A Look at Early NFL Cap Casualties and Where They Could Land

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 14, 2016

A Look at Early NFL Cap Casualties and Where They Could Land

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    How about a little early shopping?

    It’s early in the process, but a few teams have already started trimming their rosters in an attempt to open up some cap room. There will be many more to come as teams prepare for the start of the NFL’s new fiscal year next month.

    The 10 players this piece have recently been released by their teams. These players (listed in team alphabetical order) can be signed immediately—organizations don’t have to wait for the start of the free-agency period on March 9.

    Confused? These players' current contracts have been terminated, making them “street” free agents. For those who are wondering if you will find someone such as Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte in the piece (who won’t be re-signed by his team, according to him on Instagram via ESPN.com), his current contract doesn’t expire until March 9.

    So where could these 10 pros end up? Citing possible needs for a few teams, we’re going to take a few educated guesses here.

OLB Justin Durant (Released by Atlanta Falcons)

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    Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

    Although it was far better than it was the previous season when it gave up the most total yards in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons defense (ranked 16th in the league) didn’t strike a lot of fear into the opposition in 2015.

    This past week, the team parted ways with a pair of defenders, including outside linebacker Justin Durant. This past season, his only one with the Falcons, Durant finished second on the Falcons with 82 tackles and also recorded three passes defensed and one forced fumble.

    Pro Football Focus ranked 90 outside linebackers in the 4-3 scheme, and Durant finished at No. 85. The nine-year veteran, who has had stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and Falcons, could be a nice addition for a club that doesn't need a starter but could benefit from his versatility in terms of playing both outside and inside.

    Possible 2016 Team: Baltimore Ravens

SS William Moore (Released by Atlanta Falcons)

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    We already mentioned that the Atlanta Falcons had released two players this past week. The second had a lot more tenure with the team.

    In seven seasons with the franchise, strong safety William Moore totaled 16 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, earning a Pro Bowl invitation in 2012. In 2013, he started and played in all 16 games and enjoyed a career year with 85 tackles, five takeaways, two sacks and three forced fumbles. The rangy defender could be found all over the field.

    Over the past two seasons, it’s been just the opposite as Moore has been unable to stay on the field, being limited to 18 games. Yes, the 2009 second-round pick was Atlanta’s sixth-leading tackler in 2015 with 51 stops, adding two interceptions, one forced fumble and four passes defensed in 11 games. But third-year pro Kemal Ishmael is the heir apparent at the position.

    As for Moore, he could find a home in the desert with a team that signed a couple of his ex-teammates last offseason and could potentially lose starting strong safety Rashad Johnson in free agency.

    Possible 2016 Team: Arizona Cardinals

DE Quinton Coples (Released by Miami Dolphins)

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    He was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft. In 46 games during his first three seasons with the New York Jets, defensive end/outside linebacker Quinton Coples totaled 16.5 sacks.

    However, he was given his walking papers this past November and spent the final six games of the season with the Miami Dolphins. Coples did not record a sack in 2015 and was let go by Miami late last week. But keep in mind that he was a member of Rex Ryan’s Jets for those first three seasons when he garnered that respectable sack total.

    Since he’s familiar with Ryan’s system, it would make perfect sense for Buffalo to give him a look—especially when you consider that the talented Bills totaled only 21 sacks in 2015 and defensive end Mario Williams’ future with the club may be shaky indeed.

    Talk about a perfect scenario—considering that Coples has now spent time with both the Jets and Dolphins, that’s four games that the Bills head coach won’t have to worry about deciding on who one of the team captains will be.

    Possible 2016 Team: Buffalo Bills

CB Brice McCain (Released by Miami Dolphins)

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    Last offseason, cornerback Brice McCain signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Miami Dolphins. In 14 games with the club, he recorded 39 tackles and one interception and finished second on the team with 10 passes defensed.

    Roughly one year later, he’s back on the open market as the team transitions to its newest coaching staff. Admittedly, he was close to the bottom of the cornerback rankings in the league but could find himself back on a roster sooner than later.

    As we have seen with numerous teams, there’s nothing like going back home. While McCain was originally a seventh-round draft choice with the Houston Texans in 2009, his best season interception-wise came in 2014 with Mike Tomlin’s team. And since there’s a need for help at cornerback in the Steel City…

    Possible 2016 Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

G Jahri Evans (Released by New Orleans Saints)

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It was a forgettable 2015 season for the Indianapolis Colts, who finished 8-8 and out of the postseason for the first time since 2011. But even when the team was going to the playoffs three straight years under quarterback Andrew Luck, the offensive line was a sore spot both in terms of run blocking and pass protection.

    So how about adding a little experience and toughness to this unit courtesy of a six-time Pro Bowler? New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans played in a career-low 11 games this past season (all starts at right guard), but it’s hard to ignore his impressive resume.

