2015 NFL Free Agents: Potential Cap Casualties for Every Team

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2015

2015 NFL Free Agents: Potential Cap Casualties for Every Team

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    Who will be sacrificed to the salary-cap gods this offseason?

    There are plenty of players on the chopping block, some simply because they will cost too much money. Whether that's because of underperformance, a bloated payroll or some combination therein, players on every team will be sweating the ax.

    Let's take a closer look at the top potential cap casualty for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Larry Fitzgerald

    Has Larry Fitzgerald played his last game in Arizona red? 

    That will be the pressing question for Cardinals fans as their star receiver carries an eye-popping cap figure of $23.6 million. 

    The Cardinals, meanwhile, are $7.3 million in the hole heading into the offseason. That really turns the screws on general manager Steve Keim, who has some tough decisions ahead.

    It's difficult to imagine Fitzgerald in another uniform—he's still one of the best receivers in the game, after all—but Arizona may have no choice unless he is willing to drastically change his contract.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Potential Cap Casualty: RB Steven Jackson

    Steven Jackson is an aging running back in decline, and his cap number is nearly $5 million. He will be 32 this summer and has been below the Mendoza Line—4.0 yards per carry—in each of the past two seasons.

    With such a strong draft class and so many running backs on the market—not to mention Devonta Freeman heading into his second year—there is little reason to keep Jackson around.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Potential Cap Casualty: DT Haloti Ngata

    The Baltimore Ravens sorely missed Haloti Ngata when he was suspended for four games during the regular season. So why would he be a cap casualty in 2015?

    To put it simply, the 31-year-old carries a cap number of $16 million, the highest on the team. Yes, that's even more than quarterback Joe Flacco. Ngata is good, but not that good.

    In the end, the Ravens will probably find a way to keep Ngata around and avoid putting a hole in the middle of that defensive line. An extension that reduces his 2015 cap number could be in order.

Buffalo Bills

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OL Kraig Urbik

    The good news is there aren't many players who are really potential cap casualties in Buffalo, nor do the Bills need to make much room with roughly $26 million in cap space heading into the offseason.

    The bad news is the reason for that is a roster with a ton of holes on it, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

    One player who could find himself on the wrong side of the cut line is offensive lineman Kraig Urbik. The big offensive guard found himself in the doghouse last season—though that may not matter given the coaching change in Buffalo—and he was poorly rated by Pro Football Focus.

Carolina Panthers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: RB DeAngelo Williams

    It has been quite the disappointing tenure for DeAngelo Williams in Carolina. 

    Since signing a five-year, $43 million deal in 2011—massive at the time for a running back, and even worse considering how the market has tanked at the position—Williams has averaged a little over 658.8 rushing yards and 3.75 rushing touchdowns a season.

    Injuries have plagued him, to be sure, but the Panthers have gotten diminishing returns from Williams even after getting him to restructure his contract in 2013. Here is what ESPN.com's David Newton had to say about Williams when asked about him in a recent mailbag:

    It's hard to imagine Carolina bringing Williams back. He'll be 32 this season and [Jonathan] Stewart has proven he can bear the load of 20 carries a game. He was one of the league's top rushers at the end of the season. The Panthers also need to start prepping young running backs for the future, and there wouldn't be enough carries for that if all three stayed on the roster. Plus, cutting Williams would free up still much-needed room on the salary cap. 

    The funny thing about cutting Williams outright is that it would actually cost the Panthers money to do it—his dead money outweighs his cap number. 

    Designating him a post-June 1 cut would save them about $2 million on this year's cap, however.

Chicago Bears

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    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Brandon Marshall

    It's a new day in Chicago. Does this mean it'll be a new day at wide receiver?

    Brandon Marshall has put up big numbers since reuniting with quarterback Jay Cutler, but the Chicago Bears may not be able to afford to keep him going forward.

    They have plenty of cap space, but they also have a ton of holes to fill. Marshall is due $7.5 million this season with a cap number $2 million above that. A post-June 1 cut would save the Bears almost all that cap space and give them some room to address needs elsewhere on the roster.

