NFL's Biggest Potential Offseason Cap Casualties and Where They Could Land Next
The 2020 NFL free-agent pool is shaping up to be an impressive one. With players like Tom Brady, Jadeveon Clowney, Emmanuel Sanders, Derrick Henry and Jack Conklin potentially hitting the open market, teams looking for an influx of talent should be able to find it.
As good as the current pool already is, though, it's likely to get even deeper between now and the start of free agency on March 18.
As teams work to reshape their salary-cap situations, players will inevitably be released. While many will be players on the decline, some will still have plenty to offer. Last offseason, for example, the Kansas City Chiefs parted with pass-rusher Justin Houston, who went on to tally 44 tackles, 11.0 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first year with the Indianapolis Colts.
Which players might go from being expendable cap casualties to prize free-agent targets this offseason? Let's take a look.
Tevin Coleman, RB, San Francisco 49ers
While running back Tevin Coleman was a valuable member of the San Francisco 49ers offense in 2019—he had 724 combined rushing and receiving yards during the regular season—he could be expendable. The 49ers have two other quality backs in Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida, who will become a restricted free agent. They could save a fair bit of cash by parting with Coleman.
Coleman is set to carry a cap hit of $4.9 million, and none of that is yet guaranteed. With just under $20 million in projected cap space and players like Arik Armstead and Emmanuel Sanders set to hit free agency and Kyle Juszczyk on a club option in 2020, San Francisco could use another $5 million in wiggle room.
The Atlanta Falcons could show interest in bringing Coleman back after averaging just 85.1 rushing yards per game as a team last season. Coleman would make sense for just about any squad seeking a dual-threat running back, though.
The Miami Dolphins and new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who runs a West Coast-based offense, could be particularly well-suited for Coleman.
Potential Destinations: Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins
Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are expected to have nearly $22 million in cap space, though releasing tight end Jimmy Graham would free up another $8 million. Doing so could prove necessary, as key players like Bryan Bulaga, Mason Crosby and Blake Martinez are scheduled to become free agents.
While Graham is still a capable pass-catching tight end—he had 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019—he isn't the dominant playmaker he once was.
Green Bay would be better off getting younger at the position, but several tight end-needy teams could use Graham's services.
The New England Patriots, who failed to find a replacement for the retired Rob Gronkowski last season, would be an obvious choice, though they too may look to go younger. A return to the Seattle Seahawks would also make sense, given Will Dissly's injury history. A two-tight end scheme involving Graham and Jacob Hollister could be dangerous.
Potential Destinations: New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks
Marcell Dareus, DT, Jacksonvile Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus may be the most obvious cap casualty on this list. The Jaguars are projected to be over the salary cap and can save $20 million by parting with Dareus. This is money that could be used to retain star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
"It's a deal that we feel like could take a little bit of time but should be done hopefully relatively easily," general manager David Caldwell said about bringing back Ngakoue, per the team's official website.
If the Jaguars are picking between the two defenders, the 24-year-old Ngakoue should get the clear edge.
While Dareus will be 30 at the start of the season and is coming off of core muscle surgery, he could be a quality add for a team needing defensive line help. The New York Jets, who traded away Leonard Williams during the season, could be an option, and the New York Giants, who could potentially lose Williams in free agency, could also be interested.
Potential Destinations: New York Jets, New York Giants
Olivier Vernon, DE, Cleveland Browns
While the Cleveland Browns aren't in a bad situation—they're projected to have nearly $49 million in cap space—edge-rusher Olivier Vernon could still be a casualty.
Vernon is set to make $15.5 million in 2020 with none of it guaranteed. He was acquired by the former regime and was a bit underwhelming in his first season with the Browns. Injuries limited him to 10 games, and he finished with just 26 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
New general manager Andrew Berry seems to be interested in having more cap space at his disposal.
"We want to aggressively acquire talent because that is the name of the game from an NFL front office perspective," Berry said at his introductory press conference, per The Athletic's Zac Jackson.
If Vernon is out, he could be a valuable pickup for any team needing a pass-rusher. A return to the Miami Dolphins, who had a league-low 23 sacks in 2019 and nearly $94 million in cap space, could be plausible.
Potential Destinations: Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks
Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins
Cornerback Josh Norman fell out of favor with the Washington Redskins in 2019, eventually being pushed out of the lineup for three of the season's final four games. New head coach Ron Rivera—who worked with Norman while both were with the Carolina Panthers—may want to keep the cornerback, but his $15.4 million salary may be too much.
Washington can save over $12 million by parting with Norman.
