Now that the NFL draft is complete, teams are beginning to take a closer look at their depth charts.
The addition of players both young and cheap threatens the status of veterans all over the league. There will be more than a handful of notable players let go before the season begins.
However, roadblocks could result from teams having previously supplied their players with too much guaranteed money. This article breaks down the best-known talent on the chopping block.
All contract information via Spotrac.com
Mark Sanchez was on the hot seat way before the New York Jets decided to draft Geno Smith in the second round of this year's draft. Sanchez has struggled with consistency over the course of his career, and his game hasn’t progressed much from his rookie season.
Smith is the first realistic threat to Sanchez’s standing with the team, as neither Tim Tebow nor David Garrard were going to be much of a challenge.
It's unknown how releasing Sanchez would affect the team's chances of winning this season, but it would certainly help avoid a lot of unnecessary attention and allow Smith to ease into the league. New York could let Garrard—receiver of much less media focus—begin the season as the starter until Smith is ready to take the field.
The longer New York hangs on to Sanchez, the longer a cloud will hang over this franchise.
But poor play isn’t the only thing the Jets need to consider, as Sanchez's contract could be his saving grace. He is set to make just over $8 million this upcoming season, but his cap hit tops $12 million. It would cost the Jets over $17 million in dead money to cut ties with Sanchez.
Paying that type of money for a player who isn’t on the roster is a tough pill for any owner to swallow. But in this case, it might be worth it. Sanchez will be more of a distraction than a positive influence on the team.
The Buffalo Bills appear to have no clue what they want to do on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the past few seasons, they’ve shifted between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. They signed both Mario Williams and Mark Anderson with the hope of filling out a four-man defensive line, but bringing in Mike Pettine to run the defense means they will feature more 3-4 principles.
This switch clouds Mark Anderson’s future with the team. Anderson is a 4-3 defensive end who lacks the fluidity to make the adjustment to outside linebacker and the bulk to hold up as a 5-technique. This, combined with a lack of production and the team's addition of linebacker Jerry Hughes, makes Anderson expendable.
Releasing Anderson will create $6 million in dead money for the Bills, which is certainly a factor, but Buffalo could very well take the monetary hit to open up a roster spot.
For the most part, Anderson's future with the team hinges on Hughes' effectiveness.
Kenny Britt and Nate Washington are on the hot seat for very different reasons.
Britt continues to struggle with injuries and off-the-field problems. The Tennessee Titans need reliable targets who can help Jake Locker develop.
Washington, on the other hand, was unable to duplicate his 2011 season where he had a career year by hauling in 74 passes for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns. The thing that might save Washington is reliability, as he hasn't missed a game in the past eight seasons and has started the majority of them since 2009.
However, both players became expendable when the Titans drafted Justin Hunter in the second round of the draft. Hunter possesses excellent size and speed and adds a big-play threat to the offense. He has the potential to quickly replace either Britt or Washington in the lineup.
The team’s free-agent signing of Kevin Walter also provides a veteran presence to hold things together if Hunter needs time to develop.
The Tennessee Titans gave Kamerion Wimbley big money to come in and help improve the team’s pass rush. But despite his natural talents, he only registered six sacks last season.
Unsurprisingly, the combination of a $7 million salary and lack of production puts Wimbley on the hot seat.
Tennessee has been rumored to have interest both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney. They’re both on the back end of their careers, but they're still able to get after the quarterback, as evidenced by their 2012 totals of 10 and five sacks, respectively. It’s hard to imagine the Titans hanging on to Wimbley if they’re able to bring another, cheaper pass-rusher into the mix.
The Titans also selected Lavar Edwards in the fifth round. He’s a great athlete who works hard on every play and would fit as a backup/rotational end in this defense.
Wimbley’s contract should factor into this decision. His cap hit is nearly $6 million this year, but that increases throughout the rest of the contract. So while releasing Wimbley this offseason would create over $9 million in dead money, it would be better for the Titans to act now if they're unhappy with his production.
The Carolina Panthers’ decision to sign both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to long-term deals was a curious move. Despite good production throughout their careers, Williams and Stewart haven’t been nearly as effective in the past few years.
Because of his age, Williams would be the most likely backfield member to be sent packing. Stewart is only 26 years old, while Williams just turned 30.
