Top 10 Possible NFL Salary Cap Casualties
The 2012 NFL season is over after the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in one of the better Super Bowls in recent league history.
Now all 32 teams are about to focus on an offseason that promises to have nearly as much drama as the end of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
The defending champs have to replace at least one major cog on the defensive side of the ball in the form of Ray Lewis and might be without Ed Reed, who will contemplate retirement again. Meanwhile, the defending NFC Champs have a decision to make with the most popular backup quarterback, this side of New Jersey, in the NFL in the form of Alex Smith.
If these two "elite teams" have a bunch to focus on, just imagine where the other 30 teams stand heading into what promises to be an eventful spring.
Today's article is going to focus on 10 possible salary cap casualties who could end up on other teams, via release or trade, within the next couple months.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to be about $5.2 million under the cap when the new league year begins in March. By my estimation they can save nearly $10 million by releasing Michael Vick (more on that later), but Nnamdi Asomugha has struggled a great deal in his first two seasons with the franchise and is set to count $15 million against the cap.
Releasing the veteran cornerback would force Philadelphia to eat the $4 million it owes Asomugha in guaranteed money (via NFL.com). This seems to indicate that the two sides will come to some sort of an agreement on a restructured contract.
For his part, Asomugha seems open to it (via NFL.com): "Yeah, I mean all I can say right now is I really wouldn't want to be anywhere else... I definitely want to be back here."
If Asomugha declines to accept a restructured deal, he will not be back with Philadelphia in 2013. It would be better-served releasing the excess baggage from an underperforming roster and moving forward with new head coach Chip Kelly.
In that case, there would be a relatively decent market for him. Contending teams such as the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC might find the vet as an upgrade as a No. 2 or nickel corner.
As of right now, I would hedge my bets on him returning to Philadelphia under a more cap-friendly figure.
Justin Tuck, Defensive End, New York Giants
Justin Tuck simply hasn't been the same player over the course of the last two seasons as we saw in the previous four. The former Notre Dame standout and third-round pick of the New York Giants has tallied just nine sacks since the start of 2011 after putting up 11.5 in 2010 alone (via Pro Football Reference).
Tuck is set to count nearly $5.7 million against the cap for a Giants' team that is already over the threshold and will have to cut edges somewhere in order to get under the cap by March.
This is even more magnified by the presence of Osi Umenyiora, who is set to become a free agent in the offseason. New York will have to choose between one of these two aging defensive ends.
There is always a market for a pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. The Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings may show interest. All three run the same prototypical 4-3 defensive set and are in need of a pass-rusher in the front four.
Matt Flynn, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks
Many outside observers had come to the conclusion that Matt Flynn would be the Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback when the 2012 season rolled around. An impressive training camp performance and dominant rookie campaign by Russell Wilson put that to rest.
Now, general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll must decide what to do with the veteran quarterback, who is set to earn $15.5 million over the next two seasons.
Flynn, who still has some value, is a likely trade candidate at this point.
There have been some reports that the New York Jets are going to show some interest in Flynn when the offseason really gets going. Though, that could be pure conjecture considering former Seattle front office executive John Idzik is the new Jets general manager.
Either way, Flynn will get a chance to contend for a starting somewhere outside of the Pacific Northwest in 2013. I can't envision a scenario where Seattle decides to keep the veteran, at this cost, to back up Wilson.
It makes no sense for Schneider to go in that direction.
Jermichael Finley, Tight End, Green Bay Packers
As fantasy football owners the world over came to realize the last two years, Jermichael Finley is an inconsistent tight end in the NFL. He has the star potential and athleticism to be an absolute freak in the passing game, but drops continue to hold him back a great deal.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported back in December that the Green Bay Packers are prepared to release Finley in the offseason if they are unable to find a trade partner.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those of you who follow the Packers.
Finley cost $5.2 million against the cap in 2012, but failed to live up to that price tag. He ranked ninth among tight ends in receptions (61), 12th in yards (667) and scored only two touchdowns all season (via ESPN).
