if Smith wants to move to the right side permanently, but he’s played his whole career on the left and another team would likely pay him plenty of money to keep doing so.
Kearse and Lewis were good glue players for the secondary this season but there are some younger options who might be ready to step into larger roles and make them expendable. Gallimore is an interesting option, as his salary will be higher due to playing enough to earn a proven performance escalator. That sometimes works against player’s chances of making the team.
Philadelphia’s cap is something to behold. They have used a number of cap tricks like option bonuses and void years to push a ton of money out past this season. They are under the cap for 2023 but they don’t have many options to create additional space. Because of all the void years they’ve used, most of the cuts they could make would cost them cap space this year. They will probably cut DT Fletcher Cox with a June 1 designation but at this point all that will save is $1.5 million.
They have two options to restructure: CB Darius Slay and RT Lane Johnson who are making base salaries of $17 million and $14.2 million respectively. Restructuring them would add more than $20 million in space. After that, the highest base salaries on the team belong to QB Jalen Hurts ($4.2 million) and K Jake Elliott ($3.9 million).
The other avenue to creating space would be extensions for players whose deals are set to void like CB James Bradberry, DT Javon Hargrave or G Isaac Seumalo. That would entail tying more money up into them for future years, however.
- QB Marcus Mariota ($12 million)
- CB Casey Hayward ($5 million)
Mariota sealed his fate when he made the decision to get knee surgery instead of finish out the season following his benching. Atlanta will move on to other options at the position and it’s possible other teams will be leery about signing Mariota as well given how the season played out.
Hayward was really good when he was healthy but a shoulder injury limited him to just six games. He’ll turn 34 just before the start of next season. The Falcons will have to decide if they think he has more left in the tank or if they’re ready to move on to other options.
- WR Kenny Golladay ($6.7 million)
- DL Leonard Williams ($12 million)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson ($8.6 million)
New York will finally be able to cut Golladay and put the latest in a long list of free agent failures behind them. The space will be needed, as even though the Giants should be among the league leaders in available cap space entering the offseason, they have a number of prominent pending free agents and this will be a key offseason as they continue to rebuild.
Williams and Jackson were both important starters for most of this past season. Each missed time with injuries and their absence was felt when they were out. Although cutting one or both would create significant savings, the Giants will have to factor in the cost of replacing them. Williams brought up the idea of a pay cut during locker room cleanout at the end of the season, which I’m sure his agent loved. A more likely outcome for either player would be a restructure or short-term extension. Jackson is still only 27 and Williams turns 29 this year.
- DL Michael Brockers ($10 million)
- G Halapoulivaati Vaitai ($6.5 million)
- DE Romeo Okwara ($7.5 million)
- DE Charles Harris ($4 million)
Lions GM Brad Holmes made it a point to go after Brockers as one of his first moves because he knew him so well from his time with the Rams and wanted a veteran presence to help build the culture. But Brockers saw his playing time fall dramatically this past season, which seems like a foreshadowing of a release. Even if he had played more, $10 million in savings is a lot to turn down.
Vaitai missed nearly the whole season after back surgery in September. Barring a pay cut, the Lions will probably move on. They could use the savings to fix the guard spot that was a problem area all season, or to reinforce the defense that was also horrendous.
That’s why Okwara and Harris are listed here too. Detroit has one edge rusher spot locked up with DROY candidate Aidan Hutchinson. 2021 sixth-rounder James Houston was also a revelation with eight sacks in only 140 snaps, although it’s not clear if he’s an everydown player. Then it gets crowded with Harris, Okwara and 2020 third-round DE Julian Okwara — Romeo’s little brother. He’s flashed a bit as a rotational player but probably isn’t ready to start. Harris had a great season in 2021 with 7.5 sacks but regressed with just one sack this past season. Romeo Okwara had a breakout 10-sack season in 2020 but has played in just nine games since then due to injury.
Improving the defense is imperative for Detroit as they look to take another step forward in 2023. They’ll have to decide whether they believe Harris and Okwara can get back to the level they were at previously. If not, they can move on and use the savings to find an upgrade.
- LT David Bakhtiari ($5.7 million)
- RB Aaron Jones ($10.5 million)
- OLB Preston Smith ($3.3 million)
Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has shot down the idea of either Bakhtiari or Jones being salary cuts, but it’s still worth going into the details. Health has been a major issue for Bakhtiari the past two seasons, although he seemed to get a better handle on his surgically repaired knee late this past season. Green Bay has an out in his contract and would save dramatically more, $17.3 million to be exact, by designating him as a June 1 cut. That would leave a major hole at left tackle, however, one they evidently don’t want to open up.