Washington doesn't desperately need to free up the cap space, as the team is projected to have over $40 million, but $12 million is a lot of money for someone the franchise may no longer view as a starter.
If Norman hits the open market, expect cornerback-needy teams to show interest—though perhaps not as aggressively as Washington did when it signed him to a massive deal in 2016. The rival Philadelphia Eagles could use the secondary depth—Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are both pending free agents—as could the Detroit Lions, who finished dead-last in passing yards allowed last season (284.4 per game).
Potential Destinations: Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions
Janoris Jenkins, CB, New Orleans Saints
There's almost no way cornerback Janoris Jenkins is still with the New Orleans Saints in 2020—at least on his current deal.
Jenkins was signed after being released by the New York Giants in December. He appeared in two games for the Saints during the regular season and one in the postseason. While he performed well in limited action (two passes defended, one interception), his salary is prohibitive. Jenkins is set to earn $11.3 million in 2020, none of which is guaranteed.
New Orleans is projected to have just over $12 million in cap space, and it may need that extra $11 million to re-sign Drew Brees, who already has a cap hit of roughly $21 million for a phantom year. Bringing Jenkins back on a lesser deal is entirely possible. Keeping him at his current price is not.
If the Saints don't bring Jenkins back, he could be a fine fit for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa could use depth for its 30th-ranked pass defense, and the team should have nearly $85 million to spend in free agency.
Potential Destinations: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nick Easton, C, New Orleans Saints
Center Nick Easton is also a potential cap casualty for the Saints, both because of New Orleans' cap situation and because the Saints don't need him.
Easton was brought in as insurance after Max Unger retired in March 2019. However, the Saints drafted Erik McCoy in the second round this past April, and the rookie won the starting job. Cutting Easton would only save roughly $4 million, but that's notable savings for a depth player.
If Easton does hit the market, the Patriots could be a potential suitor, depending on how well David Andrews is recovering after being placed on injured reserve last August due to blood clots in his lungs. The Los Angeles Rams, who struggle to replace John Sullivan in 2019, could be another option.
Easton is inexpensive enough that he could be back, of course, but given the shaky cap situation involving Brees, it feels likely that he'll go elsewhere.
Potential Destinations: New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams
Mark Barron, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Though he didn't steal the spotlight like rookie Devin Bush, Mark Barron was a productive inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. He appeared in 15 games, starting nine, and finished with 82 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
The issue is that the Steelers are projected to be over the cap and have critical free-agent decisions to make involving Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave. Even if the Steelers let Hargrave and Dupree walk, saving just over $5 million by cutting Barron could prove valuable because Pittsburgh isn't going to be a total bystander in free agency.
"We'll be looking for opportunities if we can to add a player we think can help us, whether it's a wide receiver or running back," team president Art Rooney II said, per the team's official website.
Barron could make sense for the Cincinnati Bengals, who had the league's worst run defense in 2019 (148.9 yards per game allowed). A return to the Rams would also work, as their 19th-ranked run defense could use a boost.
Potential Destinations: Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams
Joe Flacco, QB, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos could afford to keep quarterback Joe Flacco, as they're scheduled to have roughly $58 million in cap space. However, with Drew Lock the likely starter and restricted free agent Brandon Allen the possible backup, Flacco is also expendable.
Cutting Flacco would save the team $10 million and would prevent Lock from looking hard over his shoulder in his first full year as the starter.
While Flacco is a low-end starter at this point in his career, he could be a nice insurance/bridge option for a team with questions at the position or looking to add someone in the draft.
The Buccaneers could be an option if they choose to move on from Jameis Winston. The Chicago Bears may also kick the tires on Flacco—provided he would negotiate a low-end contract—as they continue to debate the future of Mitchell Trubisky.
Potential Destinations: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears
Tyrone Crawford, DT, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford has been one of the more reliable members of the Dallas Cowboys defense leading up to 2019. However, the 30-year-old defender only appeared in four games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery
Releasing Crawford would save Dallas $8 million, which could prove necessary. While the Cowboys are expected to have nearly $74 million in cap space, that money isn't going to last. Key players like Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Robert Quinn and Byron Jones are scheduled to hit the open market.
Given his age, recent injury and salary, Crawford could be the odd man out in Dallas. However, he could still be a fine addition for a team seeking an interior lineman with pass-rushing potential (23 career sacks).
A reunion with former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who recently joined the Raiders, would make a lot of sense.
Potential Destinations: Las Vegas Raiders, New York Jets
Contract and cap information via Spotrac.