Early Predictions for Most Surprising NFL Veteran Cuts of 2020 Offseason
A surprise is defined by the unexpected. NFL franchises constantly make moves that are expected and even predictable.
Thus, the individuals included as surprising cuts can't be completely obvious.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' standing with Leonard Fournette is well known. The amount of salary-cap space the Cleveland Browns can save by releasing Olivier Vernon is common knowledge. Las Vegas Raiders guard Gabe Jackson's availability has made its way around league circles. The amount of money the Indianapolis Colts have invested in the quarterback position is staggering, which places Jacoby Brissett on the chopping block. And Alshon Jeffery's decline leaves him in a precarious place with the Philadelphia Eagles.
All of these potential cuts regarding quality performers have already been covered.
The following seven departures aren't as conspicuous, but they are possible based on each team's current circumstances.
QB Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders' continued interest in other quarterbacks makes Derek Carr's standing with the team tenuous at best.
Last year, general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden flirted with future No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Then Tom Brady held the organization's interest for a short period of time. The Raiders were also reportedly interested in a trade-up scenario during this year's draft if Tua Tagovailoa fell below the sixth overall pick (he was taken with the fifth pick).
Mayock and Gruden continually rail against the thought of Carr being anything other than the Raiders' franchise quarterback, yet their actions speak loudly. If an opportunity comes along to adequately replace and improve the position, the Raiders appear more than willing to take advantage.
Enter Marcus Mariota, who the team signed to a two-year, $17.5 million free-agent contract.
Carr remains the Raiders' projected starter. If Mariota shows he can provide a similar level of play in Gruden's system, the Raiders can save $13.6 million toward the 2020 salary cap by going with the alternative.
WR Mohamed Sanu Sr., New England Patriots
Not every move the New England Patriots made over the last two decades worked out in the team's favor. For example, Randy Moss flourished, while Chad Johnson faltered.
So far, Mohamed Sanu Sr. seems to fall into the Johnson category after he was thrust into the lineup following a midseason trade.
"Getting adjusted to things people have known for years, or months, you have to catch up," Sanu said about the transition, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "It's a lot of little details of things. I've been getting right up to speed. It's just little things you can't teach; they just have to be done. It's the difference between knowing and doing."
In nine contests with the Patriots, Sanu managed 27 receptions for 218 yards with Tom Brady leading the way. The soon-to-be 31-year-old target could be the odd man out as the Patriots continue their offensive transition. Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Marqise Lee are New England's projected top three receiving threats.
Bill Belichick doesn't fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy. Sanu didn't provide what the Patriots needed last season after they invested a second-round pick in him. If he can't significantly help the Patriots' passing attack this fall, Belichick will likely move on and save $6.5 million toward the salary cap.
C Mike Pouncey, Los Angeles Chargers
When healthy, Mike Pouncey is counted among one of the league's best centers. But he's an aging blocker coming off a major injury. The four-time Pro Bowl pivot, who turns 31 this summer, started only five games last season because of a neck injury that required surgery.
"I expect to be full go whenever that time comes for us to come back to football," Pouncey said, per the Los Angeles Times' Jeff Miller. "... Any time you come back from surgery, there's always going to be steps. But I'll be ready to go when the time comes."
Pouncey could be a welcome addition to a line that will feature two new faces in right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Conversely, the Chargers might envision an opportunity to enact sweeping change up front.
Scott Quessenberry played relatively well in Pouncey's stead. The 2018 fifth-round pick already volunteered to help this year's sixth overall pick, Justin Herbert, make the transition under center, per the Associated Press' Joe Reedy.
Quessenberry might not be a Pro Bowl-caliber center, but he's already establishing a rapport with the organization's future franchise quarterback, and the Chargers could save $4.8 million with Pouncey's release.
EDGE Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins
Ryan Kerrigan is associated with the Washington Redskins organization more than any other player over the past decade. He's only 1.5 sacks away from establishing a franchise record.
Those around the league are excited about the potential of Washington's defensive front.
"Who is going to block those guys?" a former AFC scout rhetorically asked Sports Illustrated's Chris Russell.
A former AFC personnel executive added: "[Chase] Young is more complete coming in than Nick Bosa last year and you saw what he did for the 49ers. You have to factor in [Ron] Rivera and [Jack] Del Rio as well. Those guys will get the most of that group."
This year's second overall pick will be paired with Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. Kerrigan is somewhat of an afterthought after an injury-plagued 2019 campaign. The nine-year veteran missed games because of a concussion and a subsequent calf injury that led to his first-ever injured reserve stint.
Washington is loaded up front. Kerrigan remains a capable option, but his $11.7 million salary-cap hit (with no accompanying dead money) could cause the team's new regime to concentrate on alternatives with upside.
DE Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
The 2017 NFL draft class already has four first-round picks who are no longer with their original organizations. At least a dozen more stand on shaky ground with their current squads.
The San Francisco 49ers' Solomon Thomas features prominently among the latter group.
General manager John Lynch looked brilliant when the 49ers moved down one spot with the Chicago Bears, who selected quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, to gain two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder and still land their preferred target.
The move looks less than stellar in retrospect since Thomas has yet to establish a role in the 49ers' talented defensive line rotation.
In three seasons, the 2017 third overall pick has only six sacks, and the 49ers declined his rookie fifth-year contract option.
Thomas could earn more reps as a 3-technique after DeForest Buckner's departure, but San Francisco still has quality starting options in D.J. Jones and this year's 14th overall pick, Javon Kinlaw.
The 49ers are financially positioned better today than the start of the new league year, though Thomas' release can add another $4.4 million to the team's salary-cap space.
DT Denico Autry, Indinapolis Colts
Essentially, Denico Autry has been replaced along the Indianapolis Colts' defensive front even though he's still on the team.
General manager Chris Ballard swung a predraft trade with the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Buckner, not Autry, will now serve as the unit's starting 3-technique.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told reporters:
"So the trickle-down effect to answer that is whenever you have a defensive line—DeForest, Justin [Houston] and different guys up front—that can dominate their spot up front, it is easier to play linebacker and easier to play in coverage because everything is sped up and the line of scrimmage is changing for the run game. So there are a lot of things that are beneficial in having a really good 3-technique."
Autry played well in 2018 after being shifted inside and established a career high with nine sacks in only 12 games. But his performance dropped dramatically in 2019, and the Colts clearly wanted an upgrade.
The 29-year-old will likely compete to start at defensive end opposite Houston, though he's not as effective on the edge. The organization can move on from Autry and save $5.7 million.
S Earl Thomas III, Baltimore Ravens
Earl Thomas III's inclusion on this list has multiple factors.
Yes, his recent off-field development where his wife held him at gunpoint over an alleged affair entered public domain and had the Baltimore Ravens organization looking into the possibility of whether the seven-time Pro Bowler violated his contract, according to the Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer and Jessica Anderson.
The event provides a potential excuse if the Ravens decide to move on from Thomas after only one season.
"The [team] official said there were times last season when Ravens coaches thought Thomas strayed from their team concept, and that his struggles grasping the defenses schemes in the secondary sometimes put him at odds with teammates," Shaffer and Anderson reported.
If the Ravens are set on cutting him, they have a financial incentive to do it now.
Even if the safety didn't violate his contract, the Ravens can still release Thomas with a post-June 1 designation and absorb the entirety of his $15 million salary-cap hit without incurring further dead money—which would be a $25 million salary-cap hit in total—this season, per Over The Cap.