The 7 Biggest Names Who Could Still Get Cut in the 2020 NFL Offseason
When some veterans look at their team's depth chart or salary cap situation, they know what's coming during the offseason. Oftentimes, the writing is on the wall, and it says, "Your time here is up."
For most players, competition doesn't end after the season finale or a playoff game. General managers are constantly on the lookout for roster upgrades, which puts fringe starters, backups and those recovering from injury on notice. A veteran could lose his job after one down season.
Some teams make immediate cuts during the first few waves of free agency. Other clubs hold off until after the draft when executives and coaches have a complete picture of the offseason roster.
Several big-name players should keep their eyes on the transaction wire. If they've underperformed, lost their starting job, missed several games in recent seasons or play a position with good depth, general managers may cut them to save some cap space.
Because of one of the reasons above, the eight starting-caliber players below could be on the chopping block.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
In 2018, the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed Allen Robinson II to test free agency. He tore his ACL in the 2017 season opener. The club signed Marqise Lee to a four-year extension.
Lee has struggled to stay healthy over the last two years. He's landed on injured reserve in consecutive seasons because of a torn ACL with ligament damage and a shoulder injury.
Since the Jaguars signed Lee to a new contract, he's played in just six contests, recording three catches for 18 yards.
Last season, wideout DJ Chark Jr. emerged, hauling in 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in a Pro Bowl campaign. Chris Conley ranked second on the team in receiving yards (775) and touchdowns (five). Dede Westbrook has developed into a solid slot target.
John Oehser of the Jaguars' official website expects the team to release Lee this offseason.
"I do believe there is a better chance of Jaguars left guard Andrew Norwell returning next season than players such as wide receiver Marqise Lee, linebacker Jake Ryan, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, cornerback A.J. Bouye, etc," Oehser wrote. I expect the latter four to be released for salary-cap reasons, but Norwell is unknown."
Coming off two significant injuries, Lee's career development may have reached its peak between the 2016 and 2017 terms when he eclipsed 701 yards in both campaigns.
Even if Lee bounces back, the 28-year-old may post modest numbers because Chark, Westbrook and Conley have established rapports with projected starting quarterback Gardner Minshew II.
If the Jaguars wipe Lee's deal off the books, they can recoup $5.3 million in savings.
Mohamed Sanu Sr., WR, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots will move on without quarterback Tom Brady, but the front office doesn't have much cap space to maneuver the trade market or pick up free agents outside the bargain bin.
The Patriots are bailing water with $893,436 in cap space. They have 12 picks going into the draft. New England could package some of its selections to move up for a prospect or acquire talent, but the salary-cap restrictions won't allow the front office to land impact veterans who seek moderate payouts.
In addition to Brady, New England lost key playmakers on defense, including Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Duron Harmon.
In order to fill those holes and add depth, the Patriots should consider multiple cuts before and after the draft.
Prior to the 2019 trade deadline, New England traded a second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. He struggled through eight games with the Patriots, recording 26 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown. The 30-year-old underwent offseason ankle surgery.
Sanu is going into a contract year with no dead money owed. The Patriots should rely on Julian Edelman and 2019 first-rounder N'Keal Harry as their top wideouts for 2020. New England can also dip into a strong pool of wide receivers in this year's class to round out its three-man sets.
In that scenario, New England would have a mix of experience and youth at wide receiver. They'd also recoup $6.5 million if they release Sanu.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
When Marquise Goodwin takes the field, he's a threat to haul in a deep ball for a score or outrun defenders with his track speed. The 29-year-old had a breakout 2017 season, logging 56 receptions for 962 yards and two touchdowns, which prompted the San Francisco 49ers to extend him on a three-year deal worth $20.3 million.
Over the last two seasons, Goodwin has missed 12 contests for personal and injury-related reasons. He's caught 35 passes for 581 yards and five touchdowns in that span. Last season, the big-play wideout didn't live up to that description, eclipsing 41 yards in just one outing.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 49ers have engaged in trade chatter involving Goodwin, which isn't a surprise following two underwhelming campaigns.
Furthermore, the 49ers have a wide receiver group that's full of potential.
In 2019, Deebo Samuel led the unit in catches (57) and yards (802). Dante Pettis, a 2018 second-rounder, has a crucial third year coming up after registering just 11 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
The 49ers re-signed Kendrick Bourne, who tied tight end George Kittle for a team-leading five touchdown receptions last year. General manager John Lynch hopes to see 2019 third-rounder Jalen Hurd in action after he missed the 2019 campaign with a stress fracture in his lower back.
With all the young talent at wide receiver, plus the possibility that Lynch adds to the group using one of his first-round picks, Goodwin may be the odd man out following the draft.
Lawrence Guy, DT, New England Patriots
We'll circle back to the cap-strapped Patriots, who need to dump more than one contract if they plan to sign a big rookie class and make post-draft moves to fill holes.
