An NFL off-season brings all sorts of shocks and surprises. The Draft, Free Agency, trades sprinkled across both of those. It's at times overwhelming and other times gratifying. In a salary cap world, tough decisions need to be made in order to remain compliant and also maintain cap flexibility. That word – flexibility – is the first word in the GM handbook by the way. Not every team can be like the New York Yankees, who dominate the baseball world by turning on the money machine and acquiring every all-star they can. The reality of the NFL is that you need to very carefully build your roster and not waste too much money on someone who won't perform.
Two weeks out from Super Bowl 52, all but two teams have begun their off-season assessments. Many teams will face hard and sleep depriving decisions concerning the futures of key veteran players. Others will need to decide if it's time to cut their losses from past mistakes. After all, the majority of football contracts are not guaranteed. Teams are able to, at certain points within the life of a contract, cut players and face little to no financial penalty for doing so. Other cuts may be expensive, but will be necessary for the long term benefit of the team in question.
Let's take a look at the one cut each NFL team should consider making this upcoming off-season.
32 Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas has been as quality a left tackle the NFL has seen in the last 20 years, maybe more. Unfortunately, every quarterback he's protected has been a tire fire under centre. His career has actually been a waste when you think of the elite quarterbacks he could've been protecting had he not been drafted by the league's laughing stock.
Thomas' 2018 cap hit presently stands to be $14,250,000. They could explore the option of releasing him for the purposes of re-signing him to a longer-term contract with a lower annual cap hit. Hopefully, the Browns finally give him a QB worth protecting if they do ultimately retain his services. If not, a team with some spare change might lock him up and bring him to his full potential.
31 Cincinnati Bengals: Adam 'Pacman" Jones
Adam 'Pacman' Jones has long overstayed his welcome in the NFL. He's been the picture of mediocrity for the better part of his career, and now he's bordering on irrelevancy. The Bengals are coming off another disappointing season. Marvin Lewis is set to return as head coach, but expect the team to still clean house and institute real change in the locker room. The penalty for releasing Jones is minimal – less than one million in dead cap space. Meanwhile, the Bengals would get almost $6 million in cap relief. Considering his bad play and worse behaviour, it seems like a no-brainer to let him walk. The only good thing about him is his cool nickname.
30 Baltimore Ravens: Jeremy Maclin
Maclin signed a two-year deal this past off-season. His first season as a Raven saw him targeted 72 times in 12 games – 40 catches, 440 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Not exactly the production a playmaking wide receiver is tabbed for. If released, it would mark the second time in as many seasons Maclin's team elected to prematurely terminate his contract. He was a bust in Kansas City and was certainly one in his inaugural campaign in Baltimore.
Moving on from Maclin would afford the Ravens $5 million in cap savings. Another scenario could see the Ravens hold onto Maclin, with fellow wide receiver Mike Wallace due to hit the free-agent market. It remains unclear whether the Ravens intend to offer Wallace a new contract. If so, Maclin would likely be gone. Only room for one of them.
29 Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden
Something needs to be done on the defensive side of the ball in Pittsburgh. Since losing their heart and soul leader, Ryan Shazier, the Steelers defence has remained a curtain...a curtain lacking any trace of steel. Following an embarrassing home loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs, expect big changes in Pittsburgh. One of the victims could be veteran and former shutdown cornerback Joe Haden.
Carrying a 2018 cap hit of nearly $12 million, the Steelers have a few options available to them: Release or trade him BEFORE June 1, 2018, carries a $3.8 million dead cap hit but results in savings of ~$8 million or release or trade him AFTER June 1, 2018, carries a ~$2 million dead cap hit in 2018 & 2019 but results in savings of $10 million. If they hold onto Haden for 2018, they face the same decision next off-season but why put off tomorrow what can be accomplished today?
28 Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten
The consummate pro, Jason Witten has been elite for more than a decade. He's been the Cowboys security blanket, regardless of who has lined up behind centre. You hear it all the time, but Jason Witten is 'lunch pail' guy. He brings his lunch pail every day, and never cheats his team on effort.
Jerry Jones perennially forces himself to duck, dive, dip duck and dodge his way into salary cap compliance each off-season. Witten's deal is structured in a very team-friendly way and such he could be a target for Jones. Playing out his current deal would see him count for ~$6.5 million against the cap until age 39. It seems as though a decision will need to be made prior to then. Cowboys need to start getting younger in several skill positions, the tight end spot is one of them.