    He may be too vital to that offense to make the cut in the end, but Marshall could be a bit of a surprise free agent this coming March.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Potential Cap Casualty: DT Domata Peko

    Domata Peko has been a nice run-stuffing defensive tackle in the past. The question is whether he is worth $3.7 million, which is his cap number for 2015.

    Considering Peko was the second-worst defensive tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus, that doesn't seem to be the case. Whether or not the Bengals would really worry about that with $36 million in cap space is another story.

    Mike Brown is notoriously stingy, so having cap space may not matter.

Cleveland Browns

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    Potential Cap Casualty: DE Desmond Bryant

    For the second consecutive offseason, the Cleveland Browns are in excellent shape when it comes to cap space. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't maximize their spending power by trimming the roster where appropriate.

    Defensive end Desmond Bryant was once a great defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, but he may be playing out of position in Cleveland.

    Bryant has been one of the worst players at his position over the past couple of seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

    His cap hit is $7 million for 2015, not exactly a svelte figure. The Browns may not need to save the money for this season, but Bryant may just not be a fit regardless.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Potential Cap Casualty: CB Brandon Carr

    The Dallas Cowboys have receiver Dez Bryant, running back DeMarco Murray and offensive tackle Doug Free to re-sign—or at least try to re-sign—and they need as much space as they can get to retain them.

    With just $9.5 million in cap space heading into the offseason, some cuts are in order.

    Cornerback Brandon Carr fits that bill with a cap number that hits $12.7 million for 2015. That's a lot of money for a guy who was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cutting him straight up wouldn't save much space this season because of over $12.2 million in dead money, but a post-June 1 transaction would save the Cowboys a whopping $8 million this year.

    Carr hasn't lived up to the $50 million contract he signed in 2012, and Dallas has other priorities. Perhaps he will rework his contract to save the team money this season.

Denver Broncos

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OT Ryan Clady

    The Denver Broncos don't have many viable cap casualties. Could offensive tackle Ryan Clady be on the radar?

    After all, Clady hasn't quite been the lockdown left tackle he was a couple of years ago when he signed a five-year, $57.5 million deal. A year after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury, Clady had a lackluster 2014, rating in the middle of the pack over at Pro Football Focus and allowing 32 total quarterback pressures.

    Cutting Clady would save the Broncos $8.8 million for 2015—not too shabby. There isn't really a better alternative for Denver, so this is highly unlikely. But you never know, right?

    OK, moving on.

Detroit Lions

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    Potential Cap Casualty: RB Reggie Bush

    Would you believe Reggie Bush is going to be 30 this year? It seems like just yesterday that he was being pushed into the end zone by USC quarterback Matt Leinart against Notre Dame.

    The dangerous running back has dealt with injury issues in Detroit over the past couple of seasons—particularly in 2014—and he was down to 3.9 yards per carry, giving way to Joique Bell in that department over the past two years. Little-known Theo Riddick overtook him in the pass-catching department this year, in crunch time to boot.

    It's probably time to let Reggie Bush run into the sunset.

Green Bay Packers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: LB A.J. Hawk

    The Green Bay Packers already cut A.J. Hawk once.

    That was five years ago, when he was 26. Hawk was scheduled to make $10 million back then, and the Packers wanted him back. 

    This time around, he is 31, is in decline and is going to be a $5.1 million cap hit for the 2015 season. Perhaps history will be repeating itself in Green Bay this offseason.

Houston Texans

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    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Andre Johnson

    It's time to give Andre Johnson a chance to win a ring.

    Houston's all-time leading receiver has had a Hall of Fame-worthy career for the Texans, but the team isn't going anywhere near a championship with that quarterback situation. With Johnson 33 and carrying a $16.1 million cap number for 2015, his remaining time in Houston may be short.

    The Texans only have about $12.5 million in cap space heading into the offseason, and keeping a frustrated player at that price is just not worthwhile.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OT Donald Thomas

    The Colts signed Donald Thomas to a four-year deal in 2013, but he has barely seen the field thanks to some big injuries. 

