Easy come, easy go. It’s life in the National Football League for players each and every season. Younger talents are more coveted and more emphasized in the league than ever before, largely because their contracts carry less value as it pertains to hard salary cap restrictions than the numbers associated with deals given to proven veterans. Granted, guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are worth every cent paid to them, as they could start for just about every franchise in the league. However, every team drops players, and even stars, during offseason roster decisions in order to replace them with rookies. It’s the nature of the business.
Salary cap casualties will be allowed to enter free agency in March. Players who entered September 2018 as starters will be placed on the trade block. Some free agent signings from this year’s class will be deemed surplus to requirements. Each team in the NFL has to release players since only so many guys can be on the depth chart once training camp opens, and one organization’s flop could become a key figure for a different team. A handful of fan-favorites, not to mention a living legend of the game, will likely be dropped after the 2018 season. We’ll see if the first man spotlighted here has played his final down of regular-season football.
32 Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Larry Fitzgerald is, without question, one of the greatest players to ever feature for the Arizona Cardinals, and he’s one of the best wide receivers to ever play the position. The Cardinals won’t be ready to compete for much of anything come next summer, though, and Fitzgerald will turn 36-years-old before Week 1 of the 2019 campaign. Larry Legend has, in the past, suggested that he only wants to play for the Cardinals during his career, but Arizona can’t be concerned about that. It’s time for these two to part ways, even if that means that Fitzgerald will ride off into the sunset and begin preparations for his Hall of Fame speech.
31 Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman
Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman is about to get paid in free agency. He should be paid by his current team, one that can only spend so much salary cap space on its backfield. This would make Devonta Freeman, who is older than Coleman and also has a worrisome injury history, an interesting tradable piece, especially since there are a handful of clubs that need upgrades at running back and also possess the salary cap space to accept Freeman’s current contract. The New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts are two teams that immediately come to mind as organizations that would accept a call from a Falcons side looking to drop Freeman.
30 Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco
The Baltimore Ravens will be in a unique position once the offseason begins. Lamar Jackson should be the team’s starting quarterback moving forward, and Baltimore could save some cash against the salary cap by releasing Joe Flacco. Dropping Flacco and letting him sign with a different team in free agency isn’t Baltimore’s only option. Some front office that has serious doubts about its starting QB at the end of the holiday season would take a flier on Flacco at the right price; right? Wouldn’t the Denver Broncos, as an example, be better off with Flacco instead of Case Keenum under center next fall?
29 Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy
The Buffalo Bills have indicated that the team wants to bring veteran running back LeSean McCoy for another season. Here’s a question: Why? McCoy averaged under 3.3 yards per carry across his first 13 appearances of the campaign, he turns 31-years-old next July, and the Bills could save millions upon millions of dollars against the salary cap by releasing him at a time when younger and, truth be told, more talented backs will be available in free agency. Heck, the Bills could get similar numbers from a rookie back at a fraction of what keeping McCoy would cost during the 2019 season on his current deal.
28 Carolina Panthers: Greg Olsen
Nobody wants to be the guy to tell a popular figure the time has come to walk away, but that’s the situation the Carolina Panthers face regarding tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen, who turns 34-years-old in March, hasn’t shown over the past two years that he can survive playing a 16-game schedule without sustaining a significant injury, and there were reports that he was already eying a move to Fox Sports following the 2017 campaign until he re-signed with the Panthers. The Panthers will be respectful about asking Olsen to reconsider entering retirement and becoming an analyst. That conversation is one that should happen sooner rather than later.
27 Chicago Bears: Dion Sims
The Chicago Bears did well to bolster the team’s defense via an excellent trade in 2018. This coming offseason, it’s time to give quarterback Mitchell Trubisky some weapons and improvements at multiple positions, including tight ends. According to Spotrac, the Bears could save roughly $6 million by releasing Dion Sims, who became a spectator ahead of schedule after a concussion prematurely ended his season. The Bears would be better off using that cash on a different tight end, and it would be downright surprising if the team didn’t drop him as soon as it is able to do so during the new NFL year.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: Giovani Bernard
Just as with the Atlanta Falcons, the Cincinnati Bengals can only spend so much money on its backfield when the team has a franchise quarterback and a top-tier wide receiver both under contracts. Joe Mixon is clearly Cincinnati’s number-one option at the position, and Giovani Bernard, who is barely a third-down back in that offense, becomes quite a pricey backup after the 2018 season. Bernard turns only 28-years-old next November, and he should find a home with a different team once he becomes available. Cincy will save millions by dropping him, but it is possible the franchise could put him on the trade block ahead of the draft.