27 Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles
The ideal time to cut ties with Foles actually comes in the 2019 off-season, but I doubt it can wait that long. Foles is one win away from a Super Bowl championship. A season thought to be lost when Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury, instead has gotten all the way to Super Bowl 52. Foles has been up and down but his most recent performance was masterful and wound up ending the Minnesota Vikings' magical run and bid to become the first team to play and host a 'Lombardi Party'.
Look for this to wind up being a trade scenario rather than an outright release. Doing the latter would result in noticeable financial ramifications. Trading him while his value is high to a quarterback-starved team will result in the largest return for the Eagles. Not a cut, but a cutting of ties.
26 Washington Redskins: TJ Clemmings
You may be asking why I chose an image of Clemmings in college... it's simple. It's the last time he was a relevant piece on a football field. Clemmings has struggled mightily since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft. He fizzled out in Minnesota despite being given multiple chances to win a starting job. He would eventually be waived and claimed by the Redskins.
While he's only slated to make $705,000, he's a tough sell even at a low price. Might as well give somebody else a chance because time and time again, the former Pittsburgh product has fallen short of expectations. The Redskins are facing a lot of tough decisions going into next year, but this one should be an easy one.
25 New York Giants: Brandon Marshall
Once Jay Cutler's favourite target in Denver and then Chicago, Marshall should follow Jay Cutler out the door this off-season. Neither have what it takes to make meaningful winning contributions to teams in 2018 and beyond.
I take nothing away from Marshall's career otherwise, as he has been a dominant wide receiver for many seasons. Six seasons with 100+ catches, and 82 touchdowns in 172 career games. Impressive numbers by any standard. But the Giants are clearly in need of some real change, and that change should not include Marshall. Time to call it quits on the field and take a seat behind a desk. Marshall has experience as an analyst so look for him to move into a permanent role in that space.
24 New England Patriots: Martellus Bennett
This one is pretty cut and dry. Bennett has long been hinting at his intent to retire sooner rather than later. He did so as recently as midway through this season. The Patriots aren't one for drama and they are pretty much set at TE in case you weren't aware. Even when Rob Gronkowski gets hurt, they still find ways to win with their incredible depth.
Circumstances change slightly for the Patirots if Bennett retires. If he does call it quits, bon voyage, but if not, releasing him comes with no penalty and provides slightly over $6 million in cap relief. The Patriots could use that money to find a cheaper replacement and maybe make it to yet another Super Bowl next season. No one would be surprised.
23 Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler
Never one to miss an opportunity to tune up Jay Cutler, I'm bending the rules slightly with this one. Cutler is not under contract and as such does not have to be released or cut. If you care to know my opinion on who the Dolphins should release from a contract, Lawrence Timmons comes to mind – after all, he went AWOL for a short period this year. Clearly wanting out, the Dolphins should look to trade him rather than release him. The former carrying less financial penalties. As for Cutler, lose the phone number and like Champ Kind said..."Never call her again!". If the Dolphins are thinking of keeping him around in case Tannehill gets hurt again, they'd probably be better off with no one at QB than Jay Cutler at this point.
22 New York Jets: Matt Forte
Running backs have become a dime a dozen position in today's NFL. Gone are the days of workhorse backs, teams now opting for committee backfields. Overall, teams are hesitant to commit too much money to their backfield. Le'Veon Bell is a perfect example when you consider he's threatened retirement if the Steelers franchise tag him again.
Bell is the most dynamic running back in the league and his team is unwilling to pay him. Releasing Forte helps the Jets get younger as they continue to rebuild. Parting ways would provide a welcomed $3 million in savings and will allow the Jets to feature younger playmakers in the backfield. The Jets surprised many at the start of the season, maybe they can build on that by adding new personnel.
21 Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor
In his first post-season start (and the Bills' first playoff appearance in more than two decades), Tyrod Taylor was an utter failure. Unable to move the offensive with any degree of regularity, the Bills return to the post-season was short-lived following a 10-3 wild-card weekend loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Hard to justify an $18,000,000 cap hit for a quarterback who was unable to out-duel Blake Bortles in a playoff setting and has been mostly unspectacular since arriving in Buffalo. And while many say he never had a true playmaker at wide receiver, Jared Goff has certainly developed some nice chemistry with former teammate Robert Woods out in Los Angeles – Sammy Watkins, not so much but that's another story...
