Predicting the NFL's Most Surprising Cuts of the 2020 Offseason
The shocking big-name cuts may only just be getting started as the NFL heads toward free agency.
The Washington Redskins got out in front of most teams, showing notables like Josh Norman and Paul Richardson Jr. the door. The Cleveland Browns also got in on the action during what is apparently a cutting window of the calendar.
Timing is everything during this precarious period for NFL veterans. As front offices round out offseason roster-building plans, age, performance and monetary figures all fall under evaluation. Plenty of big names could follow and join the free-agent pool soon.
The following players are cut candidates thanks to a mixture of those factors, but they'd also be surprises based on name recognition and the suddenness of these roster moves.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Jacoby Brissett didn't win over the Indianapolis Colts in the wake of Andrew Luck's retirement.
After getting a two-year extension last September, Brissett completed 60.9 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. If the Colts feel like now is the time to upgrade, it wouldn't be hard to blame the front office, hence general manager Chris Ballard sounding wishy-washy on the topic.
Cutting Brissett outright would be costly, but pretty much any number isn't going to faze a front office that has about $86 million in cap space and has been mostly conservative in the way it splurges on free agents.
If that changes at quarterback through the signing of someone like Philip Rivers or Teddy Bridgewater, the Colts couldn't justify having two massive contracts at the same position. It would be better to save what they could and end things early, perhaps letting Brissett get another shot elsewhere at the same time.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
It seems rather clear the marriage between Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals has run its course.
The Bengals benched Dalton last season so a new head coach could see what he had in rookie Ryan Finley, then they went back to him. But the damage there was done, and the team now holds the first overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft, putting it in position to take its preferred passer.
It sure feels like the Bengals will try to find a trade partner for Dalton. That sounds good, especially given his 2020 cap hit of $17.7 million. But a strong free-agent market (Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, etc.) and the fact there's no guaranteed money left on Dalton's deal means the Bengals hold little leverage.
If quarterback-needy teams are willing to wait for the Bengals to cut Dalton with no cap hit whatsoever, it could be hard for the organization to find any sort of worthwhile return via trade. The plan clearly calls for a reset under center, so the Bengals might end up cutting their losses sooner than most think if the trade lines don't drum up anything interesting.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
But the fit just never materialized.
Graham caught only 55 of his 89 targets and scored twice during his first season with the Packers. Then he didn't take much of a leap under the guidance of an offensive-minded head coach like Matt LaFleur, catching 38 of 60 targets with three scores in 2019.
Going into his age-34 season, Graham is an $11.7 million cap hit for a team that has about $22 million to work with. The Packers have also shown recently they don't mind spending big in order to compete, so that might not even be close to enough available money.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
As the debate about the valuation of running backs rages on, David Johnson's situation with the Arizona Cardinals could now step into the limelight.
Arizona signed Johnson to a three-year extension worth $39 million before the 2018 season, making him a cap hit north of $14 million this year with little in the way of monetary savings if the team cuts him.
And yet, the Cardinals might end up pulling a shocker anyway.
Johnson, 28, didn't hit 1,000 yards over 16 games in 2018 and regressed further in 2019 while a new coaching staff shied away from him. He finished just third on the team in rushing yards, turning 94 looks into 345 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and two scores.
With Arizona likely doing whatever it takes to keep Kenyan Drake around, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Johnson is a possible second- or third-string back at this point. Unless a team with droves of cap space offers to inhale his salary in exchange for a draft pick, the Cardinals could throw their hands up and just show him the door.
Reshad Jones, DB, Miami Dolphins
One might think the Miami Dolphins can't afford to bleed any more talent, but Reshad Jones is an interesting case.
He'll soon be 32 years old and stands alone atop Miami's current salary chart. His cap hit of more than $15.5 million (never mind the hits of $14.5 and $12 million the following two seasons) chews up more than 7 percent of the team's cap space.
That might not be such a big deal if Jones wasn't fading as perhaps the last standout from an older version of these Dolphins. The veteran didn't register a pick last year and allowed 10 catches on 12 targets over his four games, two of them going for scores. That last number matched his 2018 figure, which was earned over 14 games and 41 targets.
The trio of money, injury and declining production means Jones could be a potential cut for a team that looks like it doesn't have wiggle room to lose much else, though the Dolphins have surprised in this regard recently.
Mohamed Sanu Sr., WR, New England Patriots
Mohamed Sanu Sr. seemed like a dream addition for the New England Patriots after all else had failed at wideout. His demeanor and resume screamed "Patriot Way," and his body of work spoke for itself.
But the potential never showed itself, and Sanu struggled to make much of an impact in a Tom Brady-led attack. Over eight games, he caught just 26 passes for 207 yards and a single score. In the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, he managed just one catch for 11 yards on five targets.
A regression might be in full swing for a wideout who turns 31 in August.
Over his 2019 journey with two teams (the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons), Sanu saw nearly as many targets as in his 2018 campaign (89 vs. 94), yet he saw his first downs (30 vs. 40) and other metrics dip. His drop percentage jumped from 3.2 to 6.7.
Now the Patriots have to decide how to tackle the position, which includes Sanu's single remaining season at $6.5 million. Given how costly a Brady extension could be, never mind everything else, the front office might covet that cash.
Nate Solder, OT, New York Giants
It feels like just yesterday that Nate Solder was holding down Tom Brady's blind side in New England. Teams aren't letting top-line talent get away these days, either, and that's an especially important point for a New York Giants team that needs to protect Daniel Jones.
And yet, Solder has yet to match the big-money contract the Giants gave him in 2018, which checked in at north of $60 million over just four years. Now 31, he's a $19.5 million cap hit with $13 million as dead money, and he still has one more year remaining after that.
Per Pro Football Focus, the veteran checked in with a 64.7 grade and allowed 11 sacks, which doesn't mesh well with the highest cap charge of any left tackle in the NFL.
The Giants don't have a guaranteed replacement, yet it would probably be better for the team to get out from underneath this contract now.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Cleveland Browns
Olivier Vernon is a big name, but he didn't end up having a big impact during his first season with the Cleveland Browns.
Vernon played in just 10 games, tallying all of 3.5 sacks in the process. That's a regression from at least seven sacks in each of his four prior seasons, even including ones in which he missed plenty of time.
Speaking of missing time, Vernon heads into his age-30 season with 15 missed games over his last three years. Normally that wouldn't be a red flag given some of his production with the New York Giants while missing as many as five contests in a season, but he's a $15.5 million cap hit in 2020.
The Browns aren't technically hurting for cap space, but an urge to get younger might persist with a new coaching staff in place. Even given his body of work over the last few seasons, the cap charge is also entirely too big when the money could be applied elsewhere.