Big-Name NFL Players Who Could Get Cut This Offseason
As impending free agents, some players are prepared to hit the open market and earn more money on new deals. In other cases, teams will cut big-name veterans in order to clear cap space.
Technically, production isn't the bottom line in the NFL. Salary plays a significant factor in roster decisions. Before the calendar year turns in March, front office executives consult with coaches and assess the team's cap space. Did a starter with a lucrative contract underperform? What will he cost to keep around next year?
Oftentimes, the answers to those questions dictate the fate of notable talents in the league, which includes those with an All-Pro or Pro Bowl season on their resume and primary starters. Within months, key contributors may need to look for work elsewhere before the beginning of the 2019 campaign.
Among the established veterans, who could be phased out because of subpar production or become a cap casualty?
QB Eli Manning, New York Giants
Quarterback Eli Manning has a no-trade clause, which gives him some leverage, but the New York Giants can save $17 million if they release the 38-year-old signal-caller, per Over the Cap. Despite the inconsistencies, he finished the 2018 campaign completing 66 percent of his passes with only 11 interceptions.
If general manager Dave Gettleman plans to select a quarterback to succeed Manning, it's best to keep the established veteran on the roster for the final year of his deal. However, Big Blue may also opt to acquire a signal-caller with starting experience such as Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco or even Nick Foles, who crossed paths with Pat Shurmur (as an offensive coordinator) between the 2013-14 seasons in Philadelphia.
The decision to bring in a veteran quarterback would likely initiate a plan to part ways with Manning. When asked if he'll suit up with the team for the upcoming term, the Giants signal-caller gave a simple answer, per Art Stapleton of The Record. "I don't know. I've not got into that or thought much about that," he said.
Whether it's a rookie or veteran, we could see a new face taking snaps under center for Big Blue in 2019.
QB Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Barring a change in plans, it's the end of the road for Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Jaguars will move on from the 26-year-old quarterback. He spoke on his uncertain future before the regular-season finale against the Houston Texans, via ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco:
"The toughest part about it is you have no idea," he said. "It's not like anybody tells me anything or talks to my agent or tells him what they're going to do with me, so it's kind of just unknown."
It's hard to imagine a club would trade for Bortles with $16.5 million in dead cap left over the last two years of his deal. If the Jaguars sign and draft a quarterback, the fifth-year signal-caller would likely find himself on the open market in May.
Bortles isn't a hot veteran name at his position, but he should land a job rather quickly because of his starting experience. Furthermore, the Jaguars QB had a decent showing during the team's playoff run. He threw for 594 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions during the 2018 postseason with his best performance in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
WR Demaryius Thomas, Houston Texans
The Denver Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas to the Texans before the October 30 deadline. In seven appearances with his new team, he logged 23 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns but tore his Achilles in Week 16.
The 31-year-old still hopes to play in 2019, per Aaron Wilson of Houston Chronicle. "I can still play, man," he said. "I'm not thinking about retirement. I just don't know where it will be. I told them I would love to finish my career here, but we'll see."
Assuming Will Fuller V makes a full recovery from an ACL tear and Keke Coutee shakes off a nagging hamstring injury, the Texans won't have room for Thomas at his pay rate. He'll carry a $14 million cap hit into the 2019 season, which equals DeAndre Hopkins' number.
The youth at wide receiver paired with Thomas' age and salary likely lead to a parting between the four-time Pro Bowler and the Texans. His established resume should help him land a roster spot elsewhere.
WR DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
At 32 years old, wide receiver DeSean Jackson can still burn defenders downfield. Despite a quiet finish to the 2018 term, he led the league in yards per reception (18.9).
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired a new head coach in Bruce Arians, and though his primary objective will focus on developing quarterback Jameis Winston, he's trying to convince Jackson to stay with the team, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The three-time Pro Bowler expressed interest in moving on, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Winston didn't have a solid connection with Jackson during the season. The deep-threat pass-catcher posted his best numbers while catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick will become a free agent in March, and there's a spotlight on Winston, which doesn't bode well for Jackson's outlook in Tampa Bay. He also carries a $10 million cap hit next year. For that reason, along with the need to retain a developing talent, Greg Auman of The Athletic doesn't see the 11th-year veteran suiting up for the Buccaneers:
"I would be surprised if he's back, given the cap constraints the Bucs are under and how much flexibility they'll want to have to add key new players, especially on defense," he wrote. "They have to decide how much they're willing to pay to keep Adam Humphries as well."