20 Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles
Well, that was a nice segway... Don't be fooled by the fact the Jags were one win from a Super Bowl appearance. It was mostly done in spite of Bortles play. For a 3rd overall pick, he's been severely flawed in his four years of play. Wearer of the dreaded 'game manager' label, Bortles was off far more often than he was on in 2017-18. Jacksonville's defence almost single-handedly carried an inept offence to within a few plays of shocking the New England Patriots in an AFC Championship game.
Ultimately, they came up short and now the team must truly assess the prospects of Bortles as the long-term solution. His 2018 cap hit is set be north of $19,000,000. Jaguars are able to get out from it entirely by releasing him. At the very least if they want to see Bortles more, they ought to negotiate a 2-3 year deal which would bring the cap hit down significantly.
19 Tennessee Titans: Eric Decker
A new coach often brings major change. Mike Vrabel was recently announced as the Titans' new sideline boss. Decker is not under contract so again, this is more of a 'let him walk' move versus releasing a player under contract. Signing a one-year $4,000,000 deal last off-season, the hope was Decker would provide Marcus Mariota a capable veteran target. The Titans did well all season and surprisingly won a playoff game (against the very bad Kansas City Chiefs). Decker is still a capable receiver with experience, but with his age rising and performance on the downswing it may be time to get younger. Playing in 16 games, Decker only managed one touchdown. It was a failed experiment. No need to double down on it. Move on.
18 Houston Texans: Lamar Miller
Simply put, Miller's production has not matched his salary. In the past two seasons, he's only found the end zone 12 times. Miller has received all the guaranteed money promised to him in his current deal. As a result, the Texans, if they want, can release him free of charge. Surrounding Deshaun Watson with game breakers should be the Texans' top priority this off-season. DeAndre Hopkins is a big piece already in place. Miller is meh, and nothing more. Seems like a worthy candidate for a pink slip. The fact that cutting him would cost absolutely nothing against their cap is the biggest benefit. The Texans have so many great pieces, but the puzzle hasn't come together yet. Spend the money where you need it!
17 Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore
Plain and simple, Frank Gore is a 34-year-old running back. You don't bring that type of player back, especially not to a rebuilding scenario. Add to that the fact that the Colts offensive line is a complete joke and any running back wouldn't do very much behind it, and it becomes clear that Gore's services are no longer necessary. Gore is the active leader in rushing yards and ranks 5th on the all-time list. Talk about an under the radar career. Gore could very well have something left to offer a contending team looking for a stable veteran in the backfield. But sticking with the Colts would be a waste, especially given all the uncertainty around the health of QB Andrew Luck.
16 Oakland Raiders: Marshawn Lynch
Beastmode has seen better days. Jon Gruden is enough of a circus on his own, and he doesn't need overpowering supporting actors like Lynch. The Raiders have some depth in the backfield and could also explore options via the draft and free agency. Whatever they do, it should include giving Lynch his walking papers after one season that amounted to nothing more than a failed publicity stunt.
Once a dominant force in the NFL, Lynch now, is nothing more than a guy who's "only there so he don't get fined". The Raiders ought to channel the vibes of their next home, Vegas, and gamble on another solution at running back. With many young stars on their team, a new young running back could complete their makeover and set them up for a good season.
15 Los Angeles Chargers: Antonio Gates
For starters, Antonio Gates wasn't even supposed to play football. Originally, he had his heart set on the NBA but after being told by a scout he lacked a true position on the court, Gates began scheduling workouts for NFL scouts. He would go undrafted in 2003...fast forward to 2018 and Gates, with 114 career receiving touchdowns, is the all-time leader in that category, amongst tight ends – 6th on the all-time list, the leader being none other than Jerry Rice.
The past 3 seasons have shown a rapid decline in Gates' effectiveness. In 2017-18, while appearing in all 16 games, he was listed as a starter for only 4, all of which came while #1 TE Hunter Henry was injured. At the age of 37, it's time to turn the page if you're the Chargers. An excellent career destined for Canton enshrinement has likely come to an end.
14 Kansas City Chiefs: Derrick Johnson
The Chiefs and Johnson restructured his deal this past off-season. It wouldn't surprise me if they request to revisit it once again, otherwise, they may be forced to release Johnson – a move that would open up ~$8 million in cap space.