Jones is set to count more than $20 million against the cap in 2023, which is massive for a running back. Given he’s entering his age 28 season, conventional wisdom suggests Green Bay would cut him and move ahead with RB AJ Dillon and another young option. But the Packers absolutely love the current setup, and I think they’d explore some kind of short-term extension or restructure to keep the duo together a little longer.
Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of cut candidates. Smith would save a little but he’d also leave a major hole at edge rusher that would need filling, and the Packers’ depth there is already a little shaky. A restructure would make more sense, and that’s the main way the Packers will probably have to create space this offseason.
- LB Shaq Thompson ($13.2 million)
- C Pat Elflein ($4.3 million)
- LB Damien Wilson ($3.6 million)
- S Xavier Woods ($2.7 million)
- K Zane Gonzalez ($1.5 million)
Most of these cuts are pretty simple. Gonzalez, Elflein and Wilson lost their jobs to other players. Woods doesn’t cost a lot but the Panthers could probably find a replacement who’s cheaper without much dropoff.
Thompson would be a tough cut even if it’s necessary in some ways. He’s still a good player but $13.2 million in savings is a lot to turn down given Carolina’s cap situation heading into this offseason. He’s also getting older and starting to show some signs of wear and tear. Had the Panthers hired interim HC Steve Wilks, his odds of staying would have been higher, perhaps on some kind of reworked deal. Otherwise, it’s a good chance he’ll be the latest franchise mainstay the Panthers have to say goodbye to.
- OLB Leonard Floyd ($3 million)
- TE Tyler Higbee ($3.9 million)
- C Brian Allen ($2 million)
Plenty of people seem to think the Rams are going to hit a reset button this offseason but I’m not so sure. For one, they don’t have a ton of cuttable contracts. They could release Floyd and save a few million, or do it with a June 1 designation and save dramatically more at $15.5 million. But that would leave a big hole at edge rusher, and by June the free agent market is usually pretty slim.
If they do trim some players, my guess is it will be more on the margins with guys like Allen and Higbee. Allen’s injuries cropped up again this past season and some younger, cheaper replacements emerged. Higbee is perfectly adequate but the Rams might want to go cheaper here and dedicate resources elsewhere.
- QB Jameis Winston ($4.4 million)
- OL James Hurst ($4.7 million)
- K Wil Lutz ($3.7 million)
- DE Carl Granderson ($4 million)
Once again the Saints will likely create the majority of their cap space via restructures but there are a few potential cuts to know. The first is Winston, who fell out of favor as the starter this season and is making way too much to come back as a backup.
After him, the Saints could decide to keep all three of Hurst, Lutz and Granderson but some of them feel like luxuries given the cap situation. Hurst started at tackle but the team ideally would have first-round OT Trevor Penning in the lineup, and $4.7 million is a lot of savings to turn down for a backup. Same for Granderson as a rotational edge rusher and Lutz as a kicker.
It’s worth mentioning the Saints can get out of RB Alvin Kamara’s contract with a June 1 designation and save $9.9 million. However, that doesn’t seem like a likely outcome at this point.
- DL Shelby Harris ($8.9 million)
- G Gabe Jackson ($6.5 million)
- DL Quinton Jefferson ($4.5 million)
All three veterans played significant roles for the Seahawks this past season but are on the chopping block as the team looks to keep upgrading. Jackson was one of the weaker links on an offensive line that featured two rookie tackles, and at 32 this offseason it’s up in the air how many years he has left. Harris and Jefferson are decent veteran players but they were part of a defense that was absolutely gouged week in and week out against the run. Improving the front seven is one of the Seahawks’ top priorities this offseason and they can use the savings from cutting Harris and Jefferson to do so.
- WR Adam Thielen ($6.4 million)
- S Harrison Smith ($7.4 million)
- OLB Za’Darius Smith ($13.7 million)
- RB Dalvin Cook ($7.9 million)
- LB Eric Kendricks ($9.5 million)
- LB Jordan Hicks ($5 million)
- FB C.J. Ham ($3 million)
- OL Chris Reed ($2.5 million)
Last year, the Vikings elected to largely keep the team in place and kick the can down the road on decisions for a number of veteran players. Those could come due this offseason. Thielen will be 33, Harrison Smith will be 34, and Kendricks, Hicks and Za’Darius Smith will all be 31.
Both Smiths were still playing at a pretty high level in 2022, as Harrison picked off five passes and Za’Darius had 10.5 sacks. Age is not usually kind to safeties, however, and 9.5 of Smith’s sacks came in the first nine games. Given the considerable savings moving on from both could offer, Minnesota will have to look hard at their options.
