Money rules everything in the NFL.
The New York Giants stressed that statement this past week by releasing Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley.
Certainly, more notable salary-cap-related cuts will occur in the coming weeks leading up to the beginning of free agency as teams attempt to become more flexible financially.
Before identifying which salary-cap liabilities could fall victim of being cut, first let’s review how teams are able to seamlessly cut ties with their players.
Unlike the MLB and the NBA, NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Because of this, an NFL team can cut bait and release a player, thus subtracting the player's salary from the $120.6 million cap. What the NFL team must pay the player is their signing bonus.
So if player X receives a four-year contract for $24 million with an $8 million signing bonus, the player would receive his signing bonus at a prorated $2 million each year. To lessen the math, let's assume the contract is valued at $6 million each season. Now, let’s say the team wants to cut this player after the first season. All they would have to do is pay the player his owed signing bonus of $6 million that day, which would count against the cap for that season, and the team would be off the hook for the remaining $18 million.
This happens quite often when a player is entering the final year of his contract, as the team only has to pay one year's signing bonus.
Keep in mind, many NFL contracts are backloaded, meaning the bulk of the salary occurs in the final years of the contract. For example, given player X's above salary, he might make $3 million for the first two seasons and $9 million during the last two, making him a liability during the final two seasons.
Basic arithmetic suggests paying someone $4 million to not pay them $18 million is a savvy business move.
Now that you know how it works, let’s take a look at players who could potentially get released.
When Asomugha signed with Philadelphia two offseasons ago, the acquisition was celebrated. Now, after another disappointing season both personally and for the Eagles defense, Philly may look to escape the contract.
With three years left on his contract, Asomugha is set to make $15 million this season. What's unique about his contract is the lack of a signing bonus. Instead, Asomugha was guaranteed $25 million. He has already received $21 million, which would mean the Eagles would save $11 million in cap space by releasing Asomugha. Furthering the motivation to cut the former Pro Bowler, Asomugha is set to make around $23 million over the next two seasons.
Like others on this list, don't be surprised if Asomugha approaches the Eagles about taking a pay cut, for it may be the only way he remains a member of the team.
The Ravens' cap situation is dire, especially if you consider the gargantuan contract that is all but offered to Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.
One of the pitfalls of winning the Super Bowl is the cap ramifications that immediately follow. Boldin, a significant contributor to the Ravens' success, could be a victim to cost-cutting. Boldin addressed the speculation earlier this week, fueling the rumors.
If the Ravens cut Boldin, they will save $6 million in cap space.
Ironically, in order to pay Joe Flacco, the Ravens may have to release his best receiver.
Michael Vick's future with the Philadelphia Eagles has been in question dating back to last season. The quarterback is due to earn $15.5 million this season and $30 million over the next two seasons.
The Eagles have serious motivation to release Vick because of his prorated signing bonus being a mere $1.4 million per year.
So, for $4.2 million, the Eagles can release Vick and spare their salary cap $45 million over the next three seasons.
Compounded with his diminished play on the field, it's a safe bet the Eagles will cut ties with Vick.
Michael Turner's career in Atlanta is in serious jeopardy. If the Falcons cut the running back, they will save $6.9 million after paying him his signing bonus.
Turner gained only 3.6 yards per carry this season, which was a full yard less than his 2011 campaign. Additionally,Turner's backup Jacquizz Rodgers saw an increased role as the season wore on.
Releasing Turner would be logical for the Falcons both financially and schematically.
Devin Hester is beloved by Chicago Bears fans for his Hall of Fame-worthy skills as a returner. His play as a wide receiver is considerably less flattering.
Despite Hester's impeccable athletic skills, his transition to receiver has failed in Chicago. This past season, Hester saw limited playing time, and even when he did play he was ineffective, as he recorded a career-low 242 receiving yards. Making matters worse, Hester's returning skills also diminished.
Due to this, expect the Bears to cut ties with Hester and escape paying him the $2 million remaining on his contract.
Finley has demonstrated unique skills since entering the NFL five seasons ago. Unfortunately for the Packers, his play hasn't always matched his potential.
The Packers would free $8 million of cap space by releasing Finley. Green Bay needs all the cap space it can afford given the inevitable pay raises due to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, not to mention free-agent demands to shore up their defense.
The Packers have to decipher which is more valuable: $8 million in free cap space or the drop-prone Jermichael Finley.
Tyson Jackson, a third overall draft selection in the 2009 draft, hasn't fulfilled the lofty expectations of the Kansas City Chiefs, to say the least. Over his four years with the team, he has recorded only five sacks.
This past season, Jackson spent most of the year as a backup.
Jackson's rookie contract escalates in 2013, which means the Chiefs can free $14 million if they release Jackson, which makes the move inevitable.
The arrival of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his 3-4 defensive scheme in New Orleans could mean the departure of middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
If the Saints release Jonathan Vilma, they will free $6 million against their 2013 salary cap.
Vilma missed most of the 2012 season due to suspension stemming from the bounty scandal. In Vilma's absence, the New Orleans defense ranked 31st in yards allowed.
Another possibility the Saints have is to try to trade Vilma for picks in April's draft.
By releasing backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, the Titans would open $5.5 million in cap space, which makes his future uncertain.
Hasselbeck played well a season ago, but the team has no intention of starting him over Jake Locker next season.
Locker's durability issues increase Hasselbeck's value, but it's unlikely that value exceeds $5.5 million.
The veteran quarterback has expressed interest in returning, so much in fact that he is open to re-negotiations.
Carson Palmer simply is not deserving of $15 million a year. There was a time when one could make an argument that he was, but in 2013, the arguments are silent.
The Raiders have also demonstrated interest in the development of Terrelle Pryor, so much in fact that they might elect to cut ties with Carson Palmer altogether.
If the Raiders do release Palmer, they would free around $10 million in cap space.
Palmer's best chance might be to re-negotiate his deal and try to fend off Pryor and any other quarterbacks the Raiders bring in next year for the starting job.
After a disastrous postseason showing, the illustrious career of Champ Bailey may be closing.
If not, his time in Denver most likely will.
Bailey is set to make $10 million in each of the next two seasons. For next to no cap repercussions, the Broncos can walk away from the contract by releasing Bailey.
Considering that quarterback Peyton Manning is set to make $20 million next season—which, for those keeping track at home, is a sixth of the Broncos' salary cap in 2013—Denver will need all the cap flexibility they can muster.
Expect Denver brass to attempt to persuade Bailey to retire and, if talks fail, for the corner to be released.