Derrick Johnson is 35 years old. Today's NFL asks linebackers to play north-south and sideline to sideline. Still a tackling machine, his impact has otherwise tapered off, having only accounted for one sack and one interception in the last two seasons. With changes coming in Kansas City, it wouldn't be shocking to see veterans of the old guard shipped out in favour of some young blood who can hopefully change the course of the Chiefs' perennial misfortunes.
13 Denver Broncos: Aqib Talib
Coming off a season that saw him finish with only one interception – a career-low – Talib is set to carry a $12,000,000 cap hit in 2018. The Broncos can release him, and save $11,000,000, with a dead cap hit of $1 million. Seems like a no-brainer.
Apart from no longer having a nose for the ball, 2017-18 saw Talib produce his lowest tackling output since his rookie season (back then only starting 2 games). Michael Crabtree needs not to worry about anymore AFC West fights. Talib has been known to be a nasty player and can not only cost a lot of money, but can actually draw quite a few penalties. With that price tag, you just can't be a detriment to your team.
12 Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews
Releasing Clay Matthews would bring the Packers just over $11 million in cap savings. Last season, the Packers collectively underwhelmed. On offense, they had a fairly legitimate excuse... that, of course, being the injury to Aaron Rodgers – though Vikings fans may have a thing or two to say about withstanding a QB injury.
Matthews played just over 62% of the Packers' defensive snaps. A few years back, he was up in the 80 and 90% ranges. His production has clearly dropped, his long hair no longer striking fear into opposing tackles. With longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers gone, Green Bay stands to undergo a pretty significant transformation on the defensive side. Will they remain a 3-4? Does Matthews become a down lineman in a 4-3? Something's got to change, and it could be who wears #52 at Lambeau next year.
11 Chicago Bears: Mike Glennon
This was a perplexing signing when it happened. Glennon lasted only 4 games in 2017-18 before being benched in favour of rookie Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky is the starter going into 2018-19. Glennon, with a scheduled cap hit of $16,000,000 absolutely cannot remain on the roster. Everyone wants to keep experienced players around, but not at that cost. That's Hall of Fame money.
Circumstances change slightly depending on the timing and type of transaction (cut/trade), but bet all you have that Mike Glennon will not wear a Bears jersey next season. He is just too expensive for the return the bears are getting, and he may find himself needing to take a serious pay cut to stay in the NFL.
10 Detroit Lions: Eric Ebron
This would come as somewhat of a shock given Ebron's age and upside, but he's struggled with drops thus far in his career. Cutting Ebron would give the Lions $8,250,000 in cap savings. That's considerable cap space to re-invest.
However, with the Lions reportedly set to lure Matt Patricia, perhaps his connection with New England will bring Ebron some much-needed tight end juju. He certainly could use it. The Lions have one of the best QBs on paper in recent memory, yet they seem unable to get out of their division as real contenders. They could probably spend this money on a tight end with a tighter grip, and maybe make some real noise next season.
9 Minnesota Vikings: Sam Bradford
The Minnesota Vikings were one win away from becoming the first team to host and play in a Super Bowl. Now they are a team scarred from a road dismantling at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles and are , apart from Kyle Sloter, without a quarterback under contract for 2018. Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Bradford are all free agents. While it's too early to know which direction they go in, one would think Keenum played his way into the starting role despite beginning the year as the team's backup.
Bradford was the week one starter but would suffer a mysterious knee injury to his already surgically repaired knee. For all his potential, Bradford is damaged goods at this point. Same could be said for Bridgewater. That leaves Keenum, the logical choice. If Keenum bolts, I believe the Vikings, right or wrong, prefer Bridgewater over Bradford. His days in Minny are numbered.
8 Atlanta Falcons: Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub carries a 2018 cap hit of $5.5 million. Cutting him would save the Falcons $4,250,000. They have Garrett Grayson under contract, whom they drafted in the 3rd round in 2015. Matt Ryan isn't going anywhere, anytime soon so why not go cheap at the backup quarterback position and spend the savings elsewhere.
In the event of a Ryan injury, Atlanta could always revert back to the free-agent market if Grayson falls flat on his face. Basically they no longer need this very expensive replacement part when the car is running very well. Besides the whole heartbreaking Super Bowl loss of course.
