Imagine the NFL with no salary cap. Imagine if every NFL owner could simply hand a blank check to the best talent in the league. What would the NFL look like in the scenario? Would we have a few super teams so dominant that they essentially render the rest of the league useless? Would you simply see team stars stay with teams for longer now that there is less incentive to stray for money? Would the NFL be more entertaining to watch, or would it become an elaborate auction? It’s difficult to say for sure what a no salary cap version of the NFL would look like. Quite frankly, we’ll likely never see a salary cap free version of the NFL due to the ways in which that policy could drastically impact the league.
Since we do live in a world in which the salary cap does affect team decisions, we also live in the world of cap casualties. These are the players who are often cut not because they are bad (or just because they are bad), but because they are simply too expensive. There are just times when a player doesn’t live up to his contract and has to be sent packing. There are other times when the limits of the cap simply force teams to make tough decisions. We see a new crop of cap casualties every offseason, and 2019 likely won’t be any different. These are every NFL team’s most likely cap casualties for the offseason.
This one is a bit of a technicality as Larry Fitzgerald’s contract is up next year and isn’t technically threatening a cap hit. However, fans have to believe that the Cardinals might re-sign Fitzgerald and let him finish his career in Arizona if they weren’t in rebuilding mode. Such as it is, we don’t imagine that they’re going to want to carry the cap hit that Fitz brings with him just so he can end his career in the place where it began.
Realistically, the structure of Devonta Freeman’s contract means that he probably won’t be cut until at least after next season. However, we can see the Falcons making the argument that he should at least be floated on the trade market. Freeman looks like the Falcons' best RB option, but the fact remains that he’s rarely been exceptional, he’s had durability issues, and he’s about to start costing Atlanta a lot of money. The Falcons may decide to devote more cap space to their defense.
This one is a little tougher to call than it might seem for the simple reason that Baltimore just doesn’t have good receivers and Willie Snead might be one of their best options. Sadly, that does little to justify having to pay Snead more than his worth in the coming years. As Baltimore looks towards chasing a wide receiver in free agency, it just makes sense that they might try to clear a little dead cap by dropping their most expensive unproductive option.
We imagine the Bills wish they were in a situation where it makes sense to keep LeSean McCoy. However, the fact of the matter is that he’s an aging running back who has had durability issues and who is on an offense that is going nowhere fast. At the absolute best, McCoy has a couple good seasons left in him, and Buffalo is going to be paying him well to waste those seasons with them. Again, though, they probably wish they had a better team for him to play on.
Torrey Smith barely qualifies as a one-hit wonder. This speedster is perhaps best described as a poor man’s Tyreek Hill. He’s shown that he can be a deep threat, but he rarely is. When you look at the Carolina Panthers, you realize that they are not a team that is really built to throw bombs downfield even if they had the right guy for it. The fact they overpaid to put Smith in an unfriendly system was an error that needs to be corrected.
This might seem like a gut reaction to Sims going on the IR, but it’s a little more complicated than that. While the bears are generally in a pretty good space cap-wise at the moment, they’re coming to a point when they’re going to have to start making room to pay a few young guys in the near future. When you look at their current contracts, Dion Sims’ stands out as the guy who is probably due to be paid the most in order to do the least.
Giovani Bernard is Schrödinger's running back. He’s both a good running back and a bad running back. What’s worse is that you’re never quite certain which he is at any given moment. The Bengals have been keeping Bernard hanging around for quite some time, but Bernard has yet to reward them with a 1,000 rushing yard season. As the Bengals look towards Joe Mixon and the future, we think that it’s finally time for them to move on from Bernard.
This is another weird situation when you consider that Tyrod Taylor’s contract is up anyway and the Browns probably simply won’t sign him. However, you have to believe that the Browns would love to be able to pay Tyrod Taylor like a backup and have him support Baker Mayfield. However, we think that Taylor sees himself as a starter somewhere in the NFL. Because of that, there is just no way that the Browns can justify paying him significantly above value to be a backup.
There’s no shortage of Cowboys eating up some cap space on the offensive side of the ball (especially receivers), but Sean Lee is the Cowboys' most necessary (and tragic) cap cut. Lee has been a truly great linebacker, but it’s clear at this point that the odds are against him ever playing a full season again. With the emergence of Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys simply no longer need to gamble on Lee as they have done in the past.