Hicks is the easier cut between him and Kendricks, but both have to be considered. If Minnesota hires a defensive coordinator who runs the same Vic Fangio-style system as Ed Donatell did, it’s more likely the Vikings go cheap at linebacker as the scheme doesn’t prioritize the position as much.
Thielen hasn’t topped 1,000 yards in a season since 2018 and his yards per target in 2022 was the lowest of his career. But cutting him would turn receiver into a big need for the Vikings even with Justin Jefferson in the fold.
Despite training camp promises, Ham saw just 15 percent of the snaps on offense after topping 33 percent each of the previous three seasons. Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell’s scheme just doesn’t use a fullback that much. Reed’s position flexibility is nice as a depth option but when teams need cap space, they tend to cut corners on paying depth.
This Week In Football
- The first domino in the coaching cycle dropped this week as the Panthers hired former Colts HC Frank Reich to be their new leading man. It came down to Reich and interim HC Steve Wilks, and both men were worthy of the job. Wilks did an incredible job with a 6-6 record after taking over despite a revolving door at quarterback and no Christian McCaffrey to lean on. Ultimately, Reich’s acumen on offense won out. On a personal note, as a longsuffering Panthers fan I’m quite pleased with this hire. Reich posted a 40-33-1 record with the Colts despite dealing with a considerable amount of turnover at quarterback. If the team can solve the position in the draft this year, I think Reich could be more successful with his second team than he was his first.
- Reich wasn’t the first domino a lot of people expected to fall. That would be former Saints HC Sean Payton, the hottest coach on the market. Let’s just briefly recap some of the whirlwind that was the Payton sweepstakes this week:
- Monday, as Payton is interviewing with the Panthers, longtime New Orleans columnist Jeff Duncan breaks the news that Payton has a second interview coming with the Denver Broncos, who are now the top choice to land him. Payton has a flight supposedly scheduled to go to Denver on Wednesday.
- Things quickly get complicated later that day, as the Broncos push out to national reporters that their second interview schedule isn’t finalized. Then news breaks that Payton is interviewing with the Cardinals in Arizona on Thursday.
- Tuesday, Duncan reports Payton’s second interview with Denver has now been delayed. A collection of other reports from Monday-Tuesday all generally take a skeptical tone about how the Broncos and Payton felt about each other following their meeting, with Denver not having Payton as their top choice and Payton not totally sold on the Broncos. That leaves another year at FOX as the most likely outcome.
- By Wednesday and Thursday, it was reported that Payton had no second interviews lined up, while the Broncos seem to be zeroing in on 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans as their top choice for head coach, not Payton.
- So where does that leave things? We wrote a month ago that unless a prime job like the Cowboys, Chargers or Rams opened, Payton would have to weigh taking a job with a few warts versus being patient for another year. This week has proven the winds can flip at any moment when it comes to Payton, but at this point it really does seem like the most likely option is another year in the studio.
- I don’t know if Payton spurned the Broncos or the Broncos spurned him. You’ll hear it both ways if you haven’t already this week as teams and candidates play the “no I broke up with you first” game. Regardless, if the Broncos really have set their sights on Ryans like it seems — and Cowboys DC Dan Quinn’s decision to go back to Dallas for the second straight year is another clue that points to this — there are some really interesting implications. Quinn, Payton and Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh were the Broncos’ top targets when the search first started. All three have previous head coaching experience. Harbaugh and Payton have backgrounds on offense and a track record with quarterbacks, which is relevant as the Broncos’ fortunes in the immediate future rely on getting better production from QB Russell Wilson. Quinn’s forte is defense but he worked with Wilson in Seattle and has connections with coaches like Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer who have had a lot of success with Wilson in the past. Hiring Ryans would be a far less Wilson-centric move than many people expected. His pick for offensive coordinator would obviously be important but this could mean a couple things. Maybe the Broncos think anyone other than Hackett will be enough of an upgrade. Or perhaps there’s less of a mandate to fix Wilson and Ryans will get to dictate his own path forward next year when Denver has options.
- Here’s where things stand with the other searches, to the best of our current knowledge:
- The Houston Texans had one round of second interviews with Broncos DC Ejiro Evero and Giants OC Mike Kafka but it’s widely believed their two frontrunners are Ryans and Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon. If Ryans is going to Denver, that leaves Gannon for Houston.
- The Colts have also moved into their second interview phase with the list including Rams DC Raheem Morris, Broncos DC Ejiro Evero, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy — and interim HC Jeff Saturday. Morris has gotten a lot of positive buzz for the role but owner Jim Irsay remains a wildcard. That’s why Saturday hasn’t been ruled out yet and his presence in the list of second interviews is notable.
- Quinn had a second interview with the Cardinals but is no longer an option. Arizona is talking with Payton but there’s a lot of pessimism that the Cardinals will meet Payton’s criteria for coming out of retirement. Outside of those two, there’s a ton of buzz around Steelers LB coach Brian Flores, especially given his connection to new GM Monti Ossenfort.
- Offensive coordinator might be the second-most important coaching hire teams make and there are more than a dozen vacancies this year. Two so far have been filled. The Patriots closed the deal on the obvious hire, bringing in Alabama OC Bill O’Brien to run the offense. There’s no guarantees on anything in the NFL, but the bar O’Brien has to clear from the way things were ran in New England last season is incredibly low to clear. The Jets also made their choice, bringing in former Broncos HC Nathaniel Hackett as the new play-caller for what will be a pivotal 2023 season. It’s a bit of a surprising hire given Hackett’s struggles last year, but he knew HC Robert Saleh and offered a level of experience the team was looking for after moving on from first-time play-caller Mike LaFleur. Speaking of LaFleur, he should land on his feet. He’s the heavy favorite to take over as the offensive coordinator for the Rams, which has been a pipeline job to head coaching positions in the past. So this has the potential to look like an awful swap for the Jets in a year.
- If Bieniemy isn’t the pick for the Colts head coaching job, he should have a plethora of options among all the offensive coordinator openings. Fair or not, it looks like the NFL has decided Bieniemy needs to show more than what he already has as a key part of Kansas City’s offensive infrastructure, and the only way to do that would be to leave the Chiefs. That’s good news for another team potentially.
- Despite the Cowboys losing a winnable game on a major stage in the playoffs to the 49ers for the second straight season, owner Jerry Jones shut down all speculation that HC Mike McCarthy was in danger of losing his job. Honestly, it makes a lot of sense. It can be hard to have a levelheaded discussion about the Cowboys because of how big a brand they are and how high expectations are annually — including from Jones. But 99 percent of coaches would be on unquestionably solid ground after back-to-back 12-win seasons. The only reason McCarthy’s not is because he coaches in Dallas and because Payton has been available the past two offseasons. We’ll probably go through the same song and dance again next year. Although it is interesting the Cowboys made so many other staffing changes this week, with perhaps more to come.
- Shifting gears from coaching moves to player moves and sticking in Dallas for just a bit longer, Cowboys RB Tony Pollard unfortunately went down in the playoff loss with a fractured fibula. It’s a major injury, but there is a silver lining that it’s not an ACL or Achilles. Ask any NFL player and they’ll tell you they’ll take broken bones over torn ligaments any day. Pollard is in line to cash in as a free agent this offseason and there’s a good chance it’s in Dallas. This injury shouldn’t change that.
- For the second straight season, Bengals QB Joe Burrow is in the AFC championship game and he has a chance to punch his ticket to a second straight Super Bowl. That puts him in rare air as a quarterback and his next contract will likely reflect that. Burrow’s eligible for a new deal starting this offseason and the Bengals have already begun planning for it to happen this year. The top of the market is $50 million a year right now. The chances are good that Burrow blows by that.
- No one knows what Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is going to do in 2023, least of all Brady — a fact he pugnaciously reminded everyone this week. But the general leaning seems to be that he wants to play another year and do so somewhere besides Tampa Bay. Some of his teammates felt like he was saying goodbye to them on a more permanent basis once their season ended in the playoffs. The Bucs might be less appealing with their current roster and coaching issues. Whatever happens, my hunch is we’ll be waiting a while. Brady has said he regrets not taking the time to make a definitive decision last year and doesn’t want to repeat that mistake.
- Last but most certainly not least; what is an NFL offseason without drama related to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers? The annual hemming and hawing about if he’s going to play another season has become routine at this point. But part of the reason for the massive extension he signed last year was supposed to be to put an end to the trade speculation. Well it’s back. ESPN’s Adam Scefter reported a trade is “a very real possibility” this offseason, which confirms the tenor of Rodgers’ weekly interview on the Pat McAfee Show last week. Rodgers made multiple references to being at peace playing his career out somewhere else, the Packers potentially wanting to go young and his own desire to not be part of a rebuild. It was a shift from the tone he took immediately after the season ended, and notably it’s also different from Gutekunst who pretty unequivocally said in his end-of-season presser they wanted Rodgers back. Maybe the GM is being duplicitous. Maybe Rodgers is throwing his weight around again to get the team to keep some of his buddies. Who knows right now. We just have to wait for things to unfold as Rodgers keeps us in suspense yet again.
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…
I said earlier the sports media world is largely incapable of having a rational conversation about the Dallas Cowboys. That extends to the quarterback. Dak Prescott was the biggest topic in football for a couple days after that playoff loss. There’s no sugarcoating that he didn’t play well, and that the interceptions were a problem for him this year. At this point, we probably know that he’s not one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the NFL after a couple of prolific seasons. But now the conversation has swung too far the other way, with talking heads calling him average or a glorified game manager and fans asking when the Cowboys can get out of his contract…
Here’s the thing we have to understand. Playing quarterback in the NFL is ridiculously hard, way harder than Mahomes makes it look. There are a hundred different details that go into every single play, and reasonable people can disagree on how those details should play out. Look at these two dramatically different breakdowns of the same exact play…
The @dallascowboys season in 1 play
How do you miss this?????? @Espngreeny pic.twitter.com/Ic2PercbcE
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 23, 2023
Sorry, audio messed up on last attempt, here is video on discussion w/ @danorlovsky7 about @cowboys 3-5 play yesterday! #StudyBall @qbconfidential pic.twitter.com/tT3jniN8jZ
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) January 23, 2023
I’ll throw in a third voice for good measure…
— The QB School (@theqbschool) January 23, 2023
If one play’s not enough, let’s look at another…
Superb play from Jimmie Ward to generate the pick against Dak Prescott in the second quarter.
Cowboys thought they were one step ahead on the offensive chessboard, but Ward sniffed 'em out. Football IQ and recognition >>>> pic.twitter.com/xvsrqPfshJ
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 23, 2023
My point isn’t to absolve Prescott of blame for the loss. He should own plenty of it. But year after year, the entire NFL world puts so much weight on these playoff games when the uncomfortable truth is that randomness and luck have a far greater impact on the results than people want to admit…
There’s a phenomenon called the paradox of skill which is the idea that in any kind of competitive environment, as the skill level of the participants rises, luck will have more of an impact on the outcome and can even become more important than skill. It’s not that skill doesn’t matter. It’s that in an environment where everyone is really good at their job, the differentiating factor is chance…
I am once again lifting this from @greggrosenthal to the sky. I’m gonna hang it on my desk eventually. pic.twitter.com/h9nrkWpXZw
— Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon) January 24, 2023
The NFL is always going to be a results-based business, and the results do matter obviously. I just think everyone — fans, analysts, owners, teams, players, you name it — could benefit from understanding this. Maybe we’d see fewer bad decisions…
These throws are all from the same drive. Undisputed best in the league pic.twitter.com/0Snwb9Jt1o
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 23, 2023
Mahomes absolutely has ruined the curve for just about every other quarterback. Maybe we should just appreciate how special he is instead of dragging every other passer for not reaching this level…
Hackett's ranks in yards per play and offensive touchdowns per game as an NFL offensive coordinator:
2013: 29, 25
2014: 29, 24
2016 (interim OC): 26, 23
2017: 11, 9
2018: 30, 32
GETS AARON RODGERS
2019: 17, 11
2020: 2, 1
2021: 8, 7https://t.co/VNiunpiv7S
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) January 26, 2023
Oh yeah and he wasn’t the one calling the plays with the Packers either…
I’m going to recycle this from two weeks ago: If we judged former Jets OC Mike LaFleur solely off the 12 games over the past two seasons without Zach Wilson — instead turning to notable names like Joe Flacco, Mike White and Josh Johnson — his offense would have averaged 381 yards per game, 292 passing and 89 rushing. Those would rank fourth, second and 29th in the league this season…
I just cannot help but think about when the Browns and Kyle Shanahan couldn’t get along and the parallels to the Jets and LaFleur here. Sure, LaFleur had room to grow, but so did Shanahan at the time. Having a good play-caller is one of the biggest advantages you can have as a team, and I just don’t understand why the Jets would sabotage themselves like this…
Correlation =/= causation. But teams can't help but see that the most analytically inclined franchises are outperforming.
NFL teams average 3.1 analytics staffers, yet the divisional round participants bump that up to 4.4, including a number of the deepest research departments pic.twitter.com/5AiyedA3Sc
— Kevin Cole (@KevinCole___) January 24, 2023
If nothing else, the NFL is a copycat league…
Video: new Panthers head coach Frank Reich throwing the first TD pass in franchise history to TE Pete Metzelaars back in 1995.
Voiced by the legendary Chris Berman. pic.twitter.com/VOGT05roqx
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 26, 2023
The Panthers hired Reich to be their next head coach and brought things full circle. Funny how football history works sometimes…
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