7 Carolina Panthers: Thomas Davis
Apart from Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis has been the Panthers' most irreplaceable player on defense for over a decade. He famously played in Super Bowl 50 with a fractured arm! At 34 years old, Davis' 2018 cap hit is slated to be just shy of $10 million. That is a lot of money to be paying a fragile old-timer, talented or not.
In 2017-18, he was held to 2.5 sacks and had his lowest tackle total since 2012. Carolina has some younger options at linebacker but look for them to address the need further come the draft. Carolina has struggled to find their Super Bowl form from a few years ago, and they need to be smarter when making personnel decisions.
6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin
This past season marked the second consecutive stinker courtesy of Martin, who in 2015 was named an All-Pro. Since topping 1,400 yards rushing 2015, Martin has failed to reach 500 yards in either of the following two seasons. He, along with his team, has been one of the league's bigger disappointments recently. With talent all over the field on both sides, the Buccaneers last post-season appearance was 2007.
The main issue with releasing Martin is the lack of depth the Bucs presently have at the running back position. But Martin has no more guaranteed money remaining on his deal and can be released without penalty. If kept, he holds cap hits of $6.75m/$7.0m/$7.0m for the next three seasons.
5 New Orleans Saints: Manti Te'o
Honestly, I had my notes regarding this selection, but Manti's girlfriend must've stolen them... and I can't find her anywhere. Guess you will all have to take my word for it. Just kidding! The Saints surprised everyone this season by being a dominant force after a rough start. Te'o has been playing relatively well for the Saints, but he may only have a job because people recognize him name. Worse, they recognize it for the wrong reasons. If the guy could be involved in a fake girlfriend scandal, just imagine what other shenanigans he can get up to. Move on New Orleans, and start looking for a QB to replace the amazing Drew Brees.
4 Los Angeles Rams: Tavon Austin
The then St. Louis Rams drafted Austin 8th overall in 2013. He came highly touted out of West Virgina as a dynamic playmaker who could line up all over the field. Despite a seemingly endless array of possibilities, Austin has been a bust, largely as a result of his inability to learn the full route tree and grasp the intricacies of an NFL playbook.
It would cost the Rams $5,000,000 in dead cap space but would provide profound savings over the next four seasons. That money could be used to address other needs, possibly even bringing in a more accomplished wide receiver to pair with Robert Woods. Also, any money the Rams can save will likely wind up going towards retaining the services of Aaron Donald.
3 San Francisco 49ers: Elvis Dumervil
Dumervil played less than 40% of defensive snaps last season. He did manage 6.5 sacks, but only 13 tackles. He's slated to count $4,250,000 against the cap in the final year of his deal. If released, it will cost the 49ers $500,000 and the rest will be savings. San Francisco has many needs to address, but none more important than signing a franchise quarterback.
In his time behind center last season, Jimmy Garoppolo proved many experts right when they questioned the Patriots' decision to trade him for pennies on the dollar. He was sensational and you'd think the Niners would be crazy to let him walk after giving up assets to acquire him. Dumervil is an aging linebacker whose best days are long behind him. That money would be better spent towards elsewhere.
2 Seattle Seahawks: Earl Thomas III
The Legion of Boom is a shadow of its former self. Once considered the perennial defensive terror, the Seahawks defensive core figures to go through some alterations this off-season. Cliff Avril's health is a question mark, same with Kam Chancellor.
Richard Sherman is rehabbing from a torn Achilles and overall, the Seahawks appear to be trending downwards in a division they owned for so long. Thomas, if released, would save Seattle just south $8.5 million. He's already made a public plea to the Dallas Cowboys to sign him if the Seahawks do in fact cut ties with him.
1 Arizona Cardinals: Adrian Peterson
My, how the mighty have fallen. Adrian Peterson will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In a passing era, his feet alone carried the Vikings to the playoffs the year he joined the exclusive 2,000 club. His tenure with Vikings would take a turn for the worse following numerous injuries, and who can forget his legal battle involving child abuse?
In 2017-18, Peterson signed with the Saints but lasted only a few weeks before being traded to Arizona after David Johnson went down for the year. Peterson filled in admirably but figures to be in need of a new home for 2018-19, once Johnson returns to the lineup. Releasing Peterson will clear up ~$2.8 million in cap space and carry no financial penalty. no-brainer. And this could very well be the end of All Day.