Devin Hester shouldn't be safe in Chicago.
Every year, teams have to cut their rosters down from the 90 players they get for most of the offseason to the 53 players that comprise the regular-season roster. Nearly 1,200 players will lose their jobs, and the dream to play in the NFL will die for some.
A select few young players will beat out veterans for a job, which usually results in the abrupt termination of veterans who have proven they can play in the league. If they have proven they can play at the NFL level, it’s usually notable when a team opts to send them packing.
As with any business, NFL teams are constantly trying to maximize production and minimize cost. Veterans are usually cut because of some combination of performance and pay. Why pay $5 million when you can get similar production for $1 million? Most of the decisions are simple economics for these teams.
*All salary and cap figures via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.
Head coach Chip Kelly is considered a forward-thinker, so he seems like just the man who can use quarterback Michael Vick’s ability to run to his advantage. However, there are a lot of other things to consider at the position aside from a quarterback’s ability to run.
Vick’s biggest issue has always been his limited value as a productive passer, which is still a requirement to be a good quarterback at the NFL level. If Kelly can’t get Vick to be a better passer, it might not matter how productive Vick is on the ground.
There was virtually no way the Eagles were going to pay Vick what he was owed under the terms of his original contract, so the two sides restructured it this offseason. His incentives were the most notable changes. In addition, nothing in it is guaranteed, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.
Basically, the Eagles can cut Vick without having to pay him any more money. Perhaps the only thing NFL teams like more than cap savings is real savings. It’s like the difference between saving a few real dollars versus saving a few Monopoly dollars.
As for the salary cap, the Eagles would save $4.5 million if Vick is released, which includes taking $7.7 million in dead money against the cap in 2013. The hit is damaging, but the Eagles wouldn’t be on the hook for anything else.
The Eagles obviously aren’t going to cut their best quarterback, which means Vick must look worse than rookie quarterback Matt Barkley and returning backup Nick Foles. At this point, the competition for the starting job remains wide open, so training camp will actually determine Vick’s fate.
Unlike some other positions on the football field, any extra cost at the quarterback position is worth it. Combined, Barkley and Foles will be paid less than 10 percent of what Vick will make in 2013 if they all make the team, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles would be satisfied with 10 percent of Vick’s production.
The Atlanta Falcons lost defensive tackle Vance Walker to the Oakland Raiders in free agency, but they haven't done much to replace him, so far. Instead, the Falcons will have to lean more on Peria Jerry and Corey Peters to share the load next to Jonathan Babineaux.
Jerry is a former first-round pick who has had a somewhat disappointing career after injuring his knee as a rookie. Jerry spent the next two seasons rarely getting into the rotation until Peters missed seven games in 2012.
In his first significant action as a starter last season, Jerry was less than impressive. Walker started stealing snaps from Jerry, whose opportunities were limited once Peters returned in Week 8.
Jerry is headed into the final year of his contract with a $2 million cap number and would count $1.1 million against the cap if he were to be released, saving the team around $900,000. Considering the loss of Walker, that’s not a lot of money.
However, the Falcons have been flirting with the idea of bringing veteran free agent defensive end Richard Seymour to the team. Although talks have seemingly cooled, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Falcons are clearly not happy with their defensive line rotation.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jerry was the worst pass-rushing defensive tackle on the team last year. Jerry has just two sacks in 48 NFL games and will also be 29 in August, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team cut ties with him by the end of training camp.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester is still a dynamic return man, but he’s not as good as he used to be for a number of reasons. Shorter kickoffs have made kick returners less valuable, and Hester wasn’t one of the elite punt returners last season.
Not only will Hester be 31 in November, but he never really developed into an offensive weapon and had just 23 catches for 242 yards in 2012. At this point, Hester is strictly a return man, which is a precarious place to be in a league that values roster space.
Money is also an issue. Keeping a return man with a cap hit of $2.9 million seems absurd when you consider the role can be filled by a younger, cheaper player for a fraction of the cost. With cap savings of nearly $2 million, it makes too much sense to cut Hester prior to the start of the season.