The Buccaneers will have lead wide receiver Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and possibly Humphries rounding out the top three at the position.
DT Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars
As the Jaguars figure out how to address the quarterback position, the front office will need to increase financial flexibility. According to Spotrac, Jacksonville will have a projected minus-$7.6 million in cap space.
The Jaguars may opt to select a quarterback in the draft and focus on his progress. As secondary priorities, the team must add depth across the offensive line and identify a starting right guard if A.J. Cann signs elsewhere during free agency.
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson will have a $15 million cap number, but the Jaguars can save $11 million if he's released. After losing his starting job in December, he realizes his time in Jacksonville could be ending in the coming months, per Daniel Popper of The Athletic.
"I love this place," he said. "Despite how it ended, this place gave me an opportunity, and I will always thank them for that. Dave Caldwell brought me in here. He was my guy. So I thank him for that. It's not going to be any bad blood. I can't let the situation at hand dictate how I feel, because that's not how I feel. Thank you, Jacksonville."
Based on Jackson's comments, he's clearly looking toward new beginnings. The 29-year-old finished with modest production this year, logging 27 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks.
DE Robert Quinn, Miami Dolphins
Robert Quinn led the Miami Dolphins in sacks (6.5), but it may not be enough to keep his roster spot. The All-Pro defensive end will have a $12.9 million cap hit next season, but the team can recoup the entire amount by voiding his contract.
The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson expects the Dolphins to release Quinn. General manager Chris Grier will take a hands-on approach in football operations while Mike Tannenbaum shifts to another role. The changes within the front office indicate a renewed vision—one that may turn the page on the trade that brought Quinn to Miami during the offseason.
For Quinn, it's not about production—it's his high cap number that would price him out of Miami. The Dolphins have holes to fill across both sides of their front lines in the trenches. Grier and company will probably address those holes with cheaper talents coming out of the draft and a few bargain-bin veterans capable of holding starting roles.
LB Jamie Collins, Cleveland Browns
Looking at his overall numbers, linebacker Jamie Collins put together a solid campaign, logging 73 solo tackles, four sacks, four pass breakups and an interception in 16 starts. However, there are details beyond the statistics that fill in some blind spots.
According to Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Collins lacked consistency in his mental approach and physical ability. "Collins just seemed distant in some games," he wrote. "Maybe his knee is still not 100 percent following major surgery in 2017. He just didn't seem as quick as when he played for New England."
In a separate excerpt, Jake Burns of the team's official website posted video breakdowns (h/t BrownsFilmBDN Twitter handle), highlighting Collins' missteps against the run. "Collins' problem is that he is too often easily walled off against oncoming blockers," he wrote. "Collins allows opposing linemen to get into his chest too easily and dictate his body angle. He rarely defeats blocks while maintaining gap responsibility, and it leads to open running lanes for running backs."
Collins' play, when examined closely on film, forces the Browns to measure his $11.8 million cap hit against his playmaking ability. Among all linebackers, he's sixth in average yearly salary ($12.5 million). Cleveland can save $9.3 million if he's released.
In an effort to improve the league's 28th-ranked run defense, the Browns may look elsewhere for cheaper second-level support.
EDGE Nick Perry, Green Bay Packers
We'll find out how much patience the Green Bay Packers have for an underachieving pass-rusher, who's going to list within the top five in cap hits at his position.
During the 2016 campaign, as a primary starter for the first time in his career, Nick Perry broke out with 11 sacks. He signed a five-year, $59 million extension in the following offseason. His production nosedived in subsequent years.
In 2017, Perry needed surgery on his hand, but ankle and shoulder injuries derailed his season. This year, a knee ailment limited him to nine starts. In total, he's missed 11 games over the last two terms. The seventh-year veteran is coming off his most ineffective campaign as a pass-rusher with 1.5 sacks.
Typically, subpar production plus injuries place players on the chopping block. The Packers owe Perry $11.1 million in dead cash over the next three years. The team can designate him as a post-June 1 cut and save $10.7 million in the upcoming year.
In the case of a post-June 1 cut, the front office would miss out on using the extra money during the first waves of free agency. The cash would allow the team to target mid-to-late offseason cuts capable of contributing to the roster or absorb a costly contract via trade.
Player contract details provided by Spotrac.com.
Team cap-space savings and details provided by Over the Cap.