2014 NFL Free Agents: Potential Cap Casualties for Every Team
There are two constants in the National Football League.
First, change is constant. Second? That change costs money.
Teams are even now looking at their roster and cap room for the 2014 NFL season and debating who will stay and who will be a cap casualty.
Some of the following players are free agents who won't be asked to return. Some are players with years left on their contract that the team will release even if it has to eat some of the contract.
Whatever the case, the following 32 players (one for each team) could very well be in a new uniform when they start the 2014 NFL season.
Buffalo Bills: Scott Chandler, Tight End
According to Spotrac.com, the Bills have just over $6 million in cap room for 2014 (this may change during the offseason), most of which would probably go to safety Jairus Byrd, who should be their priority.
That leaves very little for anyone else. For the most part, that’s fine. The bulk of the team is under contract.
But Scott Chandler represented a $2.975 cap hit last year. It’s unlikely he'll take a pay cut, which makes it unlikely the Bills keep him.
Miami Dolphins: Dustin Keller, Tight End
Contrary to what we all thought last spring, the Miami Dolphins appear to have just under $20 million in cap space for 2014, according to Spotrac.com. That gives them a lot of leeway in bringing players back.
The guy they might not bring back regardless of money is tight end Dustin Keller. It’s a shame, because he lost the 2013 season due to injury, but the Dolphins could look for a younger player in the draft or just rely on Charles Clay, who had a solid year.
New England Patriots: LeGarrette Blount, Running Back
With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in the house, it seems like running back LeGarrette Blount could be shown the door. After a solid postseason, he might even seek it himself.
It might be different if such key players as Aqib Talib, Brandon Spikes and even Julian Edelman (fresh off a big year) weren’t also up for a new contract. Blount had a good year, but not so good the Patriots can’t replace him.
New York Jets: Mark Sanchez, Quarterback
The New York Jets have Mark Sanchez under contract until 2017, but 1) they don’t want to distraction of a potential quarterback battle and 2) they could use that money elsewhere.
A fresh start is probably the best thing in the world for both Sanchez and the Jets. Maybe they trade him, but more likely they’ll cut him, because it’s going to be hard for another team to swallow that contract.
Baltimore Ravens: Ed Dickson, Tight End
Both Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are up for a new contract, but there’s a good chance that the Ravens only bring one back. My bet is that it’s Pitta, who was supposed to be a huge part of the offense before his 2013 season ended early due to injury.
Dickson had a chance to prove he could be the top tight end in Baltimore, but he didn’t come through. The Ravens have some other needs as well, so if they bring Pitta back, it’s unlikely they bring back Dickson.
Cincinnati Bengals: Alex Smith, Tight End
The Cincinnati Bengals have two good tight ends in rookie Tyler Eifert and veteran Jermaine Gresham. Alex Smith isn’t necessary for their continued offensive success. And while the core team is all under contract, there are still some positions they need to reinforce.
Smith didn’t amount to much this season, but did eat up some cap space. It’s not a ton, but it’s more than you want to spend on a superfluous player like he turned out to be.
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, Quarterback
At some point this offseason, a new regime will be in place for the Cleveland Browns, and it’s hard to imagine that the new coach will want his quarterback to be Brandon Weeden. In that case, why are they paying him so much?
The Browns need more than just a new quarterback. They need a new crop of wide receivers and a running back. The money they spend on Weeden would be better served if it was earmarked for those needs.
And you can expect it will be, and Weeden will be somewhere else this coming season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Lamarr Woodley, Linebacker
When it comes to cap hits, the simple truth is that with an aging defense, change is coming for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That change will probably involve the release of linebacker Lamarr Woodley.
Often hurt, Woodley has struggled to stay on the field over the last few years, which makes him not only unreliable but a liability.
Furthermore, he's in the middle of a six-year contract with an escalator pushing up his total cost to $13.59 in 2014, per Spotrac.
The Steelers have a lot of work to do along the offensive line as well as in the defense. Woodley has been a big help during his career, but as he is closer to the end than the beginning, it's best to move on and get younger—not to mention cheaper.
Houston Texans: Matt Schaub, Quarterback
Matt Schaub is another quarterback who is either going to either be cut or paid an exorbitant amount to sit on the bench. Perhaps he’ll take a pay cut, but more likely he’ll ask for his release so he can try to catch on elsewhere. His disastrous 2013 wasn’t much of a resume builder, but it also won’t get him much play from his new coach.
New head coach Bill O’Brien will want to bring in his own guy, and while he might keep Schaub around as a backup, that’s a lot of money for a guy who you hope never sees the field.
Indianapolis Colts: Erik Walden, Linebacker
While it might seem to be a little soon to pull the rip cord, the Erik Walden signing (and subsequent contract) is a hole the Indianapolis Colts need to climb out of.
Walden was unimpressive when he was with the Green Bay Packers and didn’t do much better this season with his new team. The Colts have a lot of needs and could make big strides in free agency, but they need to money.
Getting Walden’s contract off the books would go a long way toward helping that happen.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
The Jacksonville Jaguars are at the start of a long rebuilding process. They have a ton of needs, and while they also have some money, tying a lot of it up in a long-term contract for a player who's aging and often hurt isn’t going to speed the process up.
Jones-Drew is going to want one last big contract before he retires and this is pretty much his last chance. While the Jaguars should thank him profusely for what he has done for the franchise, that thanks shouldn’t come with the contract he wants.
Tennessee Titans: Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver
Wide receiver Kenny Britt may not be retained not because of cap reasons, but because he’s burned up any goodwill with the team thanks to his numerous off-the-field antics.
Britt has some talent, but his poor decisions all too often get in the way. The Tennessee Titans have bigger fish to fry and will let him walk this offseason.
Denver Broncos: Knowshon Moreno, Running Back
When free agency starts for the NFL, there’s a good chance it will spell the end of running back Knowshon Moreno’s tenure with the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos need to shore up the defense so that Peyton Manning doesn’t have to have perfect games every week. It’s nice that he can put up 40 to 50 points, but the team should be able to win when he only leads it to 21 or 27.
So it’s unlikely that the offense will get a ton of money thrown its way this offseason, even to retain the studs it already had. Montee Ball was drafted to be the lead back, and while he had issues this season, the Broncos are more likely to hope that he steps up than spend a lot of money to retain Moreno based on one very good season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle
We thought the Kansas City Chiefs were looking to move left tackle Branden Albert from the moment they drafted rookie Luke Joeckel. Teams didn’t trade for him because they figured he would be cut, but that didn’t happen.
Albert isn’t a youngster anymore, but he will probably look for a substantial pile of money this offseason. The Chiefs need to spend their money elsewhere. And as they already looked ready to part ways with him, the choice to let him walk will be a fairly easy one.
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden, Running Back
If the Oakland Raiders are going to spend money on a running back, we expect it to be Rashad Jennings rather than the sometimes explosive but always hurt Darren McFadden.
We know the Raiders have a ton of needs and running back is one of them, but sinking a substantial contract on a player who was hurt for 29 games over his six year career isn’t going to happen.
San Diego Chargers: Danario Alexander, Wide Receiver
With the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen and the solid play of Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown, receiver Danario Alexander seems pretty superfluous.
The San Diego Chargers have a lot of other needs, mostly on the defensive side of the ball, so going after a receiver who has had minimal impact doesn't make sense.
How Malcom Floyd’s rehab (via San Diego Union-Tribune) goes is a factor, but it seems as though there are other options worth exploring than resigning Alexander to anything but a minimal contract, if that.
More than likely, we won’t see him in a Chargers uniform next year.
Dallas Cowboys: Miles Austin, Wide Receiver
It sure seemed like a good idea at the time, but that contract to Miles Austin is not paying dividends. Often hurt and rarely productive, Austin has gone from a competitor for Dez Bryant’s job to a guy fighting for the No. 3 receiver slot.
When he’s healthy, that is, which hasn't been often the last few seasons.
Jerry Jones likes to pretend that all is well even when it isn’t, but he has to see the light on this awful contract and cut bait.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Vick, Quarterback
While quarterback Michael Vick still has a contract (fact check), the Philadelphia Eagles have discovered life without Vick is just fine.
Nick Folk is their guy, and Vick is just a high-priced backup. He’s going to want to compete for a starting job, and the team could use the cap money on receiver Jeremy Maclin or along the defensive front.
Mike Vick isn’t coming back, which is really a win-win for both the team and Vick.
New York Giants: Justin Tuck, Defensive End
It would be hard for New York Giants fans to see Justin Tuck in another uniform, but that may be a reality by the end of this offseason. The team won’t commit to him verbally, via Connor Orr of NJ.com, hedging about whether he could return, but the reality is the offense is what needs their money this coming year.
Tuck’s also clearly aging, and while the defense rebounded over the course of the year, he wasn’t the player he once was even when healthy (which you can debate he never really was). He’s not as critical as he once was and, shockingly, can be replaced.
The Giants have a hard decision to make, but ultimately, they should spend their money on the offense rather than they pay Tuck.
Washington Redskins: Santana Moss, Wide Receiver
So why cut Moss? Because he’s going to cost too much money for a guy who is so close to the end of his career. While Moss is someone who could provide some veteran leadership, there are now several players who could do that instead. Including Garcon.
Washington should take the money it was going to pay Moss and get a couple of the free-agent wide receivers who will be on the market this year.
Chicago Bears: Devin Hester, Kick Returner
With so many issues on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to fathom Devin Hester getting the contract he wants.
The best kick returner in the NFL (possibly ever), Hester is really only good at one thing. He can return kicks and punts, but ultimately, he is definitely not a wide receiver and, therefore, not worth the money he got in his last contract.
Unless he is willing to severely cut his paycheck, Hester’s tenure as a Bear may be over.
Detroit Lions: Brandon Pettigrew, Tight End
While the Detroit Lions continue to quest for the elusive No. 2 receiver, they also have an issue at tight end. Brandon Pettigrew has been no better than average and often less than that.
With undrafted free-agent rookie tight end Joseph Fauria taking red-zone looks and Reggie Bush getting the short passes, Pettigrew’s value is negligible. He’s not even much of a blocker according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Expect the Lions to move on from him this offseason and let him sign elsewhere.