It would be nice to put a more high-profile player like Case Keenum in this spot, but the truth of the matter is that the Broncos don’t have any obvious cap cuts now that Demaryius Thomas is out of town. That leaves us with Derek Wolfe. Wolfe is set to start eating up a decent bit of cap in the very near future ($10.9 million in 2019), and the truth of the matter is that he’s not playing up to his full potential. On top of that, there are reports of his having attitude problems.
We highly doubt that the Lions ever thought that Riddick was going to be their guy, but the emergence of Kerryon Johnson has probably made it clear that they don’t need to keep some of their young backups around in the hopes that they will emerge as “the guy.”
That being the case, we think that they will look at Riddick as the guy who is going to demand the most money out of this young and crowded Lions backfield.
Here’s another 2018 guy whose contract might come down the cap. Simply put, the Packers have the cap to sign Clay Matthews if they really want to. However, the Packers are reaching that point where they have to realize that they need to spend their money on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense isn’t great, but they are wasting Aaron Rodgers's best years by giving him nobody to work with. We expect to see Matthews’ cap money go elsewhere next offseason.
The jury is still out on Lamar Miller’s future with the Texans. What Houston is going to ask themselves is whether or not they can afford to overpay for Miller the way that teams tend to have to overpay for a true starting running back. The problem is that Houston is going to have to sign some absolute defensive studs to huge contracts in the near future, like Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu. When Houston is considering their options, we think they ultimately find that Miller is just too expensive.
The Colts are actually fairly comfortable so far as cap space and big contracts go, but for the sake of this discussion, we’re looking at Ryan Grant as the most likely cap casualty. Grant’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and we don’t imagine that Indy would have to pay a ton of cash to keep him on-board. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Grant isn’t really living up to his old contract and probably gets dropped.
The Jags aren’t actually doing that bad cap-wise considering that they’ve still got a lot of talent on their team. Without looking too far into the future to determine cap victims, we’re going to guess that Corey Grant is shown the door. His impending cap hit wouldn’t be the end of the world (he'd likely only command between 2-3 million a year), but there are just way too many backs in this system to justify keeping a guy like Grant around. Carlos Hyde could also be shown the door, but we think he gets another shot.
The Chiefs’ cap situation is fairly impressive considering how much talent they have on the team. As such, this potential cap decision really comes down to whether or not they try to get ahead of some cap trouble down the road. If so, then we think that Demarcus Robinson is shown the door. The fact that Robinson still hasn’t found a place for himself in the explosive Kansas City offense means that he’s about as disposable as a player in his price range can be.
The Chargers' cap hits don’t really come until they figure out what they’re going to do with Philip Rivers and how much they’re going to pay a couple of their young defensive studs. So far as eliminating some excess cap space goes, we think that L.A. ends up re-evaluating the contract they gave Travis Benjamin. Benjamin doesn’t really fit into the current offense, and he’s just a little too expensive ($6.5 million cap hit in 2019) to keep around as a bench player with little upside.
To be honest, the Rams have a surprising amount of cap space and some team-friendly contracts to work with. However, if they are going to cut anyone for some possible free agent spending money, we think that Michael Brockers might be the guy. Brockers isn’t exactly making peanuts (carrying an $11 million cap hit), and he’s failing to really take advantage of Aaron Donald’s presence the way that he should be. Again, this isn’t a necessary cut by any means, but there’s a chance the Rams make it.
To be honest, the Dolphins have quite a few players that may fall victim to the cap. Miami's going to have to deal with that at some point. For the moment, though, we think that they focus on Danny Amendola as their most obvious cut. Amendola has long been a niche possession receiver who is nice to have around...if you have an otherwise good offense. Considering that the Dolphins don’t have a very good offense, we don’t know if they’ll feel incentivized to keep paying Amendola, who will be 34 next season and making $6 million.
The Vikings are blessed with a lack of absurd player contracts...outside of the one that they gave Kirk Cousins. Everyone knows they overpaid for Cousins (regardless of his value) and that the Vikings are going to have to gradually free up cap space in order to make up for it. To that end, we think that Kyle Rudolph gets shipped out of Minnesota. They’d probably like to keep Rudolph around regardless of his specific production, but he’s becoming a salary liability.
We don’t actually remember the last time we heard about the Patriots having cap troubles, and it's usually because Bill Belichick moves on from a player before they start making more than what their value to the team represents. Regardless, we think that the decision whether or not to keep Rob Gronkowski comes down to the cap. Gronk has indicated he will take a team friendly contract, but even a friendly contract is going to eat up some space. The question is whether or not the Patriots have faith that Gronk is going to be worth the hit.
