Big-Name NFL Players Who Could Get Cut This Offseason

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2021

Big-Name NFL Players Who Could Get Cut This Offseason

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    NFL teams are bound to add to the upcoming free-agent pool this offseason. 

    Cuts remain a harsh reality of the league. Teams shed salary by cutting loose players whose big cap numbers don't match their performance. By the nature of having big contracts, those underperformers tend to be big names. 

    Teams in cap trouble are especially prone to making surprising moves, though keep in mind big names with huge dead-cap numbers like Carson Wentz aren't probable to be cut because doing so would not lead to immediate cap savings.

    Due to overarching cap situations and player performance, here are some big-name players who could get cut this offseason. 

Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the teams projected to be in the most cap trouble this offseason—and it's bad news their franchise quarterback, Wentz, was named in the intro here. 

    The Eagles are projected to be $53.2 million over the cap this offseason, and cutting names like Zach Ertz would provide only minimal relief thanks to big dead-cap numbers. 

    Defensive end Derek Barnett is one of the avenues toward immediate relief. Cutting Barnett would free up $10.1 million in cap space, so it seems like only a matter of time. 

    While Barnett was a first-round pick in 2017, he's only been a rotational player and has yet to appear in a full 16-game season. This year he had 5.5 sacks and a 67.9 Pro Football Focus grade. He played more than 60 percent of the snaps in just five games. 

Kwon Alexander, LB, New Orleans Saints

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints are in a world of cap trouble even if Drew Brees does hang up the cleats this offseason. 

    Projected at $99.8 million over the cap with Brees' $36.2 number accounted for, the Saints will be on the hunt for cap-saving moves right away. 

    Some of those moves will be extensions that shift the cap hits to later years. But some, like in the case of linebacker Kwon Alexander, could be outright cuts. 

    Alexander arrived with the Saints via trade in November and suffered a season-ending injury in December. He appeared in just seven games for his third team since 2018 and has recorded just one 16-game season in his six-year career. 

    The Saints only sent a veteran player and a fifth-rounder to inhale the last two-and-a-half years of Alexander's four-year deal worth $54 million. Cutting out his $13.4 million cap hit could go a long way in helping to solve one of the league's most befuddling cap situations. 

Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is another Marvin Lewis carryover to fall from grace under a new coaching staff. 

    Like Carlos Dunlap, who got traded at the deadline after seeing his snaps decline in his last three games in Cincy, Atkins played minimally on a big contract. Both didn't seem to fit in the new scheme being implemented by coordinator Lou Anarumo, though Atkins did battle a shoulder injury suffered in training camp. He appeared in eight games this year, registering one tackle and never playing on more than 30 percent of the defense's snaps. 

    The Bengals aren't in cap trouble this offseason at $34 million in the green, but they will likely want to reallocate some of Atkins' $14.8 million cap hit (second on the team) into extension cash for stars like William Jackson III and Carl Lawson. 

    Cutting Atkins would save the Bengals $9.6 million, so it's a no-brainer of a move, even if Atkins (75.5 career sacks) is one of the best players in franchise history.

Preston Smith, LB, Green Bay Packers

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers are yet another team with a projected negative cap balance this offseason at $25.4 million in the red. 

    Not that it was hard to see coming after the team went all-in on defense, signing names like Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith in recent free-agent spending sprees to fix Aaron Rodgers' complementary unit. 

    But it's the latter Smith who has struggled. While Za'Darius had 12.5 sacks in the regular season, Preston had just four while earning a 53.1 PFF grade—down roughly 13 points from the year prior. 

    This is the first time in Preston Smith's contract the Packers could save money by moving on. They would save $8 million against the negative balance, so he's one to watch. 

Eric Ebron, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will need some help in the cap department this offseason regardless of what happens with Ben Roethlisberger and his $41.3 million cap hit in 2021, plus the $22.3 million dead-cap number. 

    Those Steelers sit on a projected cap balance of negative $25.4 million and will need to use a mixture of extensions, restructures and cuts to make it work. 

    Eric Ebron is a cut candidate. The Steelers hit him with a two-year deal last offseason, and he responded by appearing in 15 games, catching just 56 of his 91 targets with five scores, dropping seven passes and earning a 55.6 PFF grade, dramatically lower than his 71.1 the year prior in Indianapolis. 

    Independent of maneuverings at quarterback, the Steelers will probably look to get more consistent at tight end, and cutting Ebron would save $6 million. 

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers might be in a position to pull one of the biggest shockers of the offseason. 

    Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo largely hasn't been able to stay on the field in San Francisco. In his three full seasons as a 49er, he's appeared in three, 16 and six games. 

    Over just 140 attempts in 2020, Garoppolo completed 67.1 percent of them for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns against five interceptions. While a small sample size, he had a bad-throw percentage of 17.1.

    Though it's easy to argue Garoppolo hasn't been consistently healthy enough to be at his best in San Francisco, it's clear on the returns he's not a game-changer under center, and he should not headline the team's list of cap hits at $26.3 million. 

    The 49ers only have $13.0 million in cap space this offseason, with about $23.4 million salvageable if they cut loose Garoppolo. With the draft and free agency coming up, punching the reset button under center might be the best path forward for the 49ers.