Green Bay Packers: James Jones, Wide Receiver
The Green Bay Packers have a lot of needs on the defensive side of the ball, but they continue to find amazing wide receivers on their bench.
Add those two things together and it equals James Jones leaving the Packers.
Jones is a solid receiver, but we saw that he could definitely be replaced this season when Jarrett Boykin stepped up. While Jones is solid depth for the Packers, it makes no sense for them to retain him.
That money is desperately needed on the defensive side of the ball.
Minnesota Vikings: Jared Allen, Defensive End
It will be interesting to see what new head coach Mike Zimmer does with this offense.
One thing you can bet is that he will get younger on the defensive side of the ball.
That probably spells "finito" for Jared Allen’s Vikings career.
Allen continues to put up good numbers, but the Vikings should be looking to put some money at other positions of need, especially cornerback.
Bringing him back just wouldn’t be the wisest allocation of money the team could make.
Atlanta Falcons: Asante Samuel, Cornerback
For a guy Spotrac has listed as having the 10th-highest contract on the Atlanta Falcons, Asante Samuel certainly isn’t putting up numbers worthy of his $6 million payday for 2014.
Samuel was ranked by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the No. 57 corner in the NFL for 2013, which is a poor showing even considering he missed five games.
The Falcons are in pretty good shape, but they still may find a need to put the money they are paying Samuel somewhere else.
Carolina Panthers: Brandon LaFell, Wide Receiver
As much as the Carolina Panthers need a wide receiver, especially with Steve Smith near the end of his career, Brandon LaFell is likely to be in a different uniform come the 2014 season.
LaFell has never lived up to his potential, and the Panthers have 28 free agents to deal with, per Spotrac. Not all of them will be back, of course, but some, like Greg Hardy, will require quite chunk of change.
It will be cheaper to draft a new player out of a decent group of incoming receivers than throw money at LaFell and hope this time it will be different.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jonathan Casillas, Linebacker
While linebacker Jonathan Casillas can explain away some of his unimpressive time in Tampa Bay as hampered by injury, that’s exactly the reason the Buccaneers will probably let him go.
Right now, Spotrac.com has the Bucs with about $7.5 million in space for free agents, and with 25 free agents, as well as some needs across both sides of the ball, it makes no sense to spend money on an often injured linebacker.
Maybe Casillas takes less than the $1.4 million he received this year, but it was already a one-year contract. Certainly he didn’t show enough for another one.
New Orleans Saints: Malcolm Jenkins, Safety
With the New Orleans Saints about $12.5 million over the 2014 cap, according to Mike Triplett of ESPN.com, the coaching staff has some hard decisions to make this offseason. As Triplett discusses in his article on GM Mickey Loomis’ year-end press conference, this is a team that has tight end Jimmy Graham coming up for a contract and some other key pieces entering free agency as well.
Malcolm Jenkins has played well in the past, but 2013 was not one of his better years. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has him as the No. 65 safety (out of 86 ranked) for 2013, which isn’t what you want to see in a contract year.
The Saints have let veterans go early before, and this should be another case of that.
Arizona Cardinals: Rashard Mendenhall, Running Back
According to Spotrac.com, the Arizona Cardinals are just $2.95 million under the cap for 2014. That’s not a lot of wiggle room and a good reason why running back Rashard Mendenhall won’t be re-signed this offseason.
There are several other good reasons, such as his production, that he's ranked No. 29 in the NFL among all running backs and his 3.2 yards-per-carry average. Andre Ellington looked a lot better with far fewer carries.
With 22 other players going to free agency, it doesn’t make much sense to waste cap space on a below-average running back.
San Francisco 49ers: Jonathan Baldwin, Wide Receiver
There are several possibilities for cap casualties on the San Francisco 49ers roster. Mario Manningham and Donte Whitner are both free agents the club might let go. In an email conversation, David Fucillo of Niners Nation said that cutting Carlos Rogers would save about $5.1 million.
But the most likely cap casualty, one which Fucillo pointed out as well, is wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who is due $1.37 million, none of which is guaranteed.
While the Niners traded for Baldwin, he’s been awful. Paying him more money just doesn’t make sense.
Seattle Seahawks: Sidney Rice, Wide Receiver
Sure, the Seattle Seahawks are technically stuck with Sidney Rice for the next two years, per Spotrac.com. But do they really want to keep paying him over $9 million a year to be hurt and not break 1,000 yards, especially with a cap hit of $9.7 million in 2014, per Spotrac.com?
Spotrac says that the Seahawks are just $454,308 under the 2014 cap. That’s not much, and with Golden Tate a much more reliable option and a free agent, the Seahawks may find they need to cut someone loose to keep Tate and other players.
Rice may find himself ejected before long this offseason.
St. Louis Rams: Chris Williams, Guard
With what looks to be just $3.7 million in cap space for 2014, per Spotrac.com, the St. Louis Rams are in need of cash.
Left guard Chris Williams didn’t have a very good season, ending up as Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) No. 74 guard (out of 81). The Rams will want to find another option, and with Williams entering free agency, letting him go makes perfect sense.