Notable NFL Veterans Who Could Be Cap Casualties in 2019 Free Agency
We're quickly approaching the time of year in which we're reminded that the NFL is a business—just as cold and calculating as any other.
The league is often cruel, unforgiving and heartless, which gets exemplified when respected veterans become salary-cap casualties every February and March.
With the new league year set to launch on March 13, all 32 NFL organizations will have to consider which players are no longer worth their salaries, especially if they can generate major savings by releasing them. Some have lost starting jobs, some have begun to decline and some are simply on cap-strapped teams.
The following established NFL vets could become victims of circumstance as teams try to finesse their finances to accomplish their respective goals in free agency.
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill
It's been seven years since the Miami Dolphins used a first-round pick on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The team now appears to be ready for something new under center.
Earlier this month, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported the team is "moving on from Tannehill" this offseason, one year after it reworked his contract. Cutting Tannehill would cost Miami $13.4 million in dead cap space, but it would save the organization roughly $13.2 million.
At the age of 30, Tannehill will hit the open market with decent career numbers. He could theoretically follow in Rich Gannon's footsteps late in his career.
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles
One year after the Jacksonville Jaguars doubled down on quarterback Blake Bortles, they're reportedly planning on cutting bait on the 2014 No. 3 overall pick, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
This barely qualifies as a cap move, as releasing or trading Bortles saves Jacksonville only $4.5 million of his $21 million cap hit for 2019. But when you're as cap-strapped as the Jags are, every penny counts.
Look for the mildly intriguing 26-year-old to be a hot commodity as a backup quarterback candidate on the free-agent market.
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco
Now that 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson has emerged for the Baltimore Ravens, there's little mystery surrounding quarterback Joe Flacco's status with the team.
Following the season, head coach John Harbaugh said the former Super Bowl MVP is "going to have a market," according to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network. Considering he's an experienced gunslinger with a strong resume, that's likely true.
When the Ravens officially release the 34-year-old, they'll save $10.5 million in cap space.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will owe veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson $10 million in 2019, but none of that money is guaranteed. He's also no longer the same player he once was.
With Mike Evans the top option in the Tampa Bay offense and receiver Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard emerging in secondary pass-catching roles, the Bucs have little reason to spend that kind of money on a 32-year-old who has failed to reach the 800-yard mark in three of his last four seasons.
A lot of teams would love to have an accomplished deep threat like Jackson, even if only for a year or two.
Oakland Raiders G Kelechi Osemele
The Oakland Raiders have so much salary-cap space that they might figure it's best to keep guard Kelechi Osemele, even though he's coming off a down year. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is owed $21.9 million over the next two seasons, and the Raiders can release him at no cost this offseason.
Still, it might be tempting for Oakland to move on and go younger/cheaper at that position, especially since the team is flush with draft capital as a result of last year's fire sale.
The versatile Osemele was an first-team All-Pro in 2016 and a Pro Bowler in 2017. He'd likely have a chance to earn an eight-figure annual salary in free agency, but on a shorter-term deal.
Kansas City Chiefs EDGE Justin Houston
The Kansas City Chiefs likely can't afford to pay big-money edge-rusher Justin Houston, soon-to-be free-agent pass-rusher Dee Ford and contract-year defensive end Chris Jones without neglecting the rest of their defense.
If they plan to bring back the 27-year-old Ford this spring—and indications are that they do—and keep the 24-year-old Jones next spring (they damn well should), they may strongly consider parting ways with the 30-year-old Houston before his eventual decline.
Ford and Jones each had more sacks than Houston in 2018, and the four-time Pro Bowler is due $21.1 million in 2019. The Chiefs can save $14 million by cutting him loose, which makes him a potential cap casualty.
New York Giants EDGE Olivier Vernon
It's been three years since the New York Giants signed pass-rusher Olivier Vernon to a record-setting five-year, $85 million deal in free agency. The Giants paid him $54 million over those three seasons, and they now can get out of that contract for only $8 million, which would save them $11.5 million in 2019 cap space.
The 28-year-old hasn't lived up to his contract. He has only 22 sacks and four forced fumbles in three seasons with the G-Men, and he's missed nine games over the last two years. This might be a good time for the reloading Giants to move on and spend their money elsewhere.
Pass-rushers are valued highly enough that Vernon would likely command another lucrative deal on the open market, although it figures to be shorter-term.
Minnesota Vikings EDGE Everson Griffen
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was a 13-sack Pro Bowler in 2017, but he struggled while dealing with off-field issues last season. Meanwhile, the younger Danielle Hunter established himself as the team's premier pass-rusher.
Since the Vikings are low on cap space and are in desperate need of a tuneup along the offensive line, they may decide to wave goodbye to Griffen's eight-figure salary and turn things over to promising young defensive end Stephen Weatherly opposite Hunter.
Cutting Griffen would save the Vikes over $10 million in 2019, while the 31-year-old's market could be limited by the events that unfolded in 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy
Following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy spoke about his time with the team in the past tense. So it was hardly surprising when ESPN.com's Jenna Laine wrote last month that there's a "real chance" the six-time Pro Bowler is done in Tampa.