    Cutting Thomas would save the Colts $3.25 million, and they have been operating with his replacement over the past two seasons anyway. They may not need the cap space, but they also don't need the dead weight.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Potential Cap Casualty: TE Marcedes Lewis

    Marcedes Lewis has a cap figure of $8.2 million.

    'Nuff said?

    Well, in case that wasn't enough, that's the second-highest number on the Jacksonville Jaguars—for a tight end who has played 19 games over the past two seasons and caught 43 passes for 565 yards in that span.

    Cutting him saves a cool $6.8 million this season. The Jaguars have the most cap space in the league, so they don't need to cut Lewis. But this would certainly be a no-brainer otherwise.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OLB Tamba Hali

    The cap situation is grim in Kansas City, and it's going to cost the Chiefs one of their best players.

    Well, he may not be quite where he was earlier in his career, but Tamba Hali is still a valued member of that defense. He's just not worth nearly $12 million in cap space, at least with the Chiefs sans cap room and star outside linebacker Justin Houston to re-sign.

    Hali wants to stay in Kansas City, however, per Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star:

    At this stage of my career, it isn’t about money. The Kansas City Chiefs have taken care of me, financially. I have some good people in my corner that have positioned me to be able to live a lifestyle a lot of people won’t be able to live. So I’m not one of those guys who gets all bent out of shape over money. I love playing the game, I want to win a championship in Kansas City.

    If money is going to be a hindrance in doing that, we’ll find a way … we’ve got to get Justin (Houston) paid and get our guys, Dee Ford, ready to be playing at a higher level … but we’ve got to get Houston paid, I’m optimistic about that … that’s something we’ve got to get done.

    So perhaps Hali will stick around after all. He'll need to take a mighty big paycut to stay though.

Miami Dolphins

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    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Mike Wallace

    The salary-cap situation is bleak in Miami, just a year removed from being one of the best in the league.

    A big reason for that is ballooning cap numbers thanks to certain contract structures. One of those contracts with an engorged cap number belongs to wide receiver Mike Wallace.

    On the one hand, Wallace was tied for eighth in the league at his position with 10 touchdown receptions this season. The Dolphins will miss that kind of production if his replacement is unable to get into the end zone.

    On the other hand, Wallace has far underperformed to his massive $60 million contract, at times acting like the diva some perceive him to be. He has been unable to establish any sort of consistency with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Cutting Wallace would save the Dolphins just $2.5 million, unless they make it a post-June 1 cut, which would defer some dead money and save them $6.9 million this year. Trading him might be the best option—that would save Miami $5.5 million and get something in return for him.

    Of course, that is if general manager Dennis Hickey and head coach Joe Philbin are willing to part with him. They may find keeping Wallace to be a bitter pill that wards off the headache of trying to replace him.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Potential Cap Casualty: RB Adrian Peterson

    For a brief moment, Minnesota Vikings brass may have breathed a sigh of secret relief when running back Adrian Peterson declared he might retire from the NFL to pursue an Olympic career.

    Alas, the notion was short-lived, and the embattled $15.4 million running back renewed his commitment to his team.

    The Vikings may not admit it publicly, but it's likely they would have preferred the man burning a hole in the salary cap go quietly into the night. Now he may be forcing their hand in free agency.

    Cutting Peterson would save the Vikings a huge amount of cap space—$13 million after dead money, to be exact—and exorcise a public relations nightmare in one fell swoop. Sure, Peterson may still be one of the best running backs in the league—assuming his skills haven't atrophied with a year off as he hits the big 3-0 this March—but that price tag is far too high in today's market.

    Perhaps Minnesota will find a way to restructure his contract to keep him around given the running back situation isn't particularly good, but that $13 million could go a long way toward securing the future instead of hanging onto the past.

New Orleans Saints

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Marques Colston

    Despite a sparkling career with the team, this may be the end of the line for receiver Marques Colston in New Orleans.

    The Saints are in terrible shape when it comes to the salary cap, slated to be $21 million over the cap heading into the offseason. They will need to take an ax to the roster just to break even, and Colston will be the biggest branch to fall.