At the end of the 2012 season, Tony Moeaki was the guy at tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. After missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL, Moeaki hauled in 33 passes for 453 yards despite an unstable quarterback situation.
Despite flashes from Moeaki, new head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey signed tight end Anthony Fasano and drafted Travis Kelce, quickly creating a crowd at the position for the Chiefs.
Moeaki is talented, but so far he hasn’t been able to put it all together. If Moeaki doesn’t perform well in the new offense during training camp, there is reason to believe the Chiefs may just move on.
The Chiefs will save $1.3 million by cutting Moeaki and carry a very small amount of dead money this season. Considering the contract the Chiefs gave Fasano, it seems unlikely that Moeaki will be retained next season even if he sticks on the roster this year.
Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper will be pushed by a rookie in 2013.
It’s always an ominous sign when your team’s first-round draft pick plays your position. It’s an even worse sign when the other player at your position restructures his contract and virtually assures he will be with the team for one more year, as veteran safety Roman Harper did this offseason.
If safety Malcolm Jenkins was a great player, he probably wouldn’t have much to worry about, but Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the worst safety in the entire league last year. The only things Jenkins has going for him is that he doesn’t turn 26 until December and is a former first-round draft pick.
Jenkins also has a cap number of about $4 million in 2013, and the New Orleans Saints would save over $2.5 million by cutting him. If rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro is what the Saints hope he will be, there’s probably no reason to keep around a backup safety who makes $4 million.
It’s possible that the Saints will try to use Jenkins, Harper and Vaccaro in some sort of rotation, but it’s just as likely that Jenkins will be deemed expendable. How the three safeties look during training camp will likely provide clarity for the Saints.
Defensive end Jamaal Anderson is a former first-round draft pick (2007) of the Atlanta Falcons who is playing for his third team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Anderson was considered by many to be a draft bust in Atlanta, but he carved out a niche as a solid run-defender and found a home with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011 and the Bengals in 2012.
After playing in just two games in 2012, it’s probably the end of the line for Anderson in Cincinnati. Anderson has a cap hit of $2.7 million, and the Bengals drafted defensive end Margus Hunt as his replacement with the 53rd pick in April’s draft.
If Anderson is completely healthy, he’s still young enough at 27 to push for a roster spot—he’s just facing an uphill climb. Anderson could get a boost if Hunt proves to be too raw to play in the rotation immediately, but he shouldn’t take any opportunity for granted during training camp.
Wide receiver Sidney Rice isn’t a bad player or an old player, but that doesn’t mean he’s not at risk of being cut before the season. Sometimes a team like the Seattle Seahawks (good at developing young talent) realizes during training camp that it can make it without the services of an expensive player.
Rice has a cap hit of $9.7 million in 2013, the third-highest at the receiver position in the entire league. Rice isn’t close to the third-best receiver in the league and hasn’t been since 2009, so his pay is clearly out of whack.
Last season, Rice finally stayed healthy for 16 games and hauled in 50 passes for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. Given this production, Rice probably deserves half of what the Seahawks will have to pay him in 2013.
Clearly, the Seahawks would like to keep a talented receiver like Rice, but if Percy Harvin integrates well into the offense, the team might start to wonder if they would be better served letting Rice go and saving over $6 million against the cap.
Rice’s base salary is also $8.5 million, so the Seahawks aren’t just saving cap space if they were to cut him. The Seahawks would save $8.5 million in real dollars, which is probably chump change to owner Paul Allen, but it's still a significant amount.
Maybe Rice sticks for one more year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the team decided to pull the plug—especially when considering his injury history, which includes a hip problem in 2010 and multiple concussions in 2011.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Tarell Brown as the San Francisco 49ers’ best cornerback last season, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lock to make the team in 2013. San Francisco's front makes life easy for the secondary, and the team added Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency for a reason.
The 49ers could keep Brown, Asomugha, Carlos Rogers, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver on the roster, but Brown is the only one in the final year of a deal that would yield significant cash and cap savings. Brown’s cap number is $3.9 million, with only $407,314 in dead money.
It would be a big surprise if Brown was really cut, but don’t rule out the 49ers making some odd decisions in the defensive secondary to stay ahead of the curve.