    The fourth-round pick from unheralded Bloomsburg University (Penn.) is a four-time First-Team All-Pro, and while his play in terms of run blocking was below standards last season, the veteran has more than his share of football life left in him and could be a great influence on a line loaded with young players.

    Evans’ agent, Jerrold Colton, gave the primary reason his client is no longer with the team from the Crescent City.

    “The Saints came to us for the second year in a row about doing a little contract adjustment and pay cut this year,” said Colton to Philadelphia radio station WIP last week (h/t Evan Woodbery of NOLA.com) “We weren’t going to do it again."

    As far as Evans’ next move, Colton added that “he’s healthy and hungry and looking forward to the next chapter of his career.”

    Possible 2016 Team: Indianapolis Colts

LB David Hawthorne (Released by New Orleans Saints)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    After finishing second on the team in tackles in back-to-back seasons, New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne played in only 11 games and made just five starts in 2015. He totaled 33 tackles but did lead the club with three forced fumbles.

    The former undrafted free agent was recently cut loose by the Saints after four seasons. Hawthorne has joined New Orleans in 2012 after four years with the Seattle Seahawks. He’s played both inside and outside and in multiple schemes in eight NFL seasons, although being a member of a team that has finished next-to-last in the league in total defense two consecutive years isn’t the ideal thing to have on your resume.

    Still, Hawthorne’s versatility is an asset to any club that is looking for experience and depth at the position, particularly one in its second season with a new defensive coordinator and scheme.

    Possible 2016 Team: Chicago Bears

T Will Beatty (Released by New York Giants)

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    After Will Beatty served as the New York Giants’ primary left tackle for four seasons, James Kratch of NJ.com reminds us that he missed all of the 2015 campaign with a torn pectoral muscle last spring and was unable to get back on the field.

    Last week, the Giants released the 2009 second-round draft choice, and he is obviously now free to sign with another club. But can he still be an asset?

    The San Diego Chargers are set at left tackle with veteran King Dunlap, but the offensive line has had its share of injuries in recent seasons and is in dire need of depth. The Bolts also have several potential unrestricted free agents up front and Beatty could be a useful addition if he is healthy.

    Possible 2016 Team: San Diego Chargers

G Geoff Schwartz (Released by New York Giants)

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    A seventh-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2008, the versatile Geoff Schwartz has carved out a nice career for a player taken with the 241st overall selection that spring.

    While he’s started only 16 games once during his NFL tenure, he’s been a starter at nearly every spot along the offensive line. In 2015, he was the New York Giants' starting right guard for 10 games and opened at left guard in one contest. He was rated as one of the better run-blocking performers at his position this past season.

    However, the Giants opted to part ways with Schwartz, who played in only 13 games in two seasons after signing with them in 2014. The fact that he can line up at numerous positions is a plus for any club—especially one that has three potential unrestricted free agents (left tackle Russell Okung, right guard J.R. Sweezy and center Lemuel Jeanpierre) who could hit the open market in March.

    Possible 2016 Team: Seattle Seahawks

WR Riley Cooper (Released by Philadelphia Eagles)

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    When it comes to the wide receiver position as of late, the Philadelphia Eagles have had their share of standouts…as well as changes at the position.

    Over the past few seasons, DeSean Jackson was cut loose, and Jeremy Maclin signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, add Riley Cooper, let go by the Birds last week, to the list.

    After being thrown to a combined 178 times and hauling in 102 balls for 1,412 yards and 11 scores the previous two seasons, Cooper played in 16 games, made 13 starts, was targeted only 41 times and totaled a mere 21 receptions for 327 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.

    It’s hardly unusual for a coach to bring in a player he’s familiar with. And with veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin slated to hit free agency next month, it may make sense for head coach Chip Kelly to enlist the aid of a performer who is accustomed to his system. Jack Windham of Inquisitr.com has similar thoughts as well.

    Quarterback Nick Foles, currently with the Los Angeles Rams, had his share of moments with Cooper as well in Philadelphia. But his status with Jeff Fisher’s team seems shaky at best, so we’ll go with the safer option.

    Possible 2016 Team: San Francisco 49ers

FS Michael Griffin (Released by Tennessee Titans)

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    Over the last few weeks, the Oakland Raiders released and then re-signed strong safety Nate Allen, while veteran defender Charles Woodson retired after 18 NFL seasons with both the Silver and Black and the Green Bay Packers.

    The Raiders finished 26th in the league in pass defense this past season and could use some additional help in the secondary, which means adding two-time Pro Bowl free safety Michael Griffin would be logical. The Titans released him last week.

    In nine seasons with the Tennessee Titans, the 2007 first-round pick totaled 31 takeaways (25 interceptions, six fumble recoveries) and seven career sacks. He could help Ken Norton Jr.’s defense in a big way as both a player and a veteran leader.

    Possible 2016 Team: Oakland Raiders

    All free-agent and salary-cap information, as well as 2016 transactions, are courtesy of Spotrac. Team salary-cap figures change on a daily basis. 

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus.