8 NFL Teams That Will Be Forced to Cut Talented Players in 2012
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Every year, NFL teams make moves that are necessary but tough to swallow by releasing talented players prior to the start of the season, due to a lack of salary-cap room or roster space.
Victims of this last year included Andre Gurode, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys following five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in order to create cap room, and Laurent Robinson, a preseason cut by the San Diego Chargers who went on to finish last season with 858 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns for the Cowboys.
Which teams could find themselves under the gun to release players with the talent to be valuable contributors for other teams? These are eight teams who are likely to part ways with players with the talent to continue on as significant NFL contributors.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
With only $606,858 to spare, the Ravens have the least salary-cap room in the National Football League, according to NFL.com. The Ravens may be forced to remove some contracts in order to create cap flexibility to go forward this season.
One of the Ravens’ highest-paid players, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, will miss most or all of the season due to a torn Achilles, but his salary cannot be compromised.
With the need to fill a full 53-man roster while dealing with Suggs’ cap hit, which will be greater than $11 million according to Spotrac, the Ravens will likely have numerous cap casualties this August.
Most of the Ravens’ highest-paid players have safe roster spots, but a few notable players who could be at risk of being released due to their 2012 cap hits include left tackle Bryant McKinnie ($4.2 million), cornerback Cary Williams and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (both $1.927 million).
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Like the Ravens, the Oakland Raiders have a serious lack of cap room, with only $1,347,040 left to spare. With two draft picks (Tony Bergstrom, Juron Criner) still unsigned (via ProFootballTalk) and the team also reportedly interested in signing running back Cedric Benson (according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter), Oakland may soon be forced to cut veterans for cap reasons.
The most notable potential cap casualty could be defensive lineman Tommy Kelly, who has the team’s highest cap hit at $8,892,856.
Free safety Michael Huff ($4.962 million), offensive tackle Khalif Barnes ($2 million) and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant ($1.927 million) are other players whose time in Oakland could come to an end, as the team should certainly look to clear up some cap room before September comes around.
New Orleans Saints
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The New Orleans Saints could also find themselves in serious salary cap trouble. As of June 25, the Saints had the third-lowest amount of cap room with $2,272,081, and they have since signed four draft picks, while another draft pick, Nick Toon, still needs to be signed.
Those signings will leave the Saints with very little cap room to work with, and one must remember that the Saints will be going into the season with more than just their 53-man roster. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire 2012 season, while defensive end Will Smith is suspended for the first four games.
Vilma and Smith will still be on the payroll while they are suspended—unless, of course, the Saints decide to part ways with one or both of them.
Smith should be back, as he is the team’s best pass-rusher and is only out for the first quarter of the season, but as he carries a cap hit of $7.106 million, his roster spot is not completely safe.
Vilma, on the other hand, looks like a very possible cut. With the signings of two very talented free-agent linebackers in Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, Vilma has been effectively replaced, and releasing him would save the team $2.8 million.
Wide receiver Devery Henderson ($3.525 million) and outside linebacker Scott Shanle ($2.95 million) are other possible cap casualties.
Correction: Since Vilma is suspended without pay, his salary will not count against the salary cap for the 2012 season. Smith's salary is also reduced by one-fourth, as a result of his four-game suspension.
New England Patriots
Al Bello/Getty Images
The Patriots have to cut talented players every year and often have players who they released find some degree of success with other NFL teams.
Their problem, however, is a good one to have. The Patriots are not in salary-cap trouble but are instead a team deep with talent that will have to release some quality players in order to meet the 53-man roster limit.
Three positions where an excess of quality players stands out are at wide receiver, tight end and on the defensive line.
Veteran wideouts Deion Branch and 2012 signee Donte' Stallworth are both far from being guaranteed spots on the final roster.
With New England claiming Jake Ballard off waivers from the Giants, another 2012 signee, Daniel Fells, could be on the outside looking in for a spot on the final roster.
On the defensive line, talented veterans including Ron Brace, Gerard Warren, Myron Pryor and Jonathan Fanene will likely be competing for only one or two spots on the final roster.
New York Giants
Al Bello/Getty Images
The Giants made the most surprising cut yet of 2012, and likely the least intentional, when they waived Jake Ballard to place him on injured reserve, only to have the Patriots claim him away.
As defending Super Bowl champions, however, the Giants are loaded with talent in many areas of their roster and could be set to intentionally let go of more talent.
The Giants also have only $3,119,114 left in salary-cap space, which could bring cap casualties into play.
The most likely notable veteran to be released would be last year’s starting left tackle, David Diehl, who has a $2.7 million cap hit next season, according to Spotrac, and is also coming off a DWI arrest in June.
Two areas of talent where roster space could come into play are at defensive tackle and in the secondary.
Veteran defensive tackles Rocky Bernard, Linval Joseph and Shaun Rogers will all have to fight for roster spots behind expected starters Marvin Austin and Chris Canty, while depth at cornerback and safety will leave few jobs safe at those positions.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
It may be an unfamiliar world for the Cincinnati Bengals, but as a result of strong work in recent offseasons via the draft and free agency, they actually have an abundance of talent on their roster.
While the Bengals have plenty of cap room to work with, they will likely send talent packing simply on the basis of having enough talent already at certain positions.
Two areas where the competition looks particularly stiff are on the defensive line and at cornerback.
The Bengals already had talent at both defensive tackle and end, but nonetheless, they restocked at both positions this offseason by signing free agent ends Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey along with drafting tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
While a few holdovers, including Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, will be locks to remain starters, talented veterans including Robert Geathers, Domata Peko and Pat Sims could be fighting for their jobs.
The Bengals needed reinforcements at cornerbacks, but having loaded up on them, some talent will not make the final cut. The Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick and Shaun Prater and also signed Terence Newman and Jason Allen, adding to a group that already included Leon Hall, Nate Clements and Adam Jones.
Clements may be the most likely casualty given his high cap figure of $7.3 million, but no cornerback other than Hall and Kirkpatrick will have a safe roster spot.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Chicago Bears heavily invested resources this offseason into improving at wide receiver and in the secondary, two areas where upgrades were needed. However, with less than $4 million remaining in cap room, the next step could be trimming away old talent at those same positions.
Wide receiver Earl Bennett was signed to a four-year contract extension last December, but after the team’s trade for Brandon Marshall and draft selection of Alshon Jeffery, Bennett and his $3.4 million cap hit could be on the way out the door.
Johnny Knox, who is recovering from a broken vertebra, could also be released if he does not end up on injured reserve for the 2012 season.
At cornerback, the Bears must also make tough decisions about who to keep after signing free agents Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite while drafting Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy. This could leave the jobs of veteran cornerbacks Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore at risk.
San Francisco 49ers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The San Francisco 49ers have quickly made the transition from being a struggling team in a weak division to now having one of the NFL’s most well-rounded and deepest rosters.
Now, rather than being a team seeking to pick up other teams’ outgoing talent in September, they could be a team sending talented cuts to other teams.
One position where talented cuts are inevitable is running back. The 49ers’ running back depth chart currently includes Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James.
With Gore, Hunter and James all being roster locks, Dixon and new free-agent signee Jacobs both could lose their jobs, although both are quality NFL running backs.
Wide receiver is another position where talented additions could force others out. This offseason, the 49ers signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and then used their first-round draft pick on A.J. Jenkins.
Those three, along with Michael Crabtree, should all be on the final 53-man roster, and with other talented players in the mix including undrafted free agent Chris Owusu, veterans Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams could end up being let go.
Thanks for reading!
Follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.