This one is going to be interesting. As it stands, Cameron Meredith is set to enjoy a pretty sizeable pay bump in 2019 (up from a $2.7 million cap hit to $6.8M). The question is whether or not the Saints will pay him. Considering that Drew Brees doesn’t seem to care who he throws the ball too (unless your name is Michael Thomas), we just don’t know if New Orleans is willing to overpay for what they’ve gotten from Meredith so far. This might also come down to whether or not Brandon Marshall gets re-signed.
Look, it’s obvious Saquon Barkley is the man in New York until further notice. While relying on a running back can be tough considering how injury-prone even the best seem to be, there’s no doubt that Barkley is in New York for the long haul. The question is whether or not New York feels like they’re ready to pay Jonathan Stewart insurance policy backup money. Truth be told, we think that they end up looking for a cheaper option and hoping that Barkley stays healthy.
New York has a cap problem. At the moment, they’ve got quite a few guys eating up an unfortunate amount of cap space. The problem is that few of their biggest offenders are easily cuttable. That’s why we’re eying Kevin Pierre-Louis as a possible budget cut. We highly doubt that the Jets will miss having Louis around, and there so happens to be a clause in his contract that makes it easier to drop him going into the next season with a minimum cap hit.
Well, there are reports that suggest that Jordy Nelson might just leave the Raiders (via retirement) before they have the chance to cut him, but assuming that he decides to stick around, he might be cut anyway. Look, we’re not going to pretend we know what the Raiders are going to look like next season, but few versions of the squad include Jordy Nelson as anything more than an expensive veteran treading water on a team that will still be rebuilding.
The season’s not finished yet, but we feel relatively confident saying that the Eagles took a calculated risk with the Golden Tate acquisition that has not paid off. The idea was that Tate would be able to put the Eagles over-the-top in a winnable division just in time for the playoffs. Even if the Eagles turn their fortunes around, we don’t think it will be on the back of Golden Tate. As such, we don’t think that the Eagles will pay his considerable price tag next season.
There was a time when Joe Haden was one of the best (or at least better) cornerbacks in the league. However, Haden’s time in Pittsburgh has seen him regress somewhat. He’s a solid enough defensive back that the Steelers might still be happy to have on their roster, but how much longer are they going to want to pay him the big bucks? Our feeling is that Haden is going to be cut at some point so the Steelers can spend a little money elsewhere.
The 49ers are similar to the Vikings in that they’re really not burdened by too many gaudy contracts outside of the contract they gave to Jimmy Garoppolo. If you really want to pick apart their finances, though, then you’ve got to look at the Pierre Garcon deal. Simply put, Garcon hasn’t been getting it done. We know there have been some unfortunate QB situations in San Francisco, but even in the best of times, Garcon has come up short. The 49ers will eat some dead cap next year with this cut, but it’s cheaper in the long run.
The Seahawks’ mission to replace Marshawn Lynch has been fascinating to watch. We didn’t think that it would be easy, but at the moment, the Seahawks’ committee approach is simply too much for the cap to handle. At the end of the day, we think that Mike Davis is the odd man out. We like the power he brings, but in terms of due contracts and overall talent, we think that the Seahawks might elect to trim their absurdly large running back roster.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a mess, but they can take some comfort in the fact that they are not the most dysfunctional team in the league. In fact, the Bucs have so much talent on their roster that we really don’t feel they’d look all that different if they drop DeSean Jackson. At the moment, Jackson is an expensive deep threat who isn’t proving to be that much of a consistent threat. That means that he’s mostly just expensive.
To be honest, the Titans aren’t really in a bad cap situation. They might have some questions concerning Marcus Mariota, but there isn’t much that they can do regarding cutting expensive players without cutting valuable players. That said, we do wonder if they make a move on Dion Lewis. The sad fact of the matter is that Lewis might just be their best available option at running back. However, there’s a good chance they cut him or ship him if a better option presents itself.
We’re many years removed from the time when Vernon Davis was seen as the next great receiving tight end. There’s some debate regarding whether or not he has really lived up to that hype, but we can tell you that Davis is in the twilight of his career. In fact, you probably forgot that he’s on the Redskins at all. That’s really all the reason that Washington needs to take a slight cap hit by cutting or moving Davis ahead of the next season.