Last week I shared a watch list that Mile High Report has started to compile for players that made sense for the 2020 offseason. Some of them were free agents, others draft prospects, but one thing we didn’t look at were the potential cap cuts.
Let’s go over that today. It’s a bit of an educated guessing game to try and project who may be available months, but one of the things that is ever present in NFL contracts is guaranteed vs potential money. NFL teams structure contracts in a way that say a 3-year $36 million deal is actually closer to a 2-year deal with the possibility for a third season.
It’s hard to project down the road, so teams work these kind of contracts with the idea that they’ll be able to pull the plug if the player, cap, or team’s situation doesn’t warrant the cap hit a player commands.
Which is where the educated part comes in. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but I took a look at the teams with the least amount of available 2020 cap space. Some were already inches from the red, while others are facing difficult choices if they want to retain a key player or maintain their current core group.
In each scenario I then took a look through Over the Cap’s team page to find out what contracts provided the most flexibility. Some of the following will be better fits than others, of course, but the idea is to illuminate additional talent that could become available this spring.
It’s worth noting that so long as the player is cut rather than has a team option declined, signing him will not count against the compensatory draft process.
Let’s get started:
With Matt Rhule signing on for a 7-year deal, this has the potential to turn into a complete tear down and rebuild. If that happens, there’s a number of deals that could come off the books if the decision makers decide to go all in on Trevor Lawrence in 2021. Here are a couple that make some sense for the Broncos:
DL - Dontari Poe - The kung fu panda would bring size and some pass rush power.
WR - Jarius Wright - A former Shurmur receiver when both were with the Vikings.
Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have been kicking the cap can down the road in order to keep the championship window open while they had Drew Brees. Because of it, they have a number of cap charges on the books for players that aren’t currently under contract. At present Brees and Teddy Bridgewater will count for at least $17.9 million in 2020, and that’s before either resigns.
CB - Janoris Jenkins - Cutting him would leave $0 dead money on the Saints cap.
LB - Kiko Alonso - Former Dolphin would bring some range to the second level.
OL - Nick Easton - A fresh start may be what he needs.
The Vikings have a core that has made the playoffs in two of the last three years with two different quarterbacks. Unfortunately Kirk Cousins’ $31,000,000 cap figure will create some tough choices for other core members of the team. If Zimmer decides to go for another shot at a ring in 2020 he’ll all but certainly need to find a way to part with one or more of the following:
DL - Linval Joseph - This seems unlikely because he’s pretty good and clearly the best interior linemen Zimmer has, but cutting him frees up $10.5 million.
CB - Xavier Rhodes - There were multiple reports that the team wanted to trade him last offseason. Add that up to what was a pretty disappointing 2019 and his departure seems inevitable at this point.
OT - Riley Reiff - He was given a pretty big deal to come over from the Lions back in 2017. He’s good enough at a position that’s hard to come by that it’d make little sense to cut him if they want to keep the window open, but doing so would free up close to $9 million.
The Jaguars are a bit of a case study in what not to do if you’re uncertain about a potential franchise quarterback. High off a 12-4 season, Tom Coughlin handed Blake Bortles a big extension that carried a $26.5 million bonus. After that didn’t work out, he turned around and outbid...themselves for Nick Foles last spring.
Now that it’s all gone up in flames, Jacksonville is looking at the beginning of a painful rebuild and will desperately need to create some salary cap relief if they wish to retain the underrated Yannick Ngakoue who currently looks like the top edge player in free agency.
If Elway and the Broncos are smart, they could capitalize on another team’s errors:
CB - A.J. Bouye - He’s the best corner on their roster after the Jalen Ramsey trade last year, but cutting him fees up a little over $11 million.
DL - Calais Campbell - This is one I’m on the lookout for. Campbell almost signed in Denver the last time he was a free agent, and offers the kind of skillset that would be valuble in Fangio’s defense.
C - Brandon Linder
DL, Abry Jones - If the Jags are looking to keep Campbell and still create some cap relief these two moves make a lot of sense. Neither Jones or Linder carries any dead money on their current contract and releasing both nets $12 million in cap space.
LB - Jake Ryan - The former Packer suffered a knee injury in training camp and all but a handful of snaps near the end of the 2019 season. His release would create $6 million in relief.
It’s become trendy to trade for talent in order to surround a young franchise quarterback with proven help. In a vacuum it makes sense because there is not a more valuable commodity in professional sports than a star quarterback on his rookie contract. Unfortunately for the Bears, they didn’t have a Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, or even Jared Goff.
They got Mitched.
Now two years removed from a 12-4 season, they have an aging core and have little in the way of draft capital to improve their 8-8 roster from 2019. It means they’ll probably need to move on from a player or two in order to try and play the market in their favor, which could directly impact the Broncos. After all, some of the following players played their best football under Vic Fangio:
CB - Prince Amukamara - He’ll turn 31 in June and moving on would create $8 million in cap space. He offers the kind of physical skillset Fangio wants and would give the Broncos a corner who can press a receiver when needed.
WR - Taylor Gabriel - He missed some time in 2019 and could free up more than $4 million with his release. He could provide a vertical presence in the Shurmur offense.