Since Lawrence Guy signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Pats, he's been an unheralded cog in the defensive line, recording 178 tackles, 12 for loss and five sacks.
With that said, Guy hasn't played more than 55 percent of the defensive snaps in any of his three seasons with the Patriots. He's a quality rotational defender who's also replaceable. The 30-year-old is entering a contract year. If the front office doesn't see him in the team's long-term plans, an early termination expedites an inevitable parting between the two sides.
New England has the draft capital to go younger at the position or elevate Deatrich Wise Jr. and Keionta Davis on the depth chart in an attempt to cut salary costs.
Despite Guy's production, he plays a non-premium position for nearly half the plays. Although cutting his salary alone doesn't solve the Patriots' financial issues, it's a step in the right direction.
If New England cuts Guy, the club would have another $4 million in cap space.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Cleveland Browns
With a new regime in place of former head coach Freddie Kitchens' staff, the Cleveland Browns may look to eliminate large contracts, specifically players who haven't delivered at a level commensurate with their salaries.
"The Browns will probably be looking to replace defensive end Olivier Vernon, who's due to make $15.25 million next season," Cabot wrote. "They won't pay him that much, so he'll either be gone or asked to take a pay cut. If he's gone, [Everson] Griffen would be one option."
Keep in mind that defensive end Everson Griffen is still available. He played 10 seasons (2010-19) with the Minnesota Vikings while Browns lead skipper Kevin Stefanski served as a position coach and offensive coordinator for the club during the same period.
Cleveland acquired Vernon from the New York Giants after his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign. In his first season with the Browns, he logged just 26 tackles, four for loss and 3.5 sacks through 10 outings while battling a knee injury. The 29-year-old hasn't played more than 12 games in a season since 2016.
Stefanski and his staff didn't execute the trade for Vernon, so the eight-year defensive end could be the first to go if the team wants to save more cash.
The Browns could recoup $15.5 million in cap space if they outright release Vernon.
Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Buffalo Bills
With $20.8 million in cap space, the Buffalo Bills aren't strapped for cash. Yet, general manager Brandon Beane can recoup a decent amount for a player whose performance doesn't match his cap hit.
Don't let Trent Murphy's 2019 season statistics fool you. He finished with 36 tackles, nine for loss and five sacks, but much of his production came at the end of the season. The 29-year-old recorded 11 tackles, three for loss and three sacks after Week 14.
With a glass-half-full perspective, Murphy hit his stride at a crucial time amid a playoff race. On the flip side, he provided little impact for the first eight weeks of the campaign. During that stretch, the six-year veteran didn't log a sack and made one or no tackles in six of those seven outings.
This year, Murphy's cap hit will rise to approximately $9.8 million, which is 18th among defensive ends, per Spotrac. On that pay scale, he has to provide more than a solid half-season of production.
Murphy isn't worth close to $10 million with 60 tackles, 14 for loss and nine sacks through his first two seasons in Buffalo.
The Bills signed edge-rusher Mario Addison, who had four-plus years of experience under head coach Sean McDermott in Carolina. He could start opposite Jerry Hughes. If the front office selects a defensive end on Day 2 of the draft, Murphy may be on the way out. The club would save $7.5 million with his release.
Avery Williamson, ILB, New York Jets
This isn't a recommended transaction, but the New York Jets have enough depth at inside linebacker to relieve themselves of cap responsibility.
Gang Green has $16.7 million in cap space. The Jets designated cornerback Trumaine Johnson as a post-June 1 cut, so his dead cash spreads between 2020 ($4 million) and 2021 ($8 million), per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano.
The Jets currently have eight draft picks, four within the top 80, to sign this offseason. General manager Joe Douglas should give himself room for additional transactions in case quality talent becomes available via trade.
At inside linebacker, the Jets will have C.J. Mosley, who's coming off a shortened season (two appearances) because of a groin injury. Avery Williamson tore his ACL during the 2019 preseason. In his place, Neville Hewitt had a strong campaign, recording 75 tackles, six for loss, three sacks, five pass breakups and two interceptions.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams praised Hewitt for his versatility and attention to detail, per Randy Lange of the Jets' official website.
"He's done a very good job in the versatility of playing three different positions, and being able to do the middle linebacker stuff is not easy, just from verbiage and checks and stuff," Williams said.
The Jets signed Patrick Onwuasor, who played alongside Mosley for three seasons (2016-2018) in Baltimore. He could provide depth with Blake Cashman, James Burgess and B.J. Bello between the edge-rushers.
Williamson isn't just a throwaway. He's registered 496 tackles, 26 for loss, 14.5 sacks, 14 pass breakups and three interceptions in five seasons with the Jets and Tennessee Titans. However, former general manager Mike Maccagnan signed him. Douglas has the capable bodies at the position to move on from the 28-year-old if he needs cap flexibility.
Gang Green can release Williamson and add $6.5 million to its cap space.
Team salary caps courtesy of Over The Cap.
NFL salary cap rankings provided by Spotrac.