25 Cleveland Browns: Jamie Collins
These aren’t your same old Cleveland Browns that lose literally every game they play. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is the real deal and has placed the franchise on his back, and the Browns could be ready to compete for a division title with one more positive offseason. Linebacker Jamie Collins likely won’t be part of the team’s long-term process. When at his best and fully dedicated to the cause, Collins absolutely possesses the talent to play for a playoff defense. Unfortunately for the Browns, his inconsistent performances make him somebody who won’t be worth the money on his contract past this season. He’ll either be dropped or traded by the Browns.
24 Dallas Cowboys: Allen Hurns
The Dallas Cowboys looked to grab a new weapon for quarterback Dak Prescott when the club signed former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns earlier this year. Hurns never flirted with being what he was during his best days with the Jaguars, and he barely saw only a handful of targets during the second half of the season. Dallas will be a favorite to win the NFC East once again in 2019, but the Cowboys need to spend money more wisely. Dropping Hurns would save the team millions of dollars against the cap. It’s the right business decision, not to mention an inevitable move unless Hurns has himself a playoff run to remember.
23 Denver Broncos: Devontae Booker
The plan all along was for the Denver Broncos to put a rookie running back atop the depth chart by Week 1 of the 2018 season. That rookie ended up being Phillip Lindsay instead of Royce Freeman. Devontae Booker, meanwhile, remains on a relatively inexpensive contract for another year, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos won’t drop him realizing that there are better ways to spend that $750,000. Booker is only 26-years-old, so Denver could put him on the trade block to see if a different team would spend a low-value draft pick to acquire the back. The Broncos need any and all assets to build for the 2020s.
22 Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah
The Detroit Lions signing defensive end Ezekiel Ansah on a franchise tag ahead of the 2018 season made sense since the Lions were looking to compete for a playoff spot this year. Things didn’t go Detroit’s way, though, and Ansah’s season ended early after the Lions placed him on the injured reserve list in the middle of December. Ansah wasn’t a superstar worthy of a massive contract when healthy, and that, coupled with the fact that the Lions aren’t on the verge of winning a Super Bowl, should lead to Ansah leaving the team via free agency in March. A different organization that could use the help up front on defense will pay him what Detroit shouldn’t in March.
21 Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews
It was always unlikely that the Green Bay Packers would bring linebacker Clay Matthews back for one more run even before he, and the rest of the roster, experienced a letdown of a season. Matthews is merely a piece for a team at this stage of his career, and he’ll be 33-years-old before the summer begins. His time with the Packers was up before Week 17 of the 2018 campaign began. As long as Matthews is realistic about the money he’ll receive and he wants to continue playing, he should extend his career with a different organization. The harsh truth here, though, is that the Packers would’ve dropped him before Christmas if doing so would’ve saved the team money.
20 Houston Texans: Demaryius Thomas
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was always meant to be rental when the Houston Texans traded with the Denver Broncos for the veteran. That’s certainly the case now that Thomas won’t play for the club during the postseason after he suffered a torn Achilles. Thomas turned 31-years-old on Christmas Day, and the money on the final year of his contract isn’t guaranteed. Unless the Texans are feeling very generous, the team will drop Thomas as he works to return from his injury. It’s possible Houston could bring him back on a one-year “prove it” deal, but Thomas would have to be willing to agree to take less guaranteed money.
19 Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Grant
There are three reasons one could think of for why the Indianapolis Colts would bring wide receiver Ryan Grant back for the 2019 season: The Colts have the money to burn, Grant won’t be all that expensive, and Indianapolis needs somebody to play wide receiver. Other than that, look for the Colts to drop Grant in the offseason. Indianapolis will sign offensive players in free agency to give Andrew Luck a real shot at winning the division in 2019. Grant shouldn’t, and won’t be on the team’s radar unless he takes a huge discount to stay with a club that could compete for a Super Bowl berth by making a handful of brilliant decisions.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles
The only reason that the Jacksonville Jaguars will not drop quarterback Blake Bortles during the offseason is that the team does not want to absorb the financial hit against the salary cap that would come from cutting him. Jacksonville replaced Bortles with Cody Kessler for a period of time in 2018. That is more than enough for all who have followed the situation to understand the team is done with the former first-round selection. Jacksonville would love to trade Bortles in an ideal situation. Is there really some team out there that believes it has the secrets to unlock Bortles’ best play? Stranger things have happened.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: Kelvin Benjamin
The Kansas City Chiefs taking a flier on wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin after the Buffalo Bills dropped him made sense. After all, the Chiefs are attempting to win the Super Bowl right now. The Chiefs already have a high-powered offense, though, and Benjamin isn’t needed beyond his stint as a rental. Besides, Benjamin will enter free agency and probably earn a decent contract from a franchise that needs a receiver more than the Chiefs will next March. Both sides probably understand the nature of this relationship and know that they aren’t long for each other. The Chiefs winning a ring with Benjamin would make signing him well worth the money spent.