    Well, actually, guard Jahri Evans would be the biggest one to fall in both reality and the amount of cap space he will free up, but Colston would be the biggest name. Cutting him would save the Saints $4.3 million in 2015, and even more if it is designated a post-June 1 cut.

New England Patriots

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    Potential Cap Casualty: DT Vince Wilfork

    He may have pulled a Patriots fan out of a car wreck with one hand, but that won't buy Vince Wilfork much in the way of sympathy from emperor Bill Belichick should he deem the 33-year-old too expensive to keep.

    The big defensive tackle signed a big extension a year ago, one that includes a $4.5 million roster bonus to be paid if he is on the team when the new league year hits in March. His cap number is a whopping $8.4 million for next year, and the Patriots would save most of that if they don't exercise their team option on Wilfork before the year rolls over.

    Wilfork is a massive part of the defensive line, so it would be tough to let him go. But the Patriots currently have no cap space.

    That may be remedied if and when they sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to an extension and drastically reduce his $25 million cap number, but they may need to make more moves to add flexibility. 

New York Giants

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    Potential Cap Casualty: ILB Jon Beason

    It has been one injury after another for Giants middle linebacker Jon Beason, and they may have added up to a New York exit.

    Beason played just four games last season, the third time in four years that he has played in four or fewer games. He has a cap number north of $7 million for 2015, and cutting him straight up would save the Giants $3.5 million.

    As nice as it would be to have Beason anchoring the middle of the Giants defense, his contract may not be palatable going forward.

New York Jets

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    Potential Cap Casualty: WR Percy Harvin

    Round and round he goes. Where he lands? Nobody knows.

    Percy Harvin is on his third team in as many years, and it looks like he may be on a fourth by April. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but Harvin's $10.5 million cap number seems a bit excessive relative to his production.

    Since coming into the league, Harvin has been more potential than production, seemingly battling injury and hubris every season. He has totaled just 1,475 yards and seven touchdowns over the past three years thanks in large part to those injuries.

    If there is one thing Harvin has going for him, it's the fact that the Jets have the fourth-most cap space in 2015 despite Harvin's cap number.

Oakland Raiders

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    Potential Cap Casualty: QB Matt Schaub

    This is a no-brainer, right?

    The Oakland Raiders have zero need for a broken quarterback scheduled to make $5.5 million. They have their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr, and Tim Tebow would be a better option than Matt Schaub at this point.

    Scratch that last part, but Schaub is still useless.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Potential Cap Casualty: CB Cary Williams

    At any given moment during a Philadelphia Eagles game, you might find a contingent of Philly fans taking Cary Williams' name in vain, at least if social media was any indication.

    That's because the oft-maligned cornerback could be seen giving up big plays, having given up five touchdowns while intercepting just two passes last season.

    His cap number is $8.2 million for 2015. The Eagles have a decent amount of cap space with around $20 million, but the $6.5 million they would save by cutting Williams would go a long way elsewhere.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: S Troy Polamalu

    The Steelers and safety Troy Polamalu were in a similar position last offseason.

    Pittsburgh was in a cap crunch, and Polamalu was slated to make too much money. It seemed possible the Steelers stalwart would become a victim of circumstance, but the two sides were able to work out a deal to keep him with the team.

    A similar situation has arisen in 2015, with Polamalu's cap number set for $8.25 million and the Steelers low on cap space yet again. Loyalty may not save him this time, however.

    No longer the elite safety he once was, Polamalu may be hurting his team on the field as well as in its coffers. Pro Football Focus rated him in the middle of the pack last season as he gave up a quarterback rating of 120.7 on passes thrown his direction.

    Polamalu will be 34 this offseason, and his declining play doesn't merit his vaunted cap number. The Steelers would save $6 million if they designated him a post-June 1 cut.

San Diego Chargers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OLB Jarret Johnson

    The San Diego Chargers have a trio of underperforming outside linebackers in Jarret Johnson, Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram.

    One of those is still a developing youngster, while the other one may be a declining veteran on the verge of retiring. Johnson is stuck in the middle—though not far behind Freeney at 33—making the most money of them all.

