With the recent news of the release of star defensive back Charles Woodson, there is perhaps one big question in response to the story: Who’s next?
Many teams have financial issues this offseason. Wholesale changes will be made. Here are some of the better players who could be on the market:
Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints had a tough year without key players and coaches resulting from the bounty scandal. They'll benefit greatly with more depth and coaching balance next season.
Regardless, this team is still $14.7 million under the cap. Many key players with big contracts will have to be released.
News already came out that the Saints asked Jonathan Vilma to take a drastic pay cut. Vilma is set to earn $4.8 million and count for $8.6 million against the cap. Although Vilma may agree to a pay cut, the team is also switching to a 3-4 defense with the addition of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Vilma’s skillset is not as suited to that type of defense, and he could be let go.
Vilma is one of many Saints players who could be released for cap space. Defensive end Will Smith also accounts for roughly $14.5 million against the cap.
But Smith is much bigger and stronger than Vilma. At 281 pounds, Smith is better suited for a 3-4 defense. Assuming he takes a pay cut, Smith is more likely to stay.
Vilma will find a niche with some team this offseason. However, it may not be with the Saints.
Mike Wallace, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Wallace and the Pittsburgh Steelers have had contract disputes for a while now. That drama may come to an end.
Wallace is set to hit the free agent market. He missed the first game of his career in Week 17 with hip and hamstring injuries. At that time, he was very hesitant when asked about his future with the Steelers. Wallace says he has big plans no matter who the team is, and doesn’t know if he will re-sign with the Steelers.
At 26 years old, Wallace is still one of the fastest and most threatening receivers in the game. Another team will almost certainly spend big for his services.
But considering the Steelers are roughly $10.8 million under the cap, it may not be them.
Combine that with the constant drama of the contract dispute, as well as Wallace sitting out all of training camp this year, and you could be soon looking at an ugly divorce between the two sides.
Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Michael Turner has been a fixture in the Atlanta Falcons offense for the past five seasons.
But Turner just turned 31, which is ancient for a running back. And despite rushing for a respectable 10 touchdowns this season, he also only totaled 800 yards on a measly 3.6 yards per carry.
Considering his career average is 4.5 yards per carry, 2012 was a disappointing season for Turner.
The Falcons may have $4.9 million in cap room, but they have a number of key free agents to re-sign. The biggest names include shutdown cornerback Brent Grimes, starting center Todd McClure, and perhaps Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez if he chooses not to retire.
Turner will carry (no pun intended) an $8.9 million cap hit next season. With the emergence of the quick Jacquizz Rodgers as a cheap and viable option, Turner’s days could be numbered with the Falcons.
All three of these players still have plenty of football left to play. But due to differing financial problems, they may also be released by their respective teams.