WR/KR - Cordarelle Patteson - While Bill Belichick has spoken about how dangerous he is on special teams, moving on creates more than $5 million in cap room. Shurmur would be familiar with his skillset as both were with the Vikings in 2016.
DL - Akiem Hicks - He’s my dream release because he’s such a good player at his peak. Would slide into the Shelby Harris role in the Broncos defense as a defensive end in base personnel and 3T in nickel packages. Doubt Ryan Pace is so foolish, but it would free up almost $9 million to cut him.
Patrick Mahomes will enter 2020 on the last year of his rookie contract, so Andy Reid will have one last chance to really abuse the value it provides. Reports have suggested Kansas City is meticulously planning for what his inevitable market setting extension will look like, so it’s going to be interesting to watch what they do in free agency.
WR - Sammy Watkins - When Mecole Hardman was drafted last spring the popular narrative was that he served as insurance against Tyreek Hill’s legal woes. I thought it far likelier than he was brought in as the long term replacement for Sammy Watkins. The former Bill and Ram has had his moments, but is often injured and at best the third receiver in their passing game.
If the Chiefs want to be active in free agency or make a serious attempt to resign Chris Jones, cutting Watkins makes a lot of sense. Doing so would cost them $7 million against the cap, but free up two thirds of his $21 million cap hit.
If he worked for just about any other franchise Kevin Colbert would be facing a lot of questions in 2020. His roster has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and only Minnesota and Jacksonville have worse cap situations. They will almost surely have to move on from a beloved veteran or two this spring, especially if they plan to try and retain Bud Dupree. The following are potential fits for Denver:
RG - David Decastro - Close to half his contract is guaranteed, which probably makes him safe. Still keep an eye out because he’d be a picture perfect addition to the Broncos.
DL - Cameron Heyard - Strictly speaking in terms of salary, cutting him would free up $9.5 million.
LB - Mark Barron - He hasn’t lived up to his contract, so I wouldn’t be surprised at this. My hope is Fangio looks elsewhere if Denver is trying to replace Todd Davis.
LG - Ramon Foster - There was a lot of buzz about signing him last year before he reupped with Pittsburgh. He’s 34, but could be a nice short term bandaid while Munchak develops a younger player.
DL - Tyson Alualu - A former bust with the Jaguars has quietly been a nice contributor in the Steel city. I don’t think he’s going to face the ax because his cap number isn’t that high, but cutting him would create $2.75 million.
It was considered a bit of a surprise when Tom Dimitroff and Dan Quinn were retained after the 2019 season. One reason it made sense is because the team has limited cap space and very few ways to get accumulate more that it’d be pretty tough for a new regime to make any significant upgrades to the roster this spring.
Arthur Blank is nothing if not pragmatic, so it made more sense to sugarcoat a 7-9 finish and make Quinn the scapegoat if the capped out veteran team can’t compete next season. There is one clear way to create space that could benefit the Broncos:
C - Alex Mack
The former first round pick is 34, but could still be worth consideration if the Broncos elect not to pay Conner McGovern’s asking price. The Falcons have a little under $7 million in cap space right now, but cutting the 12th year veteran would open up close to $8 million.
Your Broncos’ Links
A list of players and prospects that I plan to dig into further as the Denver Broncos offseason kicks into full gear.
Whether in free agency or the NFL Draft, it’s not too early to list some dream players the Broncos could target.
The former Giants’ head coach is an experienced play caller who probably won’t leave egg on Fangio’s face.
More changes on the Broncos offensive coaching staff.
The Denver Broncos will start over with a new offense in 2020, and hopefully it will lead to a much improved offense.
Report: Shelby Harris prefers to stay in Denver if the price is right. If not, the Colts will be interested. - Mile High Report
Sounds like the Broncos have some competition for Shelby Harris.
The Denver Broncos could be saying goodbye to one of its all-time great players in Chris Harris Jr.
NFL Draft Links
Fulton has one of the most impressive grading profiles we’ve ever seen from an SEC cornerback. The biggest thing with Fulton has been the consistency. The redshirt junior has back-to-back seasons of elite grades and elite grades in conference play as well. He outgraded Greedy Williams in 2018 with an 89.7 coverage grade and followed that up with an 88.9 coverage grade this year. For his career in SEC play, Fulton’s earned a 92.8 coverage grade and allowed a completion percentage of only 41.3 against. Those are some damn good numbers to put up when looking ahead to the NFL.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers expect to keep their front office intact for the 2020 season. Owner Art Rooney II told reporters Rooney that he is “optimistic” GM Kevin Colbert will be back next season.
Panthers owner David Tepper is not one to sandbag. While introducing new coach Matt Rhule last week, Tepper was practically bragging about his willingness to spend his way to success, and he spoke openly about the bright future of his team and its new program-builder.
Niners tight end George Kittle missed Wednesday’s practice due to ankle soreness. NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reports Kittle’s availability for Sunday is not in question.
The Packers have turned in their first injury report of the week and it made good on something head coach Matt LaFleur said before practice.
Tight end Travis Kelce was limited in practice all of last week due to a knee problem and then caught 10 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday’s 51-31 win over the Texans, so Wednesday’s injury report might bode well for the Chiefs this weekend.