With Finley set to cost nearly $8.8 million against the cap next season, there is no reason for Green Bay to bring him back at that price.
On that note, it could find a trade partner for the talented tight end. Some team may be willing to send a mid-round pick to Green Bay and sign Finley to a long-term extension (less of a cap hit in 2013), due to the upside that he still possesses.
Pure conjecture here, but head coach Mike McCarthy's recent praise of Finley could be to drive his value up in a trade (via The Green Bay Press Gazette).
Dunta Robinson, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons were a vastly improved team on the defensive side of the ball in 2012. A lot of that had to do with solid play from their secondary. This is surprising considering that their No. 1 cornerback, Brent Grimes, missed the final 15 games of the season with an Achilles injury.
Dunta Robinson, who came over from the Houston Texans prior to the start of the 2010 season, still hasn't lived up to that six-year, $57 million contract. He recorded just eight passes defended and a single interception in 16 games this past season (via Pro Football Reference).
D. Orlando Ledbetter over at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes that Robinson is a prime candidate for a restructured contract. The beat writer, however, stops short of suggesting that Robinson could be released.
That's what I am going to do here.
Statistically speaking, first-year Falcon' Asante Samuel performed much better than Robinson in 2012. He recorded 18 passes defended and five interceptions (via Pro Football Reference). While Samuel is more of a big-play type, Grimes would essentially by the shutdown guy in Atlanta's secondary should he return in 2013.
This leaves Robinson out in the cold. If the veteran cornerback refuses to restructure his deal or doesn't drop his price down to what Atlanta will demand, he will not be back with the team next season.
While Robinson has not lived up to his price tag, multiple teams will show interest on the open market. The Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions can all use upgrades at any of their three top cornerback positions. As a physical type, Robinson could easily slide over and play nickel for a contending team as well. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see the San Francisco 49ers show some interest.
Michael Turner, Running Back, Atlanta Falcons
It's pretty clear that the Atlanta Falcons are ready to part ways with Michael Turner, who has rushed for over 6,000 yards since joining the club prior to the 2008 season.
Turner will be 31 later this month and had his worst statistical season since becoming a starting running back in the NFL. He is also set to earn a $1.9 million raise in 2013.
All of the indicators are here for a release.
While Turner is no longer a viable starter in the NFL, he can help out a contending team in need of a solid backup option or someone to help shoulder the load in a backfield by committee approach. It wouldn't surprise me to see him go to a contending club like the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals or Pittsburgh Steelers on the cheap.
As it is, Turner probably suited up for his final time with the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game last month.
DeAngelo Williams, Running Back, Carolina Panthers
DeAngelo Williams finished off what was a down 2012 season by compiling 200 rushing yards and two scores against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17.
Was this enough to keep him around in Carolina? I am not too entirely sure about that.
Williams is set to count over $8 million over the cap next season and is part of what has to be considered a crowded backfield with the Panthers.
Jonathan Stewart signed a five-year, $36.5 million extension with Carolina last August and still has about $21 million guaranteed on his deal. Needless to say, the Panthers will not be cutting ties with him anytime soon.
New general manager Dave Gettleman will be the one calling shots here. Does he want Williams and Stewart on the roster together when they're going to count a combined $11 million against the cap?
Pat Yasinskas over at ESPN, took a look at Carolina's salary cap situation when the 2012 regular season concluded: "The new general manager will have his work cut out for him, because the Panthers have about $136 million committed to the cap."
Yasinskas did go on to point out that Carolina has $3.5 million remaining from the 2012 cap that it can use for next season but that still leaves them over the threshold. Williams, Chris Gamble and Jon Beason could all be out of a job relatively soon.
Some of the obvious running back-needy teams will definitely take a look at Williams should he hit the open market.