The contract situation isn’t the only reason Williams is on the chopping block. Carolina gave Mike Tolbert (a fullback, sure, but a good runner) a sizable contract last year and added Kenjon Barner in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Both players would provide good depth behind Stewart.
It’s also important to point out that this offense goes through Cam Newton. He needs to have the ball in his hands as much as possible, and less money in the backfield means less of an obligation to hand the ball off.
When Williams signed his current deal, he received a $16 million signing bonus. After two seasons, only $6.4 million of that has been counted against the salary cap. This means releasing Williams creates nearly $10 million in dead money.
Cutting Stewart, meanwhile, would result in roughly $14.5 million, so this is all about picking the lesser of two evils. Given the age difference, Carolina should consider dumping Williams to open up space in the backfield and eventually better distribute the money.
Brodrick Bunkley isn’t the type of player who’ll make remarkable plays, but he does a good job stuffing the run. This is why the New Orleans Saints added him during last year’s offseason. However, the their decision to switch to a 3-4 attack creates issues for Bunkley.
Despite his ability against the run, Bunkley is a bit undersized for the nose tackle position. He also doesn’t have the quickness to move outside to the 5-technique spot.
Other than a poor scheme fit, the Saints have added players across the defensive line who make Bunkley expendable. Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins and Kenyon Coleman are all cheaper and younger options.
Bunkley recently restructured his contract to lower his 2013 salary from $3.7 million to $750,000. This move makes it easier for the Saints to keep him, which might be wise considering his dead-money hit is currently at $7.3 million but will decrease by almost $1.6 million each year.
The New Orleans Saints secondary was one of the worst units in the league last year, allowing a league-worst 8.1 yards per passing attempt. It was the group that struggled, but particular players will pay the price. Roman Harper is one of the players squarely on the hot seat.
New Orleans used its first-round pick in this year’s draft to bring in Kenny Vaccaro. He’s a safety who features the ability to both hold up in coverage and play the run. Vaccaro shows enough fluidity to even drop down and cover in the slot.
The combination of Vaccaro and Malcolm Jenkins has the potential to immediately improve the team’s pass defense. Harper was made even more expendable when the Saints brought in Jim Leonhard to serve as a cheap backup option.
Letting Harper go would take a financial commitment, as he'd create over $6 million in dead money, which might be tough for ownership to approve. However, there's a lot of depth at the safety position, and after all, the Saints can't keep everyone.
Willis McGahee did some good things during this time with the Denver Broncos. However, his age and injury issues could force them to move in a different direction.
Denver’s moves this offseason make this a likely scenario. The Broncos used a second-round pick to bring in Montee Ball. Ball can contribute in the running game, catch the ball out of the backfield and protect the passer, all of which are qualities McGahee exhibits.
Denver can use a combination of Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman to provide Peyton Manning with a solid ground game.
Releasing McGahee will only result in $1 million of dead money, so it's unlikely this will play a factor in his status with the team.
Robert Meachem and Philip Rivers really struggled to develop a connection last season. The San Diego Chargers hoped that Meachem and Eddie Royal would be able to replace Vincent Jackson, but things didn’t work out as planned.
In fact, Danario Alexander outproduced both players despite only playing in 10 games. Alexander’s emergence is one of the main reasons Meachem is expendable.
The Chargers are also very high on youngster Vincent Brown, and they used a third-round pick to bring in Keenan Allen. The wide receiver corps in San Diego quickly became a very crowded unit.
Complicating this situation is the fact that the Chargers will owe Meachem a lot of money. Releasing him would create over $10.5 million in dead money. It's possible that could force the Chargers to give Meachem another chance.
Last season, the San Francisco 49ers brought Mario Manningham in to provide some explosiveness to the offense. He showed flashes of that throughout the season, but a late-season injury impacted his overall production.
San Francisco made several offseason moves that threaten Manningham’s future with the team. They orchestrated a surprising trade to bring in Anquan Boldin, drafted Quinton Patton and are surely hoping last year’s first-round pick A.J. Jenkins can contribute this season.
These three players, combined with Manningham’s injury, don’t bode well for his chances to remain in San Francisco.
Manningham reworked his contract earlier this month to lower his base salary. The 49ers would only create $1 million in dead money if they decided to release Manningham, so finances won't prevent the front office from making a change if they deem it necessary.