    Unfortunately, Johnson hasn't been great. He slipped in 2014 to be one of the worst-rated 3-4 outside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus, notching just one sack and 50 total tackles on the season.

    Even if Freeney retires or simply signs elsewhere, the Chargers have another youngster in Jeremiah Attaochu to plug in. Johnson's age and $7.5 million cap number are likely to doom him. The Chargers will save $5 million by cutting him.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OLB Ahmad Brooks

    The San Francisco 49ers reportedly considered trading Ahmad Brooks to the Cleveland Browns last season, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports. Now they may have to simply cut bait.

    Brooks was one of the worst starters on that once-vaunted defense last season—one of the worst outside linebackers in the entire league according to Pro Football Focus, in fact—and cutting him would save the 49ers about $4.1 million. 

    With Aaron Lynch shining as a rookie, there is little reason to keep declining Brooks.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Potential Cap Casualty: RB Marshawn Lynch

    Is Super Bowl XLIX the last hurrah for Marshawn Lynch in Seattle?

    After all, it wasn't too long ago that Lynch was in a protracted contract dispute with his employer, even apparently threatening to retire in the middle of his holdout. The Seahawks bent a bit, giving him an advance on his 2015 salary to bump up his 2014 numbers.

    There is a distinct—if remote—possibility that Lynch will retire after this season, especially if the Seahawks are unwilling to throw new money at him in an extension. Failing that, Seattle may elect to cut bait early.

    The Seahawks are better with Lynch on the field, however, and the heavy mileage in recent years has seemingly not affected his ability to carry the offense. It'll be an interesting offseason for Beast Mode, to be sure.

St. Louis Rams

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    Potential Cap Casualty: QB Sam Bradford 

    How many years does Sam Bradford have on his rookie contract? It seems like another year is secretly tacked on every time you look at it.

    This year is supposed to be his last in St. Louis—for realsies—but there is absolutely no reason for the Rams to keep him and that ungodly $16.58 million cap number.

    Bradford has been an abject disappointment since arriving in St. Louis as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. The 2014 season was supposed to be his redemption year, but yet another season-ending injury cut short a disappointing campaign

    Here we are, experiencing deja vu all over again. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OG Logan Mankins

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed to win a trade that brought former Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins down from New England for underachieving tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick.

    As usual, Bill Belichick got the last laugh.

    Wright scored six touchdowns on just 33 targets while Mankins writhed on the league's worst team. Granted, he had a fine year despite some injury scares, but now the soon-to-be 33-year-old has quite the cuttable contract. 

    Mankins has a cap number of $7 million for 2015, and cutting him would save the full amount—there would be zero penalty in doing so.

    The Buccaneers have nearly $28 million to spend heading into the offseason, so cutting Mankins or anyone else may not be necessary. Plus, general manager Jason Licht may not be ready to concede he made a bad move just yet.

Tennessee Titans

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OT Michael Oher

    Signing offensive tackle Michael Oher seemed like a bad idea at the time for the Tennessee Titans. Almost a year later, that notion was confirmed.

    Oher was once again one of the worst offensive tackles in the league, rating in the bottom 10, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Cutting him would only save the Titans $2 million, however, and they have a ton of cap space to burn this offseason. That may save Oher from the chopping block this offseason. Why keep a defunct player at any significant price, regardless of cap space, is a question best left for the salary-cap gods.

Washington

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    Potential Cap Casualty: OG Chris Chester

    Washington doesn't have many players worthy of cutting for mere cap-saving purposes. They certainly aren't going to part ways with stud left tackle Trent Williams despite the fact it would save them $12.25 million, for example.

    One guy who does fit the bill is offensive guard Chris Chester. Cutting him would save Washington $4 million, and it shouldn't be a difficult decision.

    The 32-year-old was a candidate for release a year ago, but Washington stuck it out for one more season. With a year under the belt for Spencer Long, Chester may not be long for Washington.

    All salary-cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com and assumes a $142 million salary cap for 2015.

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