16 Los Angeles Chargers: Antonio Gates
Ahead of Week 17, reports emerged that veteran tight end Antonio Gates would like to continue playing in 2019. Gates has earned the right to do whatever he wishes, but the Los Angeles Chargers don’t owe him anything beyond keeping him on the roster through the end of this latest playoff journey. The future Hall of Fame tight end will be 39-years-old when the next training camp sessions open. He is barely a shell of his former self anymore. Los Angeles will certainly drop him, as he wasn’t part of the team’s original plans before this season. We’d like to see him retire as a member of the Chargers, but that’s up to him to decide.
15 Los Angeles Rams: Ndamukong Suh
Maybe defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will experience a change of heart and decide that money isn’t as important as is playing for the Los Angeles Rams and attempting to win a championship with that team. Does anybody seriously believe that will actually occur once Suh is able to get paid next March? We didn’t think so. The Rams awarded Aaron Donald with a massive contract in 2018, and there is only so much money that can be spent on the team’s line. Suh, meanwhile, has to know he will receive yet another tremendous contract on the open market, as there are more than enough teams willing to make leaving the Rams in 2019 worth it for him.
14 Miami Dolphins: DeVante Parker
As long as wide receiver DeVante Parker is able to pass a league physical come March, the Miami Dolphins will drop him early into the start of the new league year. Parker, who will be 26 years old by the end of January, is not even a No. 1 wideout in name only as of the first days of 2019, and the money attached to the fifth-year option of his deal is not guaranteed to him. There is still some promise that Parker will approach what was seen as a high ceiling when he entered the NFL in 2015, so a different team will give him the contract the Dolphins have no interest in offering him during the offseason.
13 Minnesota Vikings: Latavius Murray
The Minnesota Vikings have running back Dalvin Cook, who will be 24-years-old next summer, on the roster, and the club will be in the middle of paying Kirk Cousins $84 million in guaranteed money when the time comes to make a decision on Latavius Murray. Murray, who turns 27 in January, remains a fine back who could be the top option in the right backfield, but he is no longer a great fit for the Vikings at the money that he will be paid in free agency. Truth be told, it would be more surprising if the Vikings didn’t drop Murray in the coming offseason.
12 New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was absolutely right in (reportedly) wanting to trade tight end Rob Gronkowski to the Detroit Lions ahead of the 2018 season. Ahead of the campaign, Belichick saw what we’ve all witnessed since September, that Gronkowski is no longer one of the best tight ends in the league. Gronkowski’s body has taken a large amount of punishment during his Hall of Fame career, and his tank is nearly on empty in early 2019. New England will save money by dropping Gronkowski, and it’s possible that he will want to retire and, maybe, join the WWE before WrestleMania rolls around. (That is, if his close friend Mojo Rawley still has a job with them.)
11 New Orleans Saints: Ken Crawley
New Orleans cornerback Ken Crawley began the season as a relatively cheap player who was looking to earn a bigger paycheck either with the Saints or a different team following the 2018 campaign. Crawley was deemed to be such a liability during the fall, however, that the Saints traded for New York Giants defensive back Eli Apple, who had fallen out of favor with the organization that drafted him. Crawley and the Saints are going in different directions assuming that Drew Brees will return for one more attempt to win a Super Bowl. New Orleans is expected to drop him despite any pay cut he may be willing to accept.
10 New York Giants: Kyle Lauletta
This probably isn’t the New York Giants quarterback who came to mind when you thought of players the team may drop in the coming offseason. Unless Eli Manning elects to retire or accepts a trade to a different club, it appears that he will return to Big Blue for one more year. The Giants coaching staff, meanwhile, isn’t all that enamored with Kyle Lauletta, as Lauletta wasn’t given the start for a meaningless Week 17 showdown versus the Dallas Cowboys. Pat Shurmur and company already got rid of Davis Webb before actually seeing what Webb could do against pro defenses. That same staff refusing to show patience regarding Lauletta shouldn’t surprise anybody.
