Breaking Down Top Landing Spots for NFL's Most Recent Cuts
With only one week until all NFL teams must be in compliance with the 2014 salary cap of $133 million and with free agency set to get rolling on the same day, squads across the league are faced with some tough decisions.
For many players, that means the end of the line, at least with their current teams.
Some got hurt. Others just never lived up to their contracts. Others still signed back-loaded deals that now make them incredibly expensive to retain.
Such is the fate of veteran linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
With young linebacker Jason Worilds signing his transition tender and Woodley set to count over $13 million against the cap in 2014, the cap-strapped Pittsburgh Steelers are essentially left no choice but to sever ties with the former Pro Bowler.
Woodley hasn't been let go yet, but it's all but certainly coming.
For others, the axe has already fallen. If there's a silver lining to getting cut early (dim though it may be), at least these players get a bit of a head start before the floodgates open next Tuesday.
With that in mind, and with an eye toward both the cap space to sign them and a need at their position here's a look at the best landing spots for the latest batch of NFL players looking for work.
Last year, the San Diego Chargers signed free-agent cornerback Derek Cox to a four-year, $20 million contract that included $10 million in guarantees.
Just one year later, the Chargers are cutting their losses with the 27-year-old, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego.
It's not hard to see why. Cox missed five games due to injuries last year, and when he was on the field, it was worse.
Cox ranked 104th among NFL cornerbacks in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and with a base salary of $4.25 million this year, the decision was an easy one for the Chargers.
Still, Cox remains a relatively young player who as recently as 2011 graded in the the top 25 at his position at PFF. That position carries with it a significant premium in the NFL.
Cox's days of big paydays and starting every week may be in the past, but there are plenty of teams in the NFL in need of depth in the secondary.
For example, there are the Minnesota Vikings, who have over $37 million in cap space, according to Spotrac, and a pass defense that ranked 31st in the NFL a season ago.
Granted, Cox isn't going to fix the Vikings secondary, but as a dime corner and depth for a team that needs both, the five-year veteran is a solid fit.
Top Fit: Minnesota Vikings
On some levels, it's curious that the Minnesota Vikings would cut tight end John Carlson. After all, while tight end Kyle Rudolph was injured last year, Carlson stepped in and played well, reeling off 19 catches for 263 yards and a score from Weeks 10-13.
However, Carlson's season was cut short by a concussion, his third documented concussion in three seasons.
So, with Carlson's future uncertain and a new staff settling in the Twin Cities, the 29-year-old was shown the door, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).
Smith indicates the Vikings and Carlson had discussed a return, so it appears the five-year veteran intends to continue his career.
If that's the case, then Carlson may not have to travel far.
The Detroit Lions don't have much cap space with which to get cute in free agency, so for new head coach Jim Caldwell and the Lions, it's going to be about finding a value here and a bargain there.
There's a bit of risk with Carlson, but if his health checks out, it's more than offset by the potential reward, even if that isn't a king's ransom.
Of course, it also won't cost a king's ransom to bring Carlson to Motown.
For what it's worth, among tight ends a year ago who played 900 or more snaps, only one had a lower grade than Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew at Pro Football Focus.
Carlson ranked inside the top 20.
Top Fit: Detroit Lions
After eight seasons, almost 300 catches, over 3,600 yards and 12 touchdowns, Jason Avant's time with the Philadelphia Eagles has come to an end, according to a team statement.
That's the latest from ESPN, which reports the Eagles released a statement regarding the 30-year-old.
"There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant," owner Jeffrey Lurie said in the statement. "Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way."
Consummate pro, though, he may be, Avant also has never topped 55 catches, 700 yards or three touchdowns in a season. Once Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin were re-signed, Avant was left the odd man out.
Granted, the new team that signs Avant would not be getting Calvin Johnson—or Andre Johnson, for that matter. Avant is what he is: a 30-year-old possession receiver who is only six feet tall.
However, Avant also is who he is, and there are more than a few NFL teams that could use his veteran presence.
The Cleveland Browns tried to add just such a player last year, with a draft-day trade for Davone Bess.
That didn't pan out, but if all Avant does in Cleveland is keep Josh Gordon on the straight and narrow (something Bess appears ill-equipped to do), then Avant's worth a few million a year to a Browns team with nearly $60 million in cap space.
Top Fit: Cleveland Browns
If you've never heard of Uche Nwaneri, don't feel bad. As a starter at one of the NFL's most anonymous positions for a team with a lower national profile than several college teams, it's not a huge shock.
Nwaneri started 16 games at right guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013, his seventh year with the team. The 29-year-old started at least 13 games in each of the past six seasons, and last year Nwaneri ranked a respectable 18th among right guards in the NFL last year at PFF.
That wasn't enough to keep him in Jacksonville, as Ken Hornack of Fox Sports Florida reported the Jaguars let Nwaneri go on Tuesday.
It should darned sure be enough to get him a call from the Miami Dolphins, though.
Make no mistake, the Dolphins are in need of offensive-line help in the worst way imaginable. No team in the NFL allowed more sacks than the Dolphins last year, and the fallout from the Martin/Incognito affair has all but wiped the line out.
The team has plenty of cap space as well, although most expect the Dolphins to throw a chunk of that $38.6 million at one of this year's free-agent tackles.
Now the team has a shot at adding a decent guard and that tackle before the draft.
Top Fit: Miami Dolphins
The 29-year-old Carriker was once a highly sought after prospect, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams after a standout career at Nebraska.
Things never quite came together for Carriker in St. Louis, and back in 2010 he was traded to the Redskins for a pair of late picks.
By the end of the 2011 season, the Redskins liked what they saw of Carriker's transition to 3-4 end; it was well enough to reward him with a four-year, $20 million extension.
Then Carriker tore his quadriceps muscle two games into the 2012 season. He hasn't played a game since.
In fact, even after all this time, Carriker recently admitted his leg is still not "100 percent," while speaking with John Keim of ESPN. Carriker did, however, state that he expects to be ready to go by the time training camp opens this summer.
If that's the case, it will probably take until then for Carriker to land a new team, as convincing them the leg is at least relatively OK will be priority No. 1.
If Carriker does want for work into the summer, becoming a sort of "fall-back" plan for teams who fail to address a need in free agency for the draft, then pegging his "best" fit becomes problematic—unless you turn the problem on its head.
The Green Bay Packers very rarely make any big splashes in free agency. There was Charles Woodson, and um...
However, this hardly qualifies as a "big" signing, and the Packers do indeed have a need on the defensive front.
Adding Carriker likely wouldn't solve that problem, but if the leg holds up, Carriker would also be a good bet to outplay a minimum deal.
Top Fit: Green Bay Packers