The 2010 No. 3 overall pick has often been good but rarely great in recent years, and he's failed to dominate enough to put the Bucs over the top. Tampa Bay can get out of paying him $13 million at no dead-cap cost, and a team with limited cap space and several other holes has to strongly consider doing so.
McCoy would still be a relatively hot commodity, but there's no way the soon-to-be 31-year-old is getting anything in the $13 million range at this point.
Jacksonville Jaguars CB A.J. Bouye
It was only two years ago that the Jacksonville Jaguars gave cornerback A.J. Bouye a megadeal. But now Bouye is the second-best corner on the roster and the Jags are under water when it comes to the cap.
They can save more than $9 million by cutting Bouye, who excelled in a contract year in Houston in 2016 and then again in his maiden season with the Jags in 2017 but performed poorly for much of the 2018 season. Per Pro Football Focus, the 27-year-old allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete more than 67 percent of their passes into his coverage. His PFF grade was still strong, but his interception total plummeted from six to one.
The Jags will probably have to part ways with at least one veteran defensive player, and Bouye might be the best of those candidates.
Los Angeles Rams CBs Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib
If the Rams plan to re-sign key free agents Rodger Saffold, Ndamukong Suh, Lamarcus Joyner and Dante Fowler Jr., something might have to give when it comes to their top two cornerbacks.
Marcus Peters' fifth-year option is worth $9.1 million, but Peters was often a liability in 2018, and none of that money is guaranteed. Meanwhile, Aqib Talib's walk year is slated to cost the Rams $8 million, but Talib's best days are behind him at age 33 (happy birthday, Aqib!) and he can also be cut at no cost.
The Rams don't have any high-quality options outside, so they can't afford to part ways with both. But if they decide not to rework at least one of those deals with an extension, they might have to cut or trade one (likely Peters) and then look for a replacement early in the draft.
Peters' play-making skills would be valued on the open market, as would Talib's experience.
New England Patriots S Devin McCourty
Few expect the New England Patriots to cut ties with one of their key defensive players following a Super Bowl run, but part of the reason the Pats dynasty has been successful is the team buys low and sells high and has a ruthless approach to roster management.
McCourty will be 32 before he plays another game, and the Patriots can save nearly $10 million by releasing or trading him ahead of the final year of his current contract. If there's a chance he'll get away next offseason anyway, this might be the time to move on and spend that extra cash elsewhere.
Plus, defending Super Bowl champs often fetch inflated deals on the trade or free-agent markets.
Other Notable Players Worth Mentioning
Buffalo Bills RB LeSean McCoy: The Bills can save more than $6 million by cutting the fading 30-year-old ahead of the final year of his current contract. But there probably wouldn't be much of a market for McCoy at this point.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham: The 32-year-old former star appears to be running out of gas. The Packers have to admit they made a mistake and pocket more than $5 million by releasing him this offseason. Another option is to wait until June 1 to spread out Graham's $7.3 million dead cap hit over a two-year span.
Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph: If the Vikings are looking to raise money to rebuild their terrible offensive line, the 29-year-old can join Griffen on the chopping block before costing the team $7.6 million in a walk year.
Minnesota Vikings OT Riley Reiff: Speaking of that bad offensive line, Minnesota has overpaid Reiff the last two years. Now they can move on and save more than $5 million against the 2019 cap.
Arizona Cardinals OT D.J. Humphries: The 2015 first-round pick has been a complete bust at left tackle. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury should lobby for the team to drop Humphries before having to honor his non-guaranteed $9.6 million fifth-year option.
Houston Texans EDGE Whitney Mercilus: The Texans have plenty of cap space but have to deal with impending free agents Jadeveon Clowney, Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson on defense. They're already paying big bucks to J.J. Watt, Benardrick McKinney and Aaron Colvin on that side of the ball. They can at least save more than $6 million by releasing Mercilus ahead of a contract year.
Los Angeles Rams EDGE Michael Brockers: If the Rams keep Fowler and aren't willing to cut Peters or Talib, it could be hard to justify paying the good-not-great Brockers $10.8 million for a walk year.
Jacksonville Jaguars DTs Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson: The Jags probably won't want to cut Bouye, leaving Dareus and Jackson as candidates for release. The former is due to make $10.6 million but can be released at no cost, while the latter is scheduled to make $15 million with a dead cap hit of $4 million if he's cut. Remember, Jacksonville used a first-round pick on defensive tackle Taven Bryan just last year.
Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee: The 32-year-old has become redundant in Dallas thanks to the rise of young linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. No way the Cowboys will pay him $10.1 million for a walk year.
Tennessee Titans CB Logan Ryan: The 28-year-old former Patriots ballhawk has been allergic to interceptions during his first two seasons with the Titans. With Malcolm Butler and Adoree' Jackson already on the cornerback depth chart, Tennessee could opt to save $10 million by waving goodbye to Ryan ahead of a contract year.