Two teams to keep an eye on are the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos, depending on how their running back situations play out. Chris Johnson could easily be a salary cap casualty in Tennessee (more on that later) and John Fox, who used to coach Williams in Carolina, might be looking for a reunion if Denver cuts ties with Willis McGahee.
Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
Chris Johnson will not return to the Tennessee Titans under his current deal. There is absolutely no way that they are going to pay this marginal running back $12 million in 2013, it just isn't going to happen.
A total of $9 million of Johnson's 2013 contract will be guaranteed if he is still on the roster beyond Saturday. The former NFL Rushing Champion told 104.5 The Zone Nashville "I have never talked to anyone about the contract" when asked about if he has been in contact with Tennessee's front office (h/t Rotoworld).
I have no inside information here and it is all conjecture on my part, but look for Johnson to be out of a job come next weekend unless the Titans start communicating with him and a restructured contract is agreed to.
The supremely gifted running back will only be 27 when the 2013 regular season kicks off. He has a lot of tread left in those tires and will receive a great deal of interest on the open market. I am just not entirely sure if it will be as a featured back for a contending team. Where Johnson ends up may depend on his contract demands once being released and how he views himself.
Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
The hiring of Chip Kelly as the new head coach in Philadelphia really does put a monkey wrench in this entire situation. Michael Vick is a perfect quarterback in Kelly's up-tempo system, but has seen his play drop off a great deal in the last two seasons.
Needless to say, Vick will not be returning to the Eagles under his current deal. If Kelly decides that the veteran is his guy under center, both sides will have to come to an agreement on a new contract.
The interesting dynamic here is that Kelly has more time to make a decision. Unlike what we previously thought, Philadelphia doesn't have to release Vick prior to Wednesday in order to avoid paying him a $3 million roster bonus. The only way that bonus would kick in is if Vick wasn't signed by another team or agreed to a contract under the original bonus amount (via The Philadelphia Inquirer).
While it isn't as much of a certainty that Vick will be released as it was just a month ago, I still expect the Eagles to go with Nick Foles and the "youth movement" in 2013. Even at a discounted price, Vick's recent struggles leads me to believe he is done in Philadelphia.
If that is the case, multiple teams will show interest. Of course the first team that pops into everyone's mind is the Kansas City Chiefs, who just recently hired Andy Reid as their head coach.
That would be too easy.
Look for the Buffalo Bills to make a play if Vick hits the open market. They have a solid offensive line that allowed just 30 sacks this past season (via Pro Football Reference).
In addition, Buffalo possesses a solid running game with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson as well as a serious receiving threat in the form of Steve Johnson.
That would be an ideal fit for Vick.
Alex Smith, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
Let me put something to rest here.
Alex Smith will be traded, not released. His 2013 salary and recent performance coupled with a weak draft class and even weaker free agent class at quarterback leads me to believe that the veteran will actually be in high demand on the trade market.
Adam Schefter over at ESPN seems to agree with this assessment:
The San Francisco will attempt to trade quarterback Alex Smith this offseason, according to league sources, and some believe they will be able to do it because there is not a great supply of available quarterbacks and there is a demand for Smith.
He has tallied 20 more touchdowns than interceptions and a quarterback rating of over 95.0 since the start of the 2011 season. Even more importantly, Smith has won 76 percent of his starts during that span (via Pro Football Reference).
As it is, Smith will not be back with the San Francisco 49ers next season. He is a starting quarterback in the NFL and they have Colin Kaepernick as the clear present and future starter by The Bay.
The best fit for Smith at this point has to be considered the Kansas City Chiefs. New head coach Andy Reid runs the west coast offense and seemed to have flirted with the possibility of signing Smith in Philadelphia last offseason (via SF Gate). Kansas City also has a running game with Jamaal Charles and could lure Dwayne Bowe back to the team if it brings in a quality starting quarterback.
Expect San Francisco to work with Smith in order to put him in the right situation as a starting quarterback next season. We should find out in the relatively near future how this all plays out because all of Smith's 2013 contract is guaranteed April 1st (via ESPN).