9 New York Jets: Jermaine Kearse
Don’t look now, but the New York Jets are actually pretty close to becoming respectable, if not good. Quarterback Sam Darnold won’t win Rookie of the Year, but he’s played well enough to give fans hope that he can carry Gang Green back near the top of the division standings. New York needs to improve the team’s offensive line and its running game, and the club also needs better wide receivers. We already know that Quincy Enunwa is coming back. Jermaine Kearse shouldn’t have a place on the depth chart, especially if the Jets are able to land somebody such as Golden Tate in free agency.
8 Oakland Raiders: Jordy Nelson
All those of us outside of the building — not to mention many who work within the organization — can do as it pertains to the Oakland Raiders is shrug our shoulders and see what Jon Gruden wants to do next. Veteran wide receiver Jordy Nelson was a fine option for the club during the summer months and before we saw that the Raiders had, theoretically, embraced the tank. Nelson will be 34-years-old next spring, he’ll carry a cap hit of over $5 million, and the Raiders need to get younger. Maybe Nelson can rejoin the Green Bay Packers on a one-year deal before he retires.
7 Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Foles
By all accounts, the Philadelphia Eagles remain invested in young quarterback Carson Wentz, which is the right move to make, unless the club knows something about Wentz’s long-term health. That will end the incredible and historic Nick Foles story with the franchise in the upcoming offseason. The Eagles can no longer afford to pay Foles a large amount of money to be a backup, and Foles should earn even more cash by signing with a team that needs a starting QB. The New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Jacksonville Jaguars are three clubs that could be interested in speaking with Foles about his future in March.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a difficult team to read heading into the offseason because we don’t know if this is going to be the start of the end of an era. Say, for the purposes of this piece, that the Steelers have at least one more shot to win a title with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown on offense. Pittsburgh will need to make some difficult decisions, such as contemplating dropping cornerback Joe Haden. Haden, who turns 30-years-old in April, has played well for the majority of his stint with the Steelers, but his cap hit of nearly $12 million makes him very pricey for his current skill set.
5 San Francisco 49ers: Pierre Garcon
The San Francisco 49ers were one of the most unlucky teams of the 2018 season. Free agent signing Jerick McKinnon was lost for the entire campaign before Week 1, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL in Week 3. The Niners will have already begun moving past this season before you read this piece, and part of that process will involve dropping wide receiver Pierre Garcon. Garcon ended the year on injured reserve because of a knee injury, and the Niners can afford to absorb the dead-money value attached to his contract and sign a younger player who can offer more to the offense next fall.
4 Seattle Seahawks: Bobby Wagner
We’re old enough to remember when the Seattle Seahawks were seemingly rebuilding the team’s defense and planning for the future until the club found success during the campaign. Don’t assume that Seattle’s run of form into the start of the winter months will mean that the franchise will halt that process. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is about to enter the last year of his contract, and the Seahawks would save well over $10 million by dropping him. Seattle could also look to trade Wagner to a franchise happy to extend his deal into the next decade for draft picks that could help the Seahawks restock on both sides of the ball.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston
Yes, we also saw the reports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are planning on bringing Jameis Winston back for the 2019 season. Obviously, we aren’t completely sold. For starters, Tampa Bay would owe over $20 million to a QB who hasn’t yet “gotten it” on and off the field, and Winston accomplished nothing during the 2018 campaign to convince anybody he’s close to becoming what Tampa Bay hoped he’d be when the team drafted him. Winston may need a change of scenery. Maybe the Bucs will look to shop him after bringing him back. We also wouldn’t be all that shocked if Tampa Bay just dropped him in the offseason.
2 Tennessee Titans: Delanie Walker
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker went down with a serious ankle injury in Week 1 of the 2018 season, he turns 35-years-old in August, and the Titans can save over $3 million in salary cap space by dropping him. In the past, Walker has said that he wants to retire with the Titans, but that was when he was healthy and feeling that he could still play at a top level. A solid tight end is a dime-a-dozen and can be found in any draft class, and such a product would cost next to nothing when compared with the money remaining on Walker’s deal.
1 Washington Redskins: Josh Norman
The Washington Redskins are currently in all kinds of trouble, as the status of quarterback Alex Smith is unknown months before the new NFL year opens. One thing that isn’t a secret is that the Redskins could save a ton of money by cutting ties with cornerback Josh Norman. Norman isn’t a shutdown corner in any sense of that term, and the money owed to him up through the end of the 2020 campaign is outrageous considering what he offers the Redskins. We’re not sure that the Redskins could even get a draft pick for Norman because of his contract. Dropping him may be